The main facts about history of the House of Professe

(doc. RNDr. Antonín Kučera, CSc.)

This building was originally called the House of Professes and was built by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, as an accommodation for Professes - higher Jesuit officials, responsible directly and only to the Pope. It was built under a period of deep Catholic Reformation of the Czech Kingdom after the battle of the White Mountain in Prague in 1620, where catholic troops had gained victory over Protestants. Before the construction could commence, the Jesuits had to pursue complicated negotiations with the local municipality of the Lesser Town, which ended with a positive decision of the Emperor Ferdinand the Second, a member of the House of Habsburg and the Holy Roman Emperor. The foundation charter was accomplished by Duke Albrecht von Wallenstein in 1628, who was a former commander of the catholic troops. He also donated a large amount of money for the project.

One of the most difficult negotiating issues was a small local parish church dedicated to Saint Nicolas, which the Jesuits were about to replace. As a compensation, the Jesuits had to agree to maintain the adjacent roman rotunda of Saint Wenceslas, a unique roman memorial, instead. By an agreement with the local municipality of the Lesser Town, the Jesuits were obliged to keep the rotunda unchanged and to make it an integral part of the House of Professes. Nevertheless, the bad statics of the rotunda led to its demolition, and it was replaced with a new parish church of Saint Wenceslas, which became an integral part of the House of Professes. This church was entirely separated from the House of Professes and had its own independent entrance from the upper part of the Lesser Town Square. The whole House of Professes was finished in 1690-1691. The House of Professes composes only three sides of this object. The fourth side is formed by the new baroque church of Saint Nicolas. This new church was finished only in 1752, much later then the House of Professes.

The main architects responsible for the construction of the House and the Saint Nicholas church were Francesco Caratti, Giovanni Domenico Orsi de Orsini, Francesco Lurago, Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer (all famous names in architecture).

A remarkable trait of the House of Professes is its modesty, a clear reflection of the criticism Jesuits had faced after building Clementinum, a spectacular and pompous baroque building in the Old Town. Nevertheless, this modesty was abandoned soon after finishing the House of Professes, and the Saint Nicolas church was again built in a pompous style with a flamboyant decoration.

Another interesting part was the Jesuit library located over the dome of Saint Wenceslas, the parish church embedded into the object. Among other things, it hosted the library of Heinrich Rantzau, a famous renaissance polyhistor and statesman, who had been giving shelter to Tycho Brahe at his castle Wandsbeck near Hamburg, when Tycho Brahe had been banished from Denmark. The library was brought to Prague by Albrecht von Wallenstein from Breitenburg, another castle of Heinrich Rantzau, as a war booty and was donated to Jesuits.

The House of Professes had originally the main entrance from the upper part of the Lesser Town Square, and the floor where the refectory is located was the main representative floor. When Emperor Joseph the Second abolished the Society of Jesus in 1773, the House of Professes belonged to the Civil Service. It was re-built several times: the church of Saint Wenceslas was partitioned in two floors and served for the Upper Court of Justice. After 1918, the foundation of Czechoslovakia, the House belonged to the Ministry of Finance. A new object, which served as the state bank, was built in the courtyard. Also, a safe deposit was built inside the cellars, which kept a large part of the Czech state treasure. The Charles University became the owner of this House in 1960.

Refectory: The author of the decoration is Joseph Kramolin, a lay member of the Society of Jesus. The oil paintings on the walls represent biblical motives. One may see, among others, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier. The organ case was donated to the Charles University by the Břevnov Monastery, a Benedictine archabbey in Prague.

The House was substantially restored and modernized in the period between 2000 and 2005. Although it was known that the remains of the rotunda of Saint Wenceslas, destroyed in 1683, should be hidden somewhere here, the precise location was unknown. In 2004, by an accident, the remains of roman walls of the rotunda and a small fragment of the roman ceramic tiled floor from the twelfth century were found. This discovery is really very important and led to a large archaeological research.