Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist

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Church of the Decollation of St. John the BaptistThe smallish structure from the 12th century is located on a hill between full-grown trees in the valley containing the original core of the village of Dolní Chabry. The church is surrounded by a stone wall with an ancient campanile and when viewing the building from afar it is hard to overlook the small projecting tower with a cross.  

Recurring building activity, reconstruction and the repeated construction of the Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist suggests the exceptional quality of the site in the Middle Ages. The church was built along an important route that connected Prague and Mělník and continued northward, which is another reason that a total of three churches are found here. The remains of two older churches discovered during archaeological excavations in 1973–74 are still safely covered beneath the removable wooden floor of the existing third church.

The first small church at the site, most likely a burial chapel, gives the impression of a site prepared for the burial of an important, though completely unknown, person. Thanks to the use of the herringbone masonry technique and the placement of the tufa stones of the church walls in the shape of a corncob during construction, the tomb has been dated to the beginning of the 11th century. This date is also supported by the oldest tombs researched to the east of the church; finds in these tombs included gifts such as a necklace of glass pearls, earrings and a round hairpin. Over time the burial chapel fell into ruins and the second Chabry church, an entirely different type of structure – a rotunda – was built on the site. With a diameter of 13 m it became the second largest in Bohemia after the famous St. Vitus rotunda at Prague Castle. Though only partially persevered, the relief ceramic tiles, which are known exclusively from royal and monastery buildings, confirm the significance of the newly constructed rotunda. Over 20 types of profiled ceramic tiles with plant and animal motifs were found. Of particular significance are tiles with the figure of the Prophet Daniel in the lion's den and the bust of Emperor Nero.

The rotunda was built before the middle of the 12th century. The oldest mention of Chabry corresponds with this estimate: in 1092 the “Town of Chrabercych” was given by Konrád Brněnský to the monastery at Ostrov u Davle near the confluence of the Sázava and Vltava Rivers. In time even the rotunda fell into ruins and the third church, still existing today, was built in its place using material obtained from the former walls. The church has the same rectangular form with an apse on the east side as the first church. Carefully worked and unplastered rectangular tufa blocks from which the core of the church is built are a typical construction element from the Romanesque period. Preserved beneath the removable floor of the church is a Romanesque sandstone base with claws, part of a column supporting the original gallery for the aristocracy. While it is not known to whom the first two churches were consecrated, the third church was consecrated as the Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist and its construction is dated to the third quarter of the 12th century.

The church suffered serious damage during the Hussite Wars; the roof frame burned completely and during subsequent repairs the original low roof was raised to today's height. A Late Gothic addition is still visible today on the eastern wall. A masonry mark bearing the date AD 1439 has been preserved inside the church. Additional repairs and reconstruction work on the church followed the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The organ loft was built in the Baroque style and an altar with Baroque painting dedicated to the Virgin Mary was added in 1729.

Discovered during church repairs in 1905, the Romanesque frescoes covering the inside of the apse are highly valued by art historians. The most valuable is a scene depicting Christ within a mandorla entitled “Maiestas Domini.” Christ is seated on a Romanesque throne bestowing a blessing with his right hand; he holds an open book with the inscription “I am the first and the last” in his other hand. The mandorla is being carried by two angels; the Virgin Mary stands to the right, John the Baptist to the left and beneath them is a band with life-sized figures of the apostles. A Renaissance painting discovered above the entrance to the church is also related to St. John the Baptist. The painting depicts a silver bowl with the decapitated head of the saint.

The church once had its own parish in Dolní Chabry, though this ceased to exist during the Thirty Years’ War. The church then became a branch church of St. Wenceslas Church in Prosek, and remains so to this day. The latest repairs to the Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist were performed 35 years ago. Today the church has significantly disrupted statics, a result of the fact that it was not built on rock but only on a loamy hill. The roof frame of the church is infested with longhorn beetle and the Romanesque and later paintings are cracking and turning pale.

Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist Church of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist