The Franciscan church

The Franciscan church and monastery are among the city's oldest buildings and, for all the calamities of the Hussite era and Thirty Years War, have, in essence, preserved their original early Gothic form.

They are from the Gothic period of the era of the last Premysl dynasty in the 13th century, i. e. an art form very precious in Bohemian history because of its rarity. The church consists of two areas of almost equal length, the 67 ft long nave and the 75 ft long presbytery. The nave is divided by three pairs of rounded pillars into the main nave (43 ft high) and two lower side naves. The pillars are linked by pointed arches. Over the years the floor of the nave was raised by just over 3 ft, previously there were some steps leading into the presbytery.
The presbytery and nave have a Gothic cross-vaulted ceiling, despite being frequently damaged by events of war.

In 1611, in place of the ruined chapel, a new large and high Chapel of the Holy Trinity was built onto the north wing. In the chapel there is an altar with the Black Virgin Mary of Hajek (18th century) and tomb of the founder of the chapel, Jan Skribonius of Horsov.
In the latter half of the 17th century the eight-sided St. Antonin's Chapel with its cupolar vaulting and stucco decoration was built onto the north side of the nave. Inside there is a beautiful altar with acanthus leaf decoration and a picture of St. Antonin. The chapel is closed by a Baroque iron lattice from 1706.

The church's main altar is one of the most valuable Baroque altars in Plzen; it dates from 1696 and still bears traces of the Renaissance period. The main picture of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a copy of a Rubens, in the centre there is a wooden Gothic statue of the Virgin Mary from the period after 1400, a replica of the stone statue from the main altar of St. Bartholomew's Parish Church. In the cloisters there used to be an older Madonna from the 2nd quarter of the 14th century: this is now in the National Gallery in Prague. To the left of the presbytery there is a relievo of St. Anna and the Virgin Mary with Baby, Jesus from the first half of the 16th century: this probably originates from Nuremberg, with whom Plzen had active trade and cultural links.

The sensitively sculpted Group of the Apostles dates from the same time. On the north side of the nave there is the Pieta altar, an interesting work from the latter half of the 17th century. It displays a sensitive depth and woeful pathos.
Opposite there is a rococo pulpit from 1740, on whose top is St. Frantisek in a flaming chariot drawn by little angels, the work of Lazar Widman. In the south nave there is the small carved rococo altar of St. Jan of Nepomuk. The pews date from the same time. The Chapel of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes was established in the 1880s under the choir-stalls. The church's Gothic spire had its upper section removed in 1567 as it was in danger of collapse - it was completed as late as 1676. At the front to the west side there is a large stone tablet with the letters MH and AH, monograms of Matyas Hauf and his wife, Anna: they bequeathed the money for the completion of the tower. The western facade of the church is the masterpiece of Jakub Auguston, post-1723. The simple portal contrasts with the richly engraved rococo door.

The monastery was built at the same time as the church and its cloisters have been preserved in the original Gothic form. The most striking feature is the east side, whose vaulted ribs extend to the ground and the windows are decorated with cross-profile wainscoting.
The rarest part of the monastery is the Chapel of St. Barbora from 1370-1380, which has kept its stellar vaulted ceiling of the monasterial chapter halls, supported by a central column. The vaulting collapsed during the Hussite wars and was rebuilt in 1460 with the column.

Interior of the St. Barora chapel

At that time the chapel was covered in wall paintings from the life of St. Barbora. The vaulted squares are filled with large figures of angels and floral ornaments. The naive wall pictures reflect the efforts of the times to achieve a realistic portrayal of the countryside; the style of the figures is of long, curved folds in a schematically condensed form.

The Plzen frescoes rank among the first of their kind in Bohemia. 25 years ago frescoes were transferred to the chapel from the abolished Dominican monastery: these had previously formed part of a museum collection. The oldest view of the city is also depicted here. The frescoes date from the same period as the painting from the Svihov Chapel (the 1520s).
In the cloisters there is a Renaissance stone pulpit bearing the year 1543, the same as on the window of the monastic oratorium, which can be seen in the presbytery near the pulpit of today. The monastery was extensively damaged during the siege of Plzen in 1618 by Arnost Mansfeld's army of the Estates, and was repaired in 1645 by Colonel Jan Lacron, who completed the city's fortifications. In the sacristy there is a copy of the votive plaque of the Plzen burgess, Karel Kasparek, from 1538 by the monographist I. W., the best and most gifted pupil of Lukas Cranach; the original is now West Bohemian Museum.

The entrance from the street to the church has been gated since 1925; at the sides there are some less impressive statues by the Plzen sculptor Ludvik Wildt from 1857. The path to the church continues between two walls, the recesses containing statues of 14 helpers. The area surrounding the monastery is currently under repair.

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Milos Wimmer August 1998

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