One night a year, many Christian churches and meeting rooms in Prague and across the Czech Republic open to the public for free, often with an accompanying program. This year’s Church Night (Noc kostelů) takes place Friday, May 24, from 6 pm to 11 pm, though some places close earlier. Printed guides are available at most of the participating churches and a schedule is online.
Many spaces in churches that are normally closed to the public such as crypts, towers and sacristies will be open, though sometimes only at specific hours. Photography is usually but not always allowed.
Aside from Roman Catholic buildings, which are sometimes quite ornate, there are meeting spaces for Orthodox, Old Catholic, Evangelical, Hussites, Czech Brotherhood, Methodists and other denominations. Some of these spaces are more austere but offer insight into how those faiths work.
The accompanying programs include live music, tours, activities for children and prayer services. People who are more interested in seeing the frescoes and statues may want to check to avoid the prayer times, especially for smaller buildings.
Some of the oldest buildings in Prague are participating —the rotundas, or round churches, on Karoliny Světlé street and in Vyšehrad. They are about 1,000 years old, give or take. They are small but some faded paintings can be seen on the walls.
On the other end of the spectrum, many modern churches and prayer houses are the work of significant 20th-century architects. The Sacred Heart Church at náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad in Prague 3 was built during the First Republic by Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik, who also worked on the modern parts of Prague Castle.
The Church of St Wenceslas in Prague 10 was by Josef Gočár, who also designed the cubist-style House of the Black Madonna near Old Town Square.
For people interested in relics, the Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul at Vyšehrad has a bone from St Valentine in a glass case, and the alleged empty stone coffin of one of the saints who was at the Crucifixion.
The entire bodies of some saints and near-saints can be seen in the Church of St Thomas in Malá Strana and Church of St Benedict near Prague Castle, where the mummy of Mother Elekta is in a glass case. (Photos of her are not permitted.)
The Basilica of St James, not far from Old Town Square at Malá Štupartská, is the city's second-largest church, and boasts — aside from a lavish interior — the severed hand of a thief hanging from the wall and an elaborate tomb where the occupant according to legend was buried alive by accident.
Something fun for not only kids is that you can get a free souvenir card and have it stamped like a passport at each of the locations. Popular sites like St Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle and famous Baroque churches downtown may have lines to get in. People who want to see more locations may want to focus on obscure ones.
The first Church Night was held in Vienna in 2005 and in 2009 it “went international” with participation from churches in Brno and Plzeň. Last year more than 1,400 churches took place in the event, with more than 450,000 visitors demonstrating the extraordinary interest from the public.
For more information, please visit the website
Author: Raymond Johnston