Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

A Bohemian in Bohemia

Local resident and author Brian Hick on his trip to Prague earlier this year (part 1 of 2)

Before we arrived in Prague early in January I had not realised how important the idea of Bohemia actually was. We were there for the Prague Winter Festival – now in its 37th year – and a highly successful, if brief, concentration of concerts and opera in the most beautiful of surroundings.
The music matches the city with superb performances from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra playing Dvorak and Suk in the Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinum, and the intensity of the Hradistan Dulcimer Band under Jiri Pavlica. It was possibly this latter event which really started to open my eyes to what it means to be Bohemian. The concert was given in the Bethlehem Chapel. Though rebuilt and used today as a concert hall it is the revered site of Jan Hus’ preaching and the start of the reform movement which is still very much with us.
Surprisingly there is an English connection at an early stage. Richard II’s first wife was Anne of Bohemia and their marriage in 1382 brought much closer ties between England and what is today the Czech Republic. It was also a time of religious turmoil with the Roman Catholic Church split between two popes and the beginnings of the movement for reform in England being brought about through John Wycliffe  [pictured] and his translations of the Bible. A brief article like this cannot begin to do justice to the complexity of the events, but to cut a very long story short, let us say that it was Wycliffe’s writings which influenced Jan Hus at the university of Prague and it was his dynamic leadership, supported initially by King Wenceslas, that led to the break away from the authoritarian domination of the church to the far more egalitarian understanding many of us accept today. One of Wycliffe’s innovations, taken up by the followers of Jan Hus, was the use of the chalice for all members of the church, not just the priests. As such the chalice is still today the symbol for Unitarians in this country.
That Hus was eventually tried for heresy in Constance, and burnt at the stake, while technically under the care of his king, is unfortunately symptomatic of the inter-play of religion and politics. Today his impressive memorial in the main square [see picture] shows him standing tall in the face of his enemies and gathering around him the persecuted and the weak. But of course he is not the only martyr still very much in the public’s imagination. At the top of Wenceslas Square is a small wooden cross which marks the site of the suicides of Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who died in protest at the Warsaw Pact occupation in 1969. While the Czech Republic is now safely part of the European Union, and even while we were there took over the Presidency, the memories of authoritarian control are still very real. 

To be concluded in our May issue. Dr Brian Hick is Editor Emeritus of The Organ and author of A Lark on the South Downs Way.

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