This is the Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk situated at the edge of Žďár nad Sázavou, Czech Republic, near the historical border between Moravia and Bohemia. Built in 1721, the church was inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1994. Designed by a Bohemian architect, Jan Santini Aichel, the church has some unique features that distinguishes it from other places of worship. Do you know what are they?
First of all, structure’s uniqueness is derived from the fact that it combines the Borrominiesque Baroque with references to Gothic elements in both construction and decoration. The church is remarkable for its gothicizing features and complex symbolism, quite unusual for the time. “The building is an outstanding example of Baroque Gesamt-kunstwerk, linking architecture, other forms of art, symbolism, and other forms of the thought of its period, and so it is outstanding not only in artistic terms but also in the more general historical and artistic context,” says the WHC document.
Further, the composition of the pilgrimage complex is based on the aesthetic concept of a perfect central complex with an explicit central vertical dominant. The centrality of the plan is accentuated by the ground plan, which is based on the parallel to two equivalent radials. The number 5 is dominant in the layout and proportions: the ground plan of the church itself is defined by two groups of five radial axes upon which the basic elements of the ground plan and the composition of the mass are organized. In the design of the cloister these ten radials, which intersect in the centre of the church itself, determine the siting of chapels and gates.
The ground plan is geometrically based on a simple design with simple proportional relationships. An analysis of these relationships demonstrates the care with which Santini blended a concern for symbolic measurements and ratios with the creation of an independent spatial reality.
The exterior of the church presents the appearance of a vertical central body that is star-shaped in form, with five points, graded outwards from the centre. Its morphology is simple, the ordine gottico forms being interpreted minimally in stucco, thus enhancing the primary impact of the complex geometry of the basic structure. The articulating motifs are reduced to simple pilaster frames, the verticals of which are linked by rustic bands. The portal and window openings have pointed vaultings and simple band frames, thus simplifying the gothicizing forms to one with the symbolic value of the sword of the Lord.
The main impression given by the interior is its loftiness and the upward orientation of the space. This space is divided into two by the conspicuous gallery at the base of the vaulting. The central space opens into five niches; of these, four are partitioned horizontally and the fifth, on the east, is filled by the main altar.