Castle and Cathedral in Modern Prague: Longing for the Sacred in a Skeptical Age

Castle and Cathedral in Modern Prague: Longing for the Sacred in a Skeptical Age

Castle and Cathedral in Modern Prague: Longing for the Sacred in a Skeptical Age

Castle and Cathedral in Modern Prague: Longing for the Sacred in a Skeptical Age


Six million people visit Prague Castle each year. Here is the story of how this ancient citadel was transformed after World War I from a neglected, run-down relic into the seat of power for independent Czechoslovakia—and the symbolic center of democratic postwar Europe.

The restoration of Prague Castle was a collaboration of three remarkable figures in twentieth-century east central Europe: Tomáš Masaryk, the philosopher who became Czechoslovakia’s first president; his daughter Alice, a social worker trained in the settlement houses of Chicago who was founding director of the Czechoslovak Red Cross and her father’s trusted confidante; and the architect, Jože Plecnik of Slovenia, who integrated reverence for Classical architecture into distinctly modern designs. Their shared vision saw the Castle not simply as a government building or historic landmark but as the sacred center of the new republic, even the new Europe—a place that would embody a different kind of democratic politics, rooted in the spiritual and the moral.

With a biographer’s attention to detail, historian Bruce Berglund presents lively and intimate portraits of these three figures. At the same time, he also places them in the context of politics and culture in interwar Prague and the broader history of religion and secularization in modern Europe. Gracefully written and grounded in a wide array of sources, ,Castle and Cathedral in Modern Prague is an original and accessible study of how people at the center of Europe, in the early decades of the twentieth century, struggled with questions of morality, faith, loyalty, and skepticism.


This is book about Something. Something sacred. Something eternal. Something higher.

Surveys regularly show the Czech Republic as being one of the least religious countries in the world, with anywhere from a third to twothirds of the population declaring themselves as atheists. However, scholars of religion point out that most Czechs actually do hold some belief. This faith is not directed to God as defined in any traditional, creedal sense, nor is it affiliated with any church or religious institution. Instead, it is a belief in something that is sacred or supernatural or simply “up there.” Catholic priest and sociologist Tomáš Halík, the 2014 Templeton Prize laureate, coined a term to describe this belief. From the Czech word for “something” (něco), Halík labeled this type of religious feeling as něcismus, meaning the “belief in something” or, literally, “something-ism.” According to Halík, Czechs who follow Somethingism are reluctant to even associate the object of their belief with the word “God,” let alone with a particular religion. But this privatized spirituality does have traceable patterns. Along with having the highest rates of atheism in Europe, the Czech Republic also has large percentages of people who declare themselves as “very superstitious” and who believe in amulets and fortune tellers. Even among Czechs who claim affiliation with a church, belief in the occult is common while adherence to traditional Christian teaching is inconsistent. According to one survey, twenty percent of Czech atheists believe in

1 Halík, “O ateismu, pochybnostech a víře.”

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