St. Michael’s Church in Olomouc

St. Michael’s Church (Kostel svatého Michala) in Olomouc, Czech Republic, is a historic and architecturally significant church located in the city’s Old Town. The church is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Over the centuries, St. Michael’s Church in Olomouc has witnessed an abundance of artistic craftsmanship and dedication. The Church stands as a testament to the enduring commitment of artists and restorers, and its interior is a sight that truly takes one’s breath away. Here its history.

It is assumed that the original Romanesque chapel of St. Michael was built on a hill overlooking the Morava River in Olomouc in the 10th or 11th century. According to Dominican legend, St. Hyacinth preached here for four months in 1219. In 1244, King Wenceslaus I donated this chapel and several nearby houses to the Dominican order to support the emerging Dominican monastery in Olomouc.

Later, it was rebuilt in Gothic style. The construction of the new church and convent took almost forty years, with its completion associated with the year 1284. In 1398, the new church and monastery were severely damaged in a widespread fire. Ongoing repairs were hampered by another fire in 1404. It was rebuilt once more. Unfortunately, this Gothic structure endured significant damage over the years due to numerous fires and the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War when the Swedish army occupied Olomouc for eight years. Valuable items from the church were stolen, and the buildings deteriorated. The Dominicans returned in 1650 and carried out the most necessary repairs to continue their activities.

However, the state of the church required a major renovation. In 1673, it was decided that the old Gothic church would be demolished, and a new one built. As a result, it became necessary to undertake an extensive reconstruction, a project that spanned from 1673 to 1699. This grand reconstruction effort effectively transformed the church, giving it its distinctive Baroque character. During this process, virtually the only remnants from the previous church that were preserved were the bell tower, which is now open to tourists, and a portion of the vaulted ceiling in the sacristy. The architects behind this ambitious project, Giovanni Pietro Tencalla (1605-1680) and later Domenico Martinelli (1650-1716), played a pivotal role in redefining the church’s appearance, imbuing it with opulent Baroque interior decorations and architectural elements. The new St. Michael’s Church was crowned with three domes, the largest of which measures 35 meters, making it the first Moravian building with domes. The main dome collapsed during construction works in 1688, had to be dismantled, and was completed a year later. An additional noteworthy detail is the church’s original organ, which dates back to 1706. This historic instrument was crafted by David Sieber (1676-na), an organist from Brno.

St. Michael’s Church in Olomouc was consecrated on May 9, 1707, marking a significant moment in its history. However, just two years later, in July 1709, the church faced a major setback when it was severely damaged by a large fire. The roofs were burned, the fire affected part of the choir space, and it damaged the main altar. Subsequent repairs took another twenty years. The roofs with the domes were restored, the cloister and the bell tower were repaired, a new facade was installed, and new tiles were laid inside. New altars, pews, and sculptures of the apostles on decorative pillars in the nave were added. The stucco interior decoration was designed by Baltazar Fontana (1661-1733). The restoration was completed in 1730 with the installation of a new main altar.

In 1830, the central dome of the church had to be repaired again. In the late 1830s, a renovation and expansion of the priestly seminary, designed by architect Antonín Arche (1813-1896), was cArried out. A Neoclassical portico with fourteen Tuscan columns and a staircase was added to the seminary building. In 1860, the church’s domes were decorated with frescoes to commemorate the beatification of Jan Sarkander. In the late 19th century, between 1892 and 1898, the church underwent yet another transformation, this time a Neo-Baroque reconstruction. This reconstruction aimed to restore and enhance the church’s architectural and artistic elements in line with the Neo-Baroque style of the period. The interior was decorated with frescoes and rich stucco work with extensive gilding. The church walls were covered with artificial marble in various colors. All windows were fitted with stained glass. The main altar was reconstructed, and the relics of St. Adalbert from the chapel at Hukvaldy Castle were placed in its mensa. The Baroque statue of Archangel Michael was replaced with an altarpiece. The reconstruction was completed in December 1897.

In the second half of the 20th century, the church of St. Michael underwent only maintenance and partial restoration work. In 1971, a new marble floor was laid, and between 1973 and 1975, a comprehensive restoration of the organ was carried out. The organ had been damaged by artillery fire at the end of World War II. After the change of regime in 1989, St. Michael’s Church in Olomouc saw a period of significant restoration and revitalization efforts, marking a new chapter in the church’s history. These restoration works aimed to preserve the historical and architectural significance of the church, as well as to enhance its cultural and artistic value. The works ended in 2020.

Below some photos of its stunning interior.

St. Michael’s Church in Olomouc