The Crucifix and Calvary (Statuary of the Holy Crucifix and Calvary)
Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic (November 2009)
This sculpture is one of the most historically interesting sculptures on the bridge, which gradually gained its present appearance throughout many centuries. The original wooden crucifix was installed at this place soon after 1361 and probably destroyed by the Hussites in 1419. A new crucifix with a wooden corpus was erected in 1629 but was severely damaged by the Swedes towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The remnants of this crucifix can be found in the lapidarium of the National Museum in Prague. This was replaced by another wooden Calvary which, in turn, was replaced with a metal version in 1657. Bought in Dresden, this crucifix was originally made in 1629 by H. Hillger based upon a design by W. E. Brohn. In 1666, two lead figures were added, but these were replaced in 1861 by the present sandstone statues by Emanuel Max, portraying the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist.
The golden Hebrew text on the crucifix was added in 1696. It was placed there as punishment for a Prague Jew, Eliass Backoffen, who had been convicted of debasing the Holy Cross by not removing his hat while passing by it. The text is derived from the words of the prophet Isaiah and reads, in English, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. These words, which are the origin of the Sanctus in the Mass, are an important confession of faith in the Jewish tradition as well; their placement in this context has been perceived by some as offensive. A bronze tablet with explanatory text in Czech, English and Hebrew was mounted under the statue by the City of Prague in 2000. The tablet’s placement came after an American Rabbi, Ronald Brown of Temple Beth Am in Merrick, New York was passing over the bridge and noted the possibly offensive nature of the placing of the text. Upon a direct request to the mayor, the tablet was soon placed in front of the statue.