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The St. Wenceslas Crown

Description

The crown is made of 21-22-carat gold and weighs 2,358.3 grams. Its headband that measures 19 cm in diameter turns into four vertical large heraldic lilies. The crown has two cross-forming arches with a cross atop; the crown is 19 cm high. The cross is adorned with a sapphire cameo depicting the Crucifixion. The crown is made of a gold plate that is 0.6 – 0.8 mm thick and adorned with 96 extraordinary precious stones (sapphires, spinels, rubellites and emeralds) and 20 large pearls. Just the precious stones and pearls alone make the crown of Charles IV a unique Czech and European medieval goldsmith masterpiece.

The layout of the precious stones is very compelling; they are set in a way that gives an impression of being suspended in the space around the crown. The composition follows the symbolism of the Middle Ages and Charles IV’s instructions. The overall impression, and not only the artistic one, is achieved by the ingenious structure and proportions of the crown and the color combination of the precious stones.

The most invaluable precious stones adorn the front side of the crown, which thus draws the most attention. It has all red stones (spinels and one rubellite that was originally thought to be a ruby), except for a large sapphire in the middle of the bottom row to maintain the rhythm of colors.

In order to maintain the overall composition, the back side of the crown has the same color of precious stones as the front side. It is interesting that it contains the highest number of precious stones – the small red spinels most likely came from the original composition of the crown. In the bottom row, spinels are made into groups to correspond in volume with the other precious stones.

The red axis connecting the front side and back side of the crown crosses the blue axis connecting the right side and the left side of the crown; the blue precious stones are mostly sapphires. Some of them have a simple facet cut, which was a novelty back then.

The cross-forming arches joining the four parts of the headband are adorned with pearls and 12 rectangular and square frames with red and green precious stones. They came from another valuable jewel. The latest research shows that they used to be a part of the gold belt of Blanche of Valois that she had received from her cousin, French king Charles the Fair, for her wedding with Charles IV.

Charles IV, who was already thinking about his own coronation while his father was still alive, decided to have the St. Wenceslas Crown made. The crown was protected by Pope Climent VI’s bull from 6 May 1346 stating that Charles IV consecrated the new crown to St. Wenceslas, his ancestor, predecessor and patron.

The St. Wenceslas Crown was entrusted to the Chapter of the Cathedral of St. Vitus, and Charles IV decided that Czech kings could use it for their coronation only. The crown was first used on Sunday, 2 September 1347, for Charles IV’s Czech coronation, which was performed by Prague Archbishop Ernest of Pardubice (1344-1364) together with the coronation of Charles IV’s first wife, Blanche of Valois (†1348), in the old Basilica of Spytihěv. The first written record about the crown comes from the oldest articles of inventory of the treasure of the Cathedral of St. Vitus from 1354.

Charles IV was crowned six times: the Roman king in Bonn in 1346 and in Aachen in 1349, the Czech king in Prague in 1347, the king of Lombardy in Milan in 1355, the Roman emperor in Rome in 1355 and the king of Arelate in Arles in 1365. Besides this, he perhaps knew very well all prominent insignia of European Christian rulers of that time.

He definitely used this knowledge in creating his own crown. It is not a coincidence that he abstained from decorative elements and wanted a crown with a conservative design, representing his political, liturgical and aesthetic ideas. The Coronation Cross was created on the same principles, and Charles IV incorporated the sophisticated synthesis of these ideas in the Coronation Rules of the Czech Kings as well. The holiness of the St. Wenceslas Crown reinforced the political symbology of this jewel as the crown of the Czech State and the hereditary crown of Czech rulers.

Toward the end of his life, Charles IV had the crown changed, enhancing its colors and adorning it with additional invaluable precious stones that the emperor had been collecting during his entire rule. The final balanced color and volume composition proves that the precious stones were moved around. It seems that nothing has been changed on the crown since, and thus the St. Wenceslas Crown is a unique royal crown of the Christian Middle Ages that as part of royal insignia has remained intact to this day. Without this crown, no Czech king could be legally crowned. It was this fact as well as the protection of the Church that remarkably saved the crown from destruction or the embarrassing destiny of many other royal crowns.

The crown is kept in its original decorated leather case in the Crown Chamber of the Cathedral of St. Vitus.

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