A truly odd couple roams the Celetná at night, oblivious to anyone else

Ladies of the night have always flocked to busy market areas and touristy spots, at least in the centuries before the dawn of the internet when that became obsolete. One place that long attracted bawdy women was Celetná Street, part of the Royal Route leading to Old Town Square. The route continues on to Prague Castle, but our story stops here, where it has remained as long as anyone can remember.

Old Town Square was a bustling market area with goods from all over the known world. Travelers came from far and wide to both buy and sell. Many people were far from home and had money to spare for the services of strumpets.

Celetná Street

Celetná Street

One fille de joie who frequented the street was named Lucretia. She was particularly shameless and would approach people with bold suggestions, opening her unbuttoned vest to reveal a thin see-through blouse so prospective customers would get a preview of what they could enjoy for a few coins.

A priest from the nearby Church of Our Lady before Týn went on one of those clean-up-the-street campaigns that the self-appointed guardians of morality are wont to take up from time to time. He tried to scare off all of the members of the demimonde from around the square, which was no small undertaking, as there were dozens of tarts and hustlers in that area. Celetná was likely the cocotte capital of Prague at the time.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

Church of Our Lady before Týn in the 1860s.

He would follow the courtesans up and down the street, scaring off their customers by waving a large wooden cross and loudly exclaiming his religious opinions, which he felt represented the indisputable truth. Most of the temptresses traveled to other streets, waiting until the priest grew bored, as campaigners often do.

But Lucretia persisted. In fact, she was doing better than even. With all of the competing harlots driven off, she had a virtual monopoly on streetwalking.

One night the priest was particularly frustrated. If he could just get that last siren to leave, he could declare victory in his anti-Libertine actions.

He boldly went up to Lucretia, waving his cross and denouncing her. She opened her vest to show her assets and told the priest he wouldn’t be nearly so frustrated if he spent a little time with her and lived a little, instead of ruining everyone else’s fun.

The priest turned beet red and in a rage struck the hooker on her head. The sound of shattering bone echoed up and down the street. Lucretia fell to her knees and then toppled over. She was dead.

Celetná Street

Celetná Street is now crowded with tourists.

The priest realized that all his work was ruined. A murder like this in plain view couldn’t be explained away. Various plans of how to save himself ran through his head as his heart raced. But in seconds, his heart raced too fast. He had a fatal heart attack. The two of them lay side by side on the street.

Every night, the two of them emerge on the same spot, caught up in their final argument of strict morality versus hedonism. Save for their old-fashioned clothes, they blend in with the crowd and seem like any other couple having a bit of a disagreement on the street. Just a quickly as they appear, they vanish.

The odd couple is harmless to outsiders. And there seems to be no way to free them. But they don’t care. They seem content to argue the same points until the end of time.


Background

Celetná Street is one of Prague’s oldest, running from the Powder Tower to Old Town Square. The name comes from a type of bread roll, as it was a center of baking in medieval times. Today, though, souvenirs are the big business. There are also two wax museums on the street with rival versions of the same historical figures and modern film stars.

Celetná has been part of the Royal Route since the 14th century. Baroque and Classical buildings now line the street, but many have basements and foundations that date to the Romanesque and Gothic era. The Knights Templar are supposed to have had a base there, and a street connecting to Celetná is still called Templová.

House at the Golden Angle

Detail of the House at the Golden Angel

Famous people, including Franz Kafka, are associated with the street in modern times.

It is also supposed to have been where visiting alchemists would wait until they were approved to practice in Prague and possiblly even meet Emperor Rudolf II. The House at the Golden Angel, at Celetná 29, was a hotel, as it is now. Back in Rudolf’s era, it was where arriving alchemists would stay.

Partway down the street is the House of the Black Madonna, a modern Cubist building with a medieval statue of a Black Madonna in a golden cage.

Black Madonna

Black Madonna on Celetná Street

Týn Church, rightly known as Our Lady Before Týn (Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem), is home to the tomb of astrologer Tycho Brahe.

It has a long history going back to the 11th century when it was a Romanesque church for visiting merchants who lived in nearby Ungelt. The upper level colonnade in Ungelt was once a bordello for merchants.

Tycho Brahe's original tomb

Tycho Brahe’s original tomb in Týn Church

It was replaced by an early Gothic church in 1256. The present church was started in the 14th century in the late Gothic style under the influence of Matthias of Arras and later Petr Parléř, both of whom worked on St Vitus’ Cathedral.

For a while, the church was under Protestant control, but went back into Catholic hands after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and was lavishly redecorated.

The Church of Our Lady before Týn can be seen on the Knight of Pentacles in The Tarot of Prague. The two towers of the church are sometimes called Adam and Eve, and are not the same height. The difference was designed to avoid the vanity of trying to create perfection.


The main image is Street in Venice, 1882, by John Singer Sargent, public domain


An article by Baba Studio with Raymond Johnston. Copyright Baba Studio, all rights reserved. Please contact us if you would like to syndicate or otherwise use this article.

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