Some buildings have become home to several restless spirits
The Czech Museum of Music doesn’t look too scary now, but in its long history it has attracted two or three ghosts. One is a conniving and unfaithful actress, and the other is a nun who snatches children. A monk who may have helped her is possibly a third.
Karmelitská Street 388/2 was used as cheap housing before it became the Czech Museum of Music, but originally it was the Church of Mary Magdalene and a connected convent of Magdalene nuns until it was deconsecrated in the 18th century.
Many a wealthy man has lost his head over a pretty actress. But the tale of Headless Laura has the situation reversed. Laura and her husband, whose name time has chosen to forget, lived in the former convent when it was used as housing for itinerant people like actors and artists, as the rooms were rather small and uninviting, and seen as unsuited for families.
Laura was part of a troupe of visiting German actors performing at the Nostitz Theater (now the Estates Theater), where Mozart once conducted. The theater was the epicenter of Prague culture at the time and the place to be seen.
With her finely chiseled looks, waves of flowing black hair and mesmerizing dark eyes, she was rising up to bigger roles. Her husband was jealous of her success and drank more and more. He began falling down in the cast lists and was given nonspeaking parts as he was increasingly unreliable.
Laura caught the eye of a count, and was at home less and less often. She gave excuses about auditions and readings, and girls nights out. She also tried to explain away the silk scarves, pearl necklaces, gemstone earrings and other gifts she received, claiming they were merely stage props. She hinted to her husband that he was too much of a lush to tell real jewels from rhinestones. She also suggested that drink had made him paranoid, and he was losing his mind if he suspected she was unfaithful. She even suggested sending him to an asylum due to his delusions, and started to spread the word that he was insane.
But you can count on her explanations being false. She was in fact seeing the count and planning on leaving her husband to become the next countess. The troupe’s engagement in Prague was soon coming to an end and she was planning on staying behind. She was counting the days until she would have more of the count”s jewels and be able to call herself a countess.
A divorce could be quickly arranged with a little of the count’s money, without the husband knowing until too late that he was declared incompetent and therefore unable to stop the proceedings.
One day, she came home late and said that she had been out at a café having an innocent chat with her friend Olga, a fellow actress. But now she had trapped herself. Olga had just been at her house not an hour ago, looking for Laura. She missed a meeting about what productions the troupe would do when they moved on to Brno for the rest of the season. Laura, of course, wasn’t interested as she intended on staying with the rich count in Prague and helping him spend his money.
The husband flew into a rage and cut off Laura’s head with the axe used for stove wood. He wrapped the head up in one of the fine scarves and put it in a box and sent it to the count. The count, not wanting to be in a scandal, buried the head someplace on the grounds of his estate.
The husband took off in the middle of the night and moved to Transylvania, where there is a small colony of German-speakers. He changed his name, not that it matters as that one is also now forgotten, and started to put on Punch and Judy-style puppet shows.
Laura can be seen at night in and around the former convent, which is now the Czech Museum of Music, wandering and looking for her head. If she ever finds it she will be freed of her curse, but, alas, she is looking in the wrong place. She is harmless but rather frightening in appearance. It is hard to tell her she should look around the former palace of whichever count it was that she was planning to bilk, as without a head she cannot hear anyone.
She shares the same building with the ghost of a Magdalene nun, who can only be seen by small children. The Invisible Nun wanders Karmelitská Street and will come and talk to a child, and the mother will have no idea who the child is talking to. But mothers should take care, if they let the child talk too long the nun will snatch the child and it will never be seen again. Where the nun takes the children and what she does with them is not known. She tells the children she is offering a better life, but she should not be believed.
Long ago as a nun she worked with unwed mothers, and convinced them to give up their babies so they could grow up in good homes. But that wasn’t the case. They were sold off into indentured servitude and workhouses, to slave away in wretched conditions until they dropped. The nun and her accomplices kept the money, claiming it would go to charity, but it went to lavish secret parties instead.
And there were not enough babies from unwed mothers, so the nun used other tricks to get babies such as telling married mothers their babies were stillborn, or simply kidnapping them and blaming whichever group of people was currently out of favor. After death, she returned as a ghost, and is still stealing babies and little children. Nobody knows how to break the curse and set not only the Invisible Nun to rest, but also release the stolen children back to realm of the living. Many of them would have quite a shock finding themselves thrust into the 21st century.
Some sources add that a ghostly monk can also be seen at the same building, but why he haunts and what can free him is a complete mystery as he has taken a vow of silence. Perhaps he was an accomplice of the Invisible Nun, but they seem not be on good terms any longer. Maybe he blames the nun for his fate, or maybe he is trying to stop her but lacks the skill.
Headless Laura does not seem to know about the other ghosts, as their concerns come from a different era and Laura is too vain to trouble her empty missing head with other people’s problems.
In 1782, Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II abolished hundreds of convents and monasteries not involved in teaching, as he saw them as unproductive. The Church of Mary Magdalene in Prague’s Malá Strana district fell victim to this decree. The Baroque church and cloister was built in the 17th century and designed by Francesco Caratti. At one point, it housed Dominican monks, and after deconsecration was a post office, a barracks and part of the State Archives. Aside from books of legends, there is no mention of housing for traveling actors or of the Magdalene nuns.
At the end of the 20th century, it was heavily rebuilt with a lot of modern details added, so much of its original look is long gone. The changes make it more useful as a museum but are not looked on well by architectural preservationists.
The building now houses a piano that was played by Mozart, among thousands of other items. In 2016, a short piece of music co-written by Mozart and Antonio Salieri, the rivals from the film Amadeus, was found in the collection of music and performed there for the first time in over 200 years. It had long been considered lost.
It also has letters from personalities like opera singer Ema Destinnová, composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner and many others. There is also a hand-written copy of the Czech national anthem, “Kde domov můj” as well as works by Beethoven and other famous composers.
Karmelitská Street gets its name from the Carmelite order that was at the Church of Our Lady Victorious, which is on the other side of the street and up closer to Malostranské náměstí. The Infant of Prague, a wax doll that is dressed up and allegedly has miraculous powers, has been there since the late 1600s.
The street has had the same name since after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Before that it was called K Újezdu, meaning To Újezd, which is a small part of Malá Strana.
The Nostitzsches Nationaltheater, or Nostitz Theater, was funded by František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck and opened in 1783. The tragedy Emilia Galotti by the German playwright Gotthold Lessing was the first production.
It first acquired the name Royal Theatre of the Estates in 1798, and would see the name change often until 1990 when it was rebuilt and again became the Estates Theatre.
It is famous for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducting the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni there in October 1787. Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito premiered there in 1791 as well. Mozart in front of the Estates Theatre is featured on the Three of Pentacles card in The Tarot of Prague deck.
The main image is a detail of the painting Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan by (actress Elizabeth Ann Linley) by Thomas Gainsborough, public domain