St Michael's is one of Olomouc’s biggest and most beautiful churches. From the inside at least-the exterior is relatively plain, which is possibly why a lot of guidebooks and visitors to the city seem to miss it.
Saints, angels, and apostles
Behind the altar is a painting of the Archangel Michael himself, and above him under the high arched ceiling is the Hebrew inscription for the name of God and a copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Around the walls and pillars of the church, not too far above head height, there are twelve life-size statues representing the twelve apostles. Each of them has some symbol as an indication of his identity; St Peter dangles the keys to the heavenly gates, St Andrew is stretched on his X, and St. Bartholemew is wearing his own skin over his shoulder as a robe.
Halfway along the left-hand side is the altar of St Jan Sarkander who, like St Bartholemew, was flayed alive. In Sarkander’s case, his torture and death took place just around the corner in Olomouc’s medieval prison, which is now a chapel in his honour. The small dark things on the red velvet in the glass cases are some of his bodily remains, displayed here to be worshipped as holy relics.
High above, the three domes of the church represent the Holy Trinity. The Father and the Son are depicted by paintings and the Holy Ghost is represented by a sculpture of a golden dove, at the highest point of the highest dome.
Lower in that dome is an odd coat of arms with red foxes, guns and cannonballs. When the roof was being completed 300 years ago, the church had run out of money for the third and highest dome. The commander of the Olomouc fortress at the time donated a large part of his personal fortune to see the church completed and was rewarded with his Fuchs family coat of arms displayed under the cupola.
Remains of the older church
Even though St. Michael’s is only about 300 years old, a church has occupied the site for much longer than that. The previous one was destroyed by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). If you approach St Michael’s up the staircase from the park, you might notice the last remnant of the old gothic church, protruding from the rear.
It’s now the chapel of St. Alexej which is accessible from the inside via the seminary at the right hand side of the main church. The chapel of St. Alexej is also known as the Czech chapel; services were held here in Czech, while the main hall of the new church was reserved for the Germans. Not only a good example of the difference between Gothic and Baroque interiors, but a reminder of the subtle pressure on ethnic minorities to conform to the mainstream of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Fresh water and Roman soldiers
Another interesting thing in the seminary is the fresh water spring (at the very top of the highest of Olomouc’s three hills) upon which the city was founded. According to legend Roman soldiers camped here for the defensive position and the fresh water, and because of this the hill was always called Julius’ hill.
In Latin that’s something like Uilio Munsis, which later became Olomuntium and then Olomouc. So this legend apparently gives the city its name. There’s never been a thorough archaeological exploration of the site, but the remains of Roman camps were found in the suburbs of Olomouc and the highest hill with access to fresh water would have been the obvious place to camp, so the legend is certainly a believable one.
New bells in the belfry
From the seminary, it’s also possible to climb the bell tower. The views across the city are excellent and the tower is interesting in its own right. The original bells were seized and melted down by the Nazis in WWII, but over the last few years, three of them have been replaced. The fourth and largest bell will be joining them once enough funds have been raised; hopefully by 2010.
There is no charge for visitors to St Michael’s or the seminary attached to its side, so whatever you do, don’t miss it. With the possible exception of the Archdiocese Museum, St Michael’s has the most spectacular interior of any public building in Olomouc.
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Outside Prague last updated June 13th, 2010. All text and images Copyright 2007-2010. Articles may be excerpted for review, or printed for use by individual travellers.
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