Prague’s famous Marian Column has returned to the city’s Old Town Square over a century after it was toppled by an angry mob.
Academic sculptor Peter Váňa’s perfect replica of the Baroque statue was erected on Thursday after decades of political wrangling, with many Protestants and secularists objecting to the return of the column, which they regard as a symbol of Catholic supremacy and past Habsburg oppression.
The historic 50ft monument was originally built in 1652 after the city’s Catholics lobbied the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand III for a Marian statue to celebrate the Virgin Mary’s intercession in bringing to an end the Thirty Years’ War. The conflict between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire had by that time killed around 8 million people.
Opposition to the statue, however, grew over time, as it was increasingly associated with the Habsburg regime and its later rule of Austria-Hungary. During the First World War, when many Czechs and Slovaks defected on the Russian Front and ended up fighting against the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the newly formed Czechoslovak Legion, a very different memorial was erected at the opposite end of the Old Town Square. There, in 1915, Ladislav Šaloun’s Jan Hus Memorial was built, depicting various Hussite soldiers and Protestant reformers who had historically struggled against both Habsburg rule and Catholicism.
Then, in 1918, just days after the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the beginning of an independent Czechoslovakian state, radical nationalists, led by the writer Franta Sauer, brought down the nearby Marian Column.
Shortly before his death in 1947, Franta Sauer is said to have expressed his regret for the episode and asked for forgiveness from a Catholic priest. But, after the Marian Column Restoration Society was formed in 1990, ill-feeling towards the Marian Column soon resurfaced with many groups protesting the statue’s return.
After granting initial approval to the society’s plans in 2013, Prague City Council responded to this mounting opposition by placing numerous legal obstacles in the way of the column’s return. But, in January of this year, the Council finally agreed to grant planning permission for the statue, which Peter Váňa hoisted to the top of the column yesterday amidst hymns, prayers and applause.
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