The Church of Our Lady before Tyn (Kostel Matky Bozi pred Tynem in Czech) is one of the dominant sights of the Old Town Square in Prague. To tourists it is mostly known simply as Tyn Church or (incorrectly) Tyn Cathedral.
Tyn Church History
The first known church which existed on the site of today’s Tyn Church was the church of Virgin Mary (or Our Lady), first mentioned in materials from 1135. However, its looks at that time remains a mystery (it was most likely a Romanesque structure).
Early Gothic Tyn Church
In 1256 this first temple was replaced by a new, early Gothic Church of Our Lady in front of Tyn. With the growth and expansion of the city of Prague in the Middle Ages, the capacity of the church soon proved to be insufficient and the church was rebuilt again. That time it probably already got three bodies, a crypt, and a tower with a bell. However, practically nothing from these structures has remained until today.
Construction of Today’s Structure
First parts of the Gothic Tyn Church how we know it today were probably started some time around 1360 under the reign of King Charles IV like many other landmarks in Prague. There were two main phases of Tyn Church construction prior to the Hussite era in the early 15th century. In the first phase the choir was built, as well as both aisles. The construction was markedly influenced by the late Gothic styles of Matthias of Arras and Peter Parler (the author of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle).
In the second phase in the late 14th and early 15th century, the western face and most of the nave were constructed. At the beginning of 15th century, when the efforts for reforming the Catholic Church were gaining strength in the Czech lands, the Tyn Church was almost finished, except for the towers, the gable, and the roof.
Spiritual Centre of Prague in Hussite Times
The Church of Our Lady before Tyn was an important spiritual centre of Prague Old Town and the whole region already under Charles IV., when it had strong ties with the newly founded Prague University (today’s Charles University in Prague). It was served by well-known preachers like Konrad Waldhauser and Jan Milic of Kromeriz, who promoted the need of reforming the Roman Catholic Church and paved the way for the eventual rise of John Hus (Jan Hus).
Tyn Church retained its importance also during the times following the Hussite wars. Jan Rokycana (John of Rokycany), who became vicar at Tyn in 1427, was elected Prague’s Calixtin (pro-reformist) Archbishop in 1435. A golden chalice (a cup and symbol of the Hussites) was installed on the gable of Tyn Church.
Finishing the Tyn Church Structure
The uneasy Hussite period brought an interruption to the Tyn Church construction and the works continued only in the 1450’s, when the political situation became relatively (thought not fully) stabilized. The roof was finished in 1457, the western gable followed in 1463, and the North Tower in 1466. The South Tower (the slightly more robust one) was built in 1506-1511 by Matej Rejsek.
Baroque Period and Fire
After the Battle of White Mountain (Bitva na Bile Hore, 1620) the reformist ideas in the Czech lands were once for all defeated. The golden chalice was removed from the gable of the church and replaced by a sculpture of Virgin Mary, to whom the Tyn Church is dedicated. The sculpture of earlier pro-Hussite Czech king George of Podebrady was also removed from Tyn.
Except for those changes the Baroque period did not influence the exterior or Tyn Church, but some new altars were installed inside. In 1679 a lightning struck Tyn Church and set a fire, which damaged parts of the Late Gothic vault. It was replaced by a lower Baroque vault.
Unification of Prague and Another Fire
In 1784 the four municipalities of Prague were unified and the Church of Our Lady of Tyn became one of the key churches in the new big Prague – a role which it still retains today.
There was another fire in 1819, which affected the North Tower of the Tyn and melted a bell from 1585. Restoration was finished in 1835.
The Church of Our Lady of Tyn underwent several renovations since them, the most extensive of them in 1876-1895, 1906-1908, and 1973-1995. Renovation of the interior started in the 1990’s and is still in progress.
While the Church of Our Lady before Tyn is still a fully operational church, it also became one of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions today and an integral part of the Old Town Square panorama. Tourists sometimes refer to it as Tyn Cathedral, which is wrong (Prague’s Cathedral is St. Vitus at Prague Castle).
One of the best walks in Prague Old Town (and a relatively short one) is through the narrow streets around the entire Tyn Church, with a short detour to Tyn courtyard. The directions are as follows.
From Old Town Square take Celetna Street. Celetna Street is the one leading to the Powder Gate and you can easily find it in the corner of the Old Town Square on the right side of Tyn Church. This time you will not reach the Powder Gate, but you turn left at the first possible occasion. The street’s name is Stupartska.
In this place you will have reached the backside of Tyn church and continue through a narrow passage until you arrive at a crossing of several narrow streets. There will be two small gates. Take the one on the right and you enter the historical area called Tyn, which gave its name to the church. Though it may seem so at the first moment, it is not a private property and you are free to enter the Tyn.
Then you can come back through the gate to the crossing on the back corner of Tyn Church and continue straight ahead along the church’s wall. This passage will take you back to Old Town Square.
Hotels near Tyn Church
The area around Tyn and Tyn Church is relatively quiet compared to other places in the Old Town and the centre of Prague. At the same time, virtually everything a tourist may like is very close from here. Therefore you may like this location as a place to stay. There are numerous hotels near Tyn Church, mostly at the higher end of the price range.