A Templar knight on a fire-breathing horse went on strike when their church became a print shop
The former Church of St. Anne on Liliová Street in Prague’s Old Town used to belong to the Knights Templar, before the order was abolished in the 14th century. The church and connected monastery was called Jerusalem by the crusading order.
Not all the Templars left, though. One knight quite literally lost his head over the closure of the order. Whether he was beheaded due to some crime he committed or whether he was an innocent victim, or was killed for heresy when the order was disbanded, is not known. Some say he turned his back on Christianity just before he was executed because his claims of innocence and pleas for divine intervention went unheeded.
For centuries he could be seen on Friday at midnight riding down Liliová Street with his head under his arm. His phantom horse breathed smoke through its nose. Both the horse and rider wore the insignia of the Templars, a distinctive cross on the black-and-white cloth draped over the armor. When the bell struck one, he and the horse would simply vanish.
The ghost was scary, but not unapproachable. He could be engaged in conversation but didn’t like to talk about why he lost his head. He did tell people he could be set free if somebody would stab his horse with the knight’s own sword, but nobody was brave enough to try, fearing some deception. At one point a local butcher, so the story goes, said he would do it if he could be promised the horse meat for free. When the knight told him the horse and rider would both simply vanish in a puff of acrid smoke the butcher lost interest, saying if he killed an animal for free he could get into trouble with the butchers guild.
The ghost happily haunted the streets on Friday nights, resting in the church the rest of the week until the church was deconsecrated in the 18th century and turned into a print shop and later a paper warehouse. Apparently having to huddle next to noisy newspaper presses that ran all hours of the night was just too much for this once proud crusader. And a house full of old newspapers and unsold books just isn’t a prestigious address. The ghost felt a lack of respect at having his home treated in such a manner. And frankly, the place had become boring since the monks left. What is a ghost to do? He has gone on strike, refusing to go out to scare people until he feels respected again.
The former church is now called Prague Crossroads and is used by an NGO for art exhibitions, meetings and conferences, but the ghost is apparently still stubbornly refusing to haunt as there have been no reports of sightings in the building or nearby. Perhaps an exhibition on local Templar ghosts could get him to make a personal appearance.
The church on Liliová Street was founded by St. Václav in 927 AD, and was originally a rotunda dedicated to St. Lawrence. Churches were round at that time to keep the devil from hiding in the corners. Around 1230, it fell into the hands of the Knights Templar, a crusading order based in Jerusalem. They expanded it into a monastery and changed the name to Jerusalem. The Templars were abolished worldwide in 1312 by Pope Clement V, as they had grown too wealthy and powerful. Many members in France were tortured and executed.
In Prague, aside from the Jerusalem monastery, the Knights Templar also had a base on Templová Street.
Once the Templars were forced to abandon Jerusalem, the church was used by Dominicans, who called it the Church of St. Anne. They added a tower, which lasted until 1870, when it was partly torn down. It underwent a renovation in the 17th century thanks to Queen Anna of Tyrol, the wife of Emperor Matthias, the successor of Rudolf II.
Emperor Joseph II, however, abolished it along with other monasteries. It became a print shop for Jan Ferdinand of Schönfeld, owner of the newspaper K. und K. Oberpostamts-Zeitung. After 1834, it continued as a print shop for the Haas Brothers, and in 1880, the Gothic vaulting was removed and it became a warehouse.
Despite all the wear and tear, fragments of Gothic frescoes by Master Theodorik were discovered in 1962 and some original woodwork detail still survives. More frescoes were discovered in 2004, and are believed to be by the Master of the Třeboň Altar.
The venue is now owned by the National Theatre and rented for a symbolic fee to the Dagmar and Václav Havel Vize 97 foundation on a 99 year lease. It now has the name Prague Crossroads.