The all-seeing eye of God is among several images that are on buildings across the Golden City

Buildings throughout the historical center of Prague and even a bit beyond are bedizened with details, so many that it is easy to ignore them due to the sensory overload. But once you start looking, it is easy to find themes and some say even hidden messages from secret societies. Once upon a time Freemasonry was popular among the elite in Prague, and a number of Masonic symbols such as the all seeing eye can be found on palaces and villas.

Two names in particular associated with the early days of Freemasonry in Bohemia are Count František Antonín Špork (Franz Anton von Sporck) and the noble Thun-Hohenstein family. Both families had real estate holdings in Prague, and Masonic symbols can be found on some of them.

What is more surprising is that very specific Masonic emblems like the compass and square can be found on residential buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century. The meaning of these is a bit obscure, as the buildings were almost certainly never Masonic lodges.

 

The Petrified Servant has been in place for perhaps thousands of years

There is a mysterious reddish grey standing stone in the outskirts of Prague, and it is far older than the city itself. Who made it and why is a mystery that will likely never be solved. The rough, unpolished stone was once in an open field but urban sprawl caught up with it in the 1960s and it is now in front of a metal mesh fence of a family house.

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Local people refer to it as a meteorite, but that is one thing it certainly is not.

The stone on Ládevska Street in the Dolní Chabry neighborhood in northern Prague is called the Petrifed Servant, but the legend of whose servant it was and how it got petified is long forgotten.

The stone is unique in Prague, with the Devil‘s Column at Vyšehrad as the only remotely similar monument, but that one at least has a legend and some possible explanations.

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The Prague 8 district’s webpage claims the stone is of Celtic origin, and related to standing stones, or menhirs, found across Europe.

The official city explanation is that it was likely a magical touchstone to cure disease and spread fertility, and was possible even used by Celtic or Druid priests to see into the future.

Similar stones, often in widespread groups, have astronomical alignments, but none has been found for this one.

An alchemical symbol, The Black Sun, on a door sign in Prague

The Black Sun door sign in Old Town, Prague

A building near Old Town Square shows a hint of the alchemy that is woven in Prague’s past

In alchemy, everything has its counterpart, its mirror image. The science that would later develop into chemistry saw the world as a set of perfect pairs, not unrelated to the yin and yang concept of Daoist philosophy. The black sun also turns up in many cultures, with slightly different meanings.

The Hanged Man card in The Tarot of Prague features the door sign from the House at the Black Sun (U Černého slunce) on Celetná Street, right next to Old Town Square in Prague. Other black sun symbols can be found in the city as well, including on a fence in Malá Strana on Tržiště Street. The fence is on the Eight of Pentacles.

The Hanged Man. From The Tarot of Prague by Alexandr Ukolov and Karen Mahony

The Hanged Man from The Tarot of Prague.

The black sun is an easy symbol to misunderstand. It is not an image of evil or doom. Instead it is a positive symbol. The type of black sun on these cards, the “sol niger”, comes from the earliest stages of creating the philosopher’s stone. The alchemical process, the nigredo, or blackening is when elements decompose or putrefy as part of the purification process. All the ingredients in making the philosopher’s stone had to first be cooked into a black mass of matter.

The family that brought Mozart to Prague tried to do the same with Mesmer, but failed

Even though Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was only in Prague a handful of times, it is impossible to avoid his likeness throughout Prague’s historical center. The city prides itself on the musical connection. The operas performed in Prague are well-known, but less discussed is that both Mozart and Count Franz Joseph Thun und Hohenstein — of the same Thun family that in 1787 hosted Mozart at what is now the British Embassy in Malá Strana — had ties to Franz Anton Mesmer, the man who lends his name to Mesmerism and the concept of animal magnetism, which after a fashion became modern-day hypnosis.

There is, however, a reason you don’t see Mesmer’s face plastered all over downtown Prague. The idea of Mesmerism did not take root in the city, despite the best efforts of the Count, who tried to entice Mesmer to visit the Golden City and set up shop there.

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Petting the bronze dog on Charles Bridge is more recent tradition than many people think.

Practically every tourist who crosses Charles Bridge in Prague touches one of three places on the base of the statue of St John Nepomuk, or a five-starred double cross a little further down embedded in the bridge’s stone railing.

Legend has it St John (Jan Nepomucký) was thrown off the bridge by King Wenceslas IV for refusing to divulge the secrets of the queen’s confession. The dispute may also have involved the church’s right to appoint bishops without state approval.

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There has always been a good deal of confusion about the legend. Two Bohemian clerics named Jan may have gotten their life stories hopelessly entangled. And the date of his death is either 1383 or 1393. The change in date would also change which queen was being protected. Queen Johanna of Bavaria was alive on the former date, and Queen Sofia of Bavaria on the latter.

Some skeletons and mummies are all dressed up with no place to go.

Most Catholic churches have a relic of one sort or another. Many are small bone chips in decorative gold and glass cases. Some are rather mundane personal possessions of a saint or some strands of hair. The Basilica of St Peter and St Paul in Prague’s Vyšehrad fortress has the empty coffin of St Longinus, the man who held the spear at the crucifixion. The same church has a fragment of the shoulder of St. Valentine.

St Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague Castle has an elaborate silver coffin of St John Nepomuk, and royal tombs as well.

But there a few churches in Prague that have truly unsettling items. Four churches have glass cases with pretty complete dressed up skeletons or mummies. One more had a shrouded set of bones looking like a lazy ghost waiting for inspiration. Finally there is the mummified arm of thief hanging as a warning to all who would try to rob the altar.


One statues is not what it seems, according to a popular legend.

Most old churches have some stone decorations on the roof, and the overwhelming majority are just fanciful sculptures of angels and saints. There is an exception near Národní třída, in a church that fairly hidden on a side street.

The Church of St Martin in the Wall (kostel svatého Martina ve zdi), at Martinská 8 in Prague’s Old Town, has an odd sculpture of a stone boy using two fingers to pull his lips and make a taunting face. The church is otherwise fairly unadorned both inside and out, save for the boy and on another eave of the roof an owl.

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A stone owl is also on the church roof.

The boy, however, according to a widespread legend, is not a sculpture. It is a real naughty boy who was turned to stone.

A few house signs in Prague hint at hidden alchemical meanings.

The main figure on Ace of Cups in The Tarot of Prague is a red lion with a chalice, from a building in Nerudova Street 41 in Prague’s Malá Strana section.

The red lion is an alternative name for the Philosopher’s Stone, which is needed to transform base metal into gold.

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House sign showing the red lion and a chalice.

The chemicals mercury (quick silver) and sulfur, both highly regarded in alchemy for their properties, turn into a vermilion red compound when combined into mercuric sulfide. Many alchemists considered this red chemical the key to the Magnum Opus, the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone from raw materials.

The Four of Pentacles in The Tarot of Prague features details from three Prague buildings from different eras, but speak to us across time.

The House at St. Luke (U sv. Lukáše)  on Loretánské náměstí was built around 1730 as a Baroque townhouse, with a lot of attention paid to symmetry.

St. Luke is seen above the entry showing a painting of the Madonna and Child to his subjects.

While best-known as an author of a Gospel and patron of physicians, students and butchers, Luke is also associated with artists and by some accounts was a painter of icons. He is thought to have painted the  Black Madonna of Częstochowa, now in Poland, and a few others that survive to this day. Painters were in the medieval era sometimes in a Guild of St Luke

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A house sign above the door shows St Luke and an icon of the Madonna.

A beautiful connection between Charles Bridge and the tomb of St Wenceslas.

There was little difference between science and mysticism back in the time of Emperor Charles IV. This extended to architecture and urban planning as well, with building projects being started on fortuitous dates and sometimes being placed due to astrological alignments.

Charles IV was active in building up Prague, and two of his most lasting accomplishments are Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. Charles Bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge.

When the Stone Bridge was built in 1357, its position was moved slightly from the 12th century Judith bridge, which had been badly damaged by a flood.

Royal astrologers were involved in building the new bridge, and according to a theory put forward in 2007 chose the time for laying the cornerstone:  9 July 1357 at 5:31 in the morning. This creates a numerical palindrome. 1357 9:7 531. all of the odd single-digit numbers lined up from lowest to highest to lowest. It is also the moment of a favorable position of Saturn in the sky.

Wild wolves used to be common in Europe, and with them tales of werewolves.

They were often talked of across Northern Europe and deep into Russia, but on occasion were mentioned all across the Continent going back to ancient Rome.

Prague back in the time of Rudolf II not only had wolves in the Stag Moat at Prague Castle, but also, according to legend, a werewolf. Most people take their werewolf knowledge from Hollywood films, but full moons and silver bullets seldom feature in the real tales. The Stag Moat story is simple and unadorned. Rudolf II was a great collector of all things and at times had various wild animals, often very exotic, in and around the castle as well as in several large parks under royal patronage.

A pair of grey wolves lived in the Stag Moat, and were overseen by a royal gamekeeper and his nearly mute assistant named Janek. At the time, people considered him simple-minded, but he seems to have just been a bit withdrawn from the human world as he had nothing in common with it. While he almost never spoke, he did start to howl with the wolf family and soon spent almost all of his time with them. The gamekeeper punished him for neglecting his other duties, and Janek was so ashamed he ran away. Or did he?

The Stag Moat at Prague Castle

The Stag Moat at Prague Castle

The Černín Palace in Prague has a long and unsettling history.

What is now the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the 1660s up to 1851 belonged to the noble Černín family, which legends depict as being somewhat vain as well as stingy.

The family had Černín Palace built on a hill slightly higher than Prague Castle, due to their love of prestige. It took several generations of the family to complete the construction of the truly massive building, which began with designs by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini in the1660s and was finished with a monumental staircase by František M. Kaňka in 1720, with almost every famous artist or sculptor of the time contributing something.

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The first ghost tale associated with the palace occurs just as the building was under construction. Count Humprecht Jan Černín was the one who commissioned the largest palace in the city, but he promised to pay each craftsman only when his work was finished.

When he died in 1682,  there were no written contracts for any of the construction. The tradesman turned to one of the count’s relatives, who was adept in occult arts and a member of a secret society. The head architect at that time, Francesco Caratti, was taken blindfolded to a meeting of the secret society and the spirit of the count was raised up and asked to sign the required contracts. The spirit seems to have obliged, as the work was able to continue.

But the most famous ghost story, which concerns demons and a duchess, comes later…