Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc

The Olomouc Holy Trinity Column is one of the most exceptional examples of the apogee of central European Baroque artistic expression. Columns of this type constituted a unique material demonstration of religious faith in central Europe during the Baroque period, and the Olomouc example represents its most outstanding expression.

In the reconstruction following the Thirty Years' War (1648-50) the city of Olomouc took on a new appearance. Many impressive public and private buildings were constructed in a local variant of the prevailing style, which became known as 'Olomouc Baroque'. The most characteristic expression of this style was a group of monuments (columns and fountains), of which the Holy Trinity Column is the crowning glory. Václav Render submitted the project to the City Council and work started in the spring of 1717. In this first stage, in the 1720s, the first part of the sculptural decoration was carried out by the Olomouc sculptor Filip Sattler. The remaining sculptural work was carried out in 1745-52 by the distinguished Moravian sculptor Ondrej Zahner (1709-52). The Column was ceremonially consecrated on 9 September 1754, in the presence of the Empress Maria Theresa.

In essence, the basic ground plan of the Holy Trinity Column is derived from a circle 17m in diameter. From the circular base, which has eighteen peripheral guard stones linked by a forged chain, a staircase of seven steps rises to the column's first level, the ground plan of which is hexagonal. The first level comprises a small chapel, again with a circular ground plan. At the points of the hexagon there are six conical balustrades. At the points of the hexagon, supported by six massive pedestals richly decorated on three sides with motifs such as scrolls and acanthus, are to be found the first six larger than life-size statues of saints (c. 220-240 cm) adjoining the body of the chapel on the first level. The first level is richly decorated with fluted pilasters, ribbon motifs, conches, relief cartouches with relief figures of apostles and other masonry details. The same pattern is consistently repeated in both the second and third levels. The second level retains the ground plan of the first, and is crowned by the second group of six statues of saints, placed on isolated pedestals. The third level tops the base of the column. It recedes slightly towards the centre, its periphery furnished again with six massive pedestals carrying the third row of six saints, another row of six relief figures of apostles and rich masonry decoration. This base of the third level supports a monolithic pillar 10 m high and richly decorated with fluting and acanthus motifs. The sculptural group of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is mounted on the first third of the monolith, the figure of the Virgin Mary supported by a pair of angels. Again, the group is executed on a larger-than-life-size scale, in gilded copper. On the top of the pillar-monolith itself, crowned by a capital featuring scroll and acanthus motifs, there is a group of God the Father giving a blessing and Christ with the cross, both placed on a globe, with the figure of the Archangel Michael below. The entire structure is completed by a radial target-star with a dove in the centre, to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Once more, the entire group is on a larger-than-life-size scale in wrought and gilded copper. The overall height of the column is 35 m.

The concept of the Holy Trinity involved the two principal elements of the essential hierarchy of values in the Baroque period. Faith and religious tradition are intermingled with the idea of the city - its traditions, protection and civil administration. The ideas of Christianity and of citizenship (allegiance to the city in the best meaning of the word) combine here as a triumphal statement in the form of a stone monument.

Historical context

Following the Swedish occupation of this largely medieval city at the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648-50), four fifths of Olomouc lay in ruins and more than 90% of its inhabitants had fled. Although it lost its status as the capital of Moravia, it remained an episcopal see and this fact, coupled with the indomitable self-confidence of its citizens, ensured its regeneration.

In the post-war reconstruction the street pattern of the medieval town was respected. However, it took on a new appearance: over the following century many impressive public and private buildings were constructed in a local variant of the prevailing style, which became known as 'Olomouc Baroque.' The most characteristic expression of this style was a group of monuments (columns and fountains), of which the Holy Trinity Column is the crowning glory.

'... I shall raise a column so high and splendid it shall not have an equal in any other town': these were the words used by Václav Render, Olomouc master stonemason, to describe his project for building a religious column, which was submitted to the City Council on 29 October 1715. The project was approved on 13 January 1716 and work started in the spring of 1717, Render financing and carrying out most of it himself. In 1733, the year of Render's death, the column had reached the height of a single-storey building, with a chapel inside and a central core clad in stone, together with intricate stone-masonry detailing. In this first stage, in the 1720s, the first part of the sculptural decoration was carried out by the Olomouc sculptor Filip Sattler.

In his will Render bequeathed almost all his considerable fortune to the city for the completion of the work. The remaining sculptural work was carried out in 1745-52 by the distinguished Moravian sculptor Ondrej Zahner (1709-52). In the early 1750s, the topmost group and the group representing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary were cast in copper and gilded by the Olomouc goldsmith Šimon Forstner (1714-73). The Column was ceremonially consecrated on 9 September 1754, in the presence of the Empress Maria Theresa.

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

Criterion (i): The Olomouc Holy Trinity Column is one of the most exceptional examples of the apogee of central European Baroque artistic expression.

Criterion (iv): The Holy Trinity Column constituted a unique material demonstration of religious faith in central Europe during the Baroque period, and the Olomouc example represents its most outstanding expression.

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