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Immaculate Conception column makes its way back into Prague's Old Square

The capital of the Czech Republic will replace the monument to the Immaculate Conception on the Old Square, where it stood since 1650 until its collapse by uncontrolled persons in 1918.

Omnes-February 9, 2016-Reading time: 4 minutes
Prague Old Town Square

A misunderstood secularism has led many countries of Christian tradition in Western Europe to remove religious symbols from schools, streets and even from the names of their festivals, while in Eastern Europe, which emerged twenty-five years ago from its communist dictatorships, these symbols have returned to public spaces.

The Eastern lung of Europe, as John Paul II referred to the countries that fell under Moscow's Soviet orbit, now turns its gaze to the elements of the common Judeo-Christian culture.

In the Czech Republic, the restitution of property seized from the Catholic Church and other religious denominations during the communist regime (1948-1989) has also entered its final stretch.

The latest restitution law, passed in 2012, thus resolves the desired economic independence of dioceses and religious entities so that they can run their affairs without interference, unlike what had been happening until now, with a financing system inherited from the totalitarian past.

This does not detract from the fact that the State continues today to devote many resources to the conservation of heritage, which is largely of a religious nature and provides the public coffers with substantial income from tourism.

But there are also curious situations, such as citizen initiatives that lack institutional support from the Church or the State, and are sustained only on the basis of popular zeal, trying to return to their original place religious monuments that were displaced or destroyed by sectarian hatred.

The idea is that, with the return of these monuments to the site for which they were conceived, public spaces will recover their original flavor, meeting architectural, aesthetic, historical and cultural criteria.

Column of the Immaculate Conception

Among these initiatives was the return of the Immaculate Conception column to Prague's Old Square, where it had stood since 1650, that is, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years' War.

According to Jan Royt, art historian and rector of Charles University in Prague, the column was a symbol of this European peace, and the part of the city on the right bank of the river wanted to show its gratitude to the Virgin for having emerged unscathed from the war.

The image, made by J.J. Bendl, was at the time the first baroque sculpture in sandstone, and "paved the way for a great development of sculptural art."explains Jan Bradna, academic sculptor and restorer.

The statue was demolished on November 3, 1918, a few days after the proclamation of the Czechoslovak Republic. Since then there have been four attempts to replace it, and the last one, championed by the Society for the Renewal of the Marian Column created in 1990, is on the verge of achieving its goal. Although after the Velvet Revolution, which opened the door to democracy in Czechoslovakia, this seemed impossible, it has become a reality.

The countdown for the return of that statue to the memorable square, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, has only just begun. And it is doing so without any state contribution, since the Society for the Renewal of the Marian Column has raised sufficient donations.

Prague is specific

With the return of freedoms in the Central European country, Immaculate Conception columns have already returned to their place in major cities such as Ostrava and Česke Budejovice, and in smaller ones such as Kykhov, Turnov, Sokolov and Chodov.

Prague is a specific case, since the toppling of the column by an uncontrolled group in 1918 came to be considered a symbol of Czechoslovak emancipation from the Habsburg monarchy, which was closely associated with the Catholic Church.

For this reason, the Roman Church was not well regarded by the architects of the new state, led by the politician and philosopher T.G. Masaryk, who encouraged the creation of a Protestant-oriented Czechoslovak national church.

Almost a century has passed since the dramatic incident and, after many vicissitudes, everything seems to indicate that an exact replica of the statue will return to give balance to the square.

At one end an architectural ensemble was erected in 1915 in honor of the reformer Jan Hus (1369-1415), very devoted - by the way - to the Virgin, and there is a consensus among experts that the original counterpoint at the other end is missing.

"I prefer to express restraint, to avoid a counterattack, but 'D' day is just around the corner. There is no political factor that can prevent it and it is now an administrative matter that concerns the Construction Office."Jan Wolf, city councilor responsible for Culture, Heritage Preservation and Tourism, told PALABRA.

Wolf expressed this opinion after the results of the last archaeological survey, carried out in December, which concluded that the site is suitable to support the weight of the sculptural ensemble.

This clears the last hurdle raised by the Historic Heritage Office, and the file now goes to the Construction Office of the City Council of District 1 of the city.

If his words come true, the shadow of the column will coincide at noon - with a delay of five minutes - with the Prague meridian: this was, since the days of its installation in 1650, the system for measuring time in Prague.

Reasons

In addition to architectural and aesthetic reasons, there are other more profound reasons that can serve as a reminder of the identity of the people.

"The Immaculate Conception column is a moral reference from which Europe was born."said Wolf, for whom the monument refers to the Judeo-Christian roots of a civilization.

The column has a Jewish woman, Mary, at the center of the scene, surrounded by a cohort of angels reflecting scenes from the Apocalypse, the last book of the Bible in which God reveals Himself to man and which constitutes one of the deposits of the Christian faith, together with the Apostolic Tradition.

For Wolf, in the days of its construction the column reflected also "the unity of Europe"for Prague was "an international crossroads" with people coming from many corners to rebuild a country devastated after the Thirty Years' War.

From a more current perspective, the Prague councilor stressed that the column serves as a counterpoint to the Muslim world, in a current context of violence and terrorism led by the Islamic State. "Something we can be proud of."concludes the Christian Democrat politician, referring to the maternal and welcoming model represented by the Virgin Mary.

He added that it can serve as "a resistance against atheism and something to help convert to the good, on which Europe was based.".

This has not always been understood by the opponents of the project, who consider it, in Wolf's words, to be "a confirmation of Catholic supremacy, as another show of mere pride.".

This stumbling block seems to have been overcome recently following an agreement between the Archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka, and Hussite and Evangelical representatives, within the framework of the 6th centenary of the death of the reformer Jan Hus.

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