One statue is not what it seems, according to a popular Old Town legend.
Most old churches have some stone decorations on the roof, and the overwhelming majority are just fanciful sculptures of angels and saints. There is an exception near Národní třída, in a church that’s fairly hidden on a side street. It used to be part of the wall that separated Old Town from New Town.
The Church of St. Martin in the Wall (kostel svatého Martina ve zdi), at Martinská 8 in Prague’s Old Town, has an odd sculpture of a stone boy using two fingers to pull his lips and make a taunting face. The church is otherwise fairly unadorned both inside and out, save for the boy and on another eave of the roof an owl.
The boy, however, according to a widespread legend, is not a sculpture. It is a real naughty boy who was turned to stone.
There are several variations on the legend, as is typical. But the main idea is that while the church was being built or remodeled, a boy was on the roof collecting pigeon eggs and throwing pebbles and possibly even rotten eggs at people passing by. The boy may have been a roofer’s apprentice.
The missiles from the roof were causing some annoyance, and a priest leaving the church (or in some versions a random passerby) cautioned the boy the stop.
The priest was in a hurry, running to perform extreme unction, or last rights, for a sick parishioner.
Rather than stop, the boy redoubled his attacks and began to pull his lips apart and stick out his tongue, thinking that the priest was too lazy to come on the roof to catch him.
Instead the priest spoke some magical formula that thankfully nobody else overheard. The boy instantly turned to stone and has been frozen with his fingers in his mouth ever since.
There is no word on the owl, but perhaps his nightly hoo-hoo-ing disturbed the sleep of the priest who knew the magic stone formula.
An odd variant of the tale is that the boy’s mother who worked as a maid in the area was fed up with her son endlessly causing trouble. She saw a crowd outside the church and was shocked to find her son on the roof, again causing trouble. She cursed her son, and he turned to stone.
Another legend puts a ghost in the area of the church. Prague customs official Jiří Šverhamr lived near the church and was careless with the city seal in 1386. He left it on a table, and his baby took it up as a toy. The mayor’s wife gave the baby a bath and accidentally threw the seal out with the bathwater. A passerby found the seal and took it to the Town Hall. The City Council asked the official to produce the seal, and when he couldn’t find it he was sentenced to death for his dereliction of duty.
A careless customs official was executed in front of his home, which stood at this spot.
He was beheaded in front of his house and buried in the cemetery that used to be in front of the Church of St. Martin.
His house at Martinská 5, directly across the street from the church, became known as the House at the Cross, and still has a small cross on the facade.
The ghost of the customs official wanders around the church at noon and midnight, wearing a medieval outfit and carrying his head under his arm. If he points his finger at you, it means you have forgotten something very important and need to find it right away, or are just about to lose something if you are not careful.
The Church of St. Martin in the Wall was built in Romanesque style in 1178–87 when the area was a village called Újezd.
When the Old Town wall was built in the 1230s, part of the church was in Old Town and part was in New Town.
A Gothic remodeling took place during the time of Emperor Charles IV around 1350. Further remodeling took place in 1779 and 1904–05.
The cemetery around the church was abolished as the city expanded in the area. Some of the significant tombstones were incorporated into the building. A plaque for sculptor Jan Brokoff and his family was added to the outside of the church in 1909. Brokoff made some of the statues on the Charles Bridge including the statue of John Nepomuk.
The church is now used by the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren and sometimes hosts concerts.