Czech Republic

The Czech Republic was formed on January 1, 1993. It comprises two regions: Bohemia and Moravia, both evangelized in 863 by Saints Cyril and Methodius who brought the foundations of faith and the belief in Mary's maternal kindness.

Here are two examples of the Czech expression of Marian devotion:

At the time of Emperor Charles IV (1346-1378), Masses celebrated in honor of the Virgin Mary before the break of dawn, were attended by many faithful who walked to church, lantern in hand, sometimes from long distances...

In 1378, the University of Prague convinced the Emperor to introduce the annual celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. But the region's attachment to Mary suffered the test of trial.

The preacher John Hus (1369-1415) divided the people by raising a strong popular opposition against the Roman Catholic Church and the Emperor, to the point that a civil war broke out (1419-1434) during which Hus's followers destroyed shrines and convents. 

After this very difficult period, religious life returned.

Morning and evening, at the sound of the bells, Catholics would pray a Hail Mary, on their knees, in their native Czech language. This custom was reestablished at the Synod of Olmutz in 1605. With the Jesuits, popular enthusiasm for the Mother of God regained its vigor.

The Protestant Reformation caused upheaval in the country, but the Czech army lost the battle against Emperor Ferdinand II, a Catholic, on the White Mountain (November 8, 1620). This victory won by the Catholics was commemorated by the building of the Saint Mary of Victory Church, which, since 1628, contains the statue now famous and known universally under the name of The Infant Jesus of Prague.

Catholics then developed the conviction that their land was the garden of Mary, protected by her. The prayer of the rosary permeated their whole life, down to their legends and fables. The artisans of Prague even used to make rosaries using gold or silver thread. It is said that in 1729, when an unidentifiable corpse was found, the people concluded that he wasn't Catholic because he didn't have a rosary on him.

Then, in the 18th century, Emperor Joseph II closed many monasteries and shrines. In 1920, the ideas of John Hus became popular again, leading some to separate from Rome.

During the Nazi occupation (1938-1939) and the Communist rule (1948-1990) the Church was closely monitored and many Christians were imprisoned.

Today, people can worship again freely; indeed the Church gives the impression of a never interrupted fervor.  

In the Czech Republic, the feast of the Assumption is called the "feast of the Holy Queen." In Bohemia, almost 200 churches bear this very title. The feast of the Visitation was proposed by a Czech. Let us add that the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was also created in the Middle Ages, probably to call upon heavenly assistance to assuage the misery caused by the war against the Turks.

Among the shrines, one of note is the Shrine of Philippsdorf, built in memory of an apparition of the Virgin to a terminally ill woman, who was cured on January 13, 1866. Since the end of the 1930's, the Basilica of Philippsdorf is one of the most visited pilgrimage destinations in Central Europe.

Attilio Galli, Madre della Chiesa dei Cinque continenti, Ed. Segno, Udine, 1997, p. 59-66