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Title page for ETD etd-07282003-094532

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Mengel, David Charles
Author's Email Address
URN etd-07282003-094532
Title Bones, Stones, and Brothels: Religion and Topography in Prague under Emperor Charles IV (1346-78)
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
Department Medieval Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
John Van Engen Committee Chair
Olivia R. Constable Committee Member
Thomas F. X. Noble Committee Member
Thomas Kselman Committee Member
  • medieval
  • Bohemia
  • space
  • urban
  • medieval cities
  • cult of relics
  • mendicants
  • prostitution
Date of Defense 2003-07-22
Availability unrestricted





David Charles Mengel

This dissertation explores the complex interactions of religion and topography in fourteenth-century Prague, offering a new approach to the structures and energies that organized and animated later medieval religious culture. It provides an alternative to the rubrics and narratives that have dominated the study of religion in medieval Prague, while contributing to the growing literature on the significances of space in the Middle Ages. At the same time, it sheds light on the city of Prague itself, a dynamic and important urban center of later medieval Central Europe that has too often been relegated to the shadowy edges of the standard depictions of the Middle Ages. Under Charles IV, Prague rapidly grew into its new role as an emperor’s capital. The emperor’s powerful intervention in Prague represented one of several factors that shaped and controlled Prague’s urban space and its local religion.

Each chapter of this dissertation explores one aspect of Prague’s urban topography, the people who produced and inhabited it, and the implications for local religion. Chapter 1 maps the physical, social, and ethnic compositions of Prague’s parishes and the character of its many monastic houses, setting the stage for the subsequent chapters. The second chapter uses the life of one woman to demonstrate how the economic and religious culture of a single parish converged in the controversial use of perpetual, property-based rents. Chapters 3 and 4 highlight two of the so-called “forerunners of the Bohemian reformation,” but without the usual accompanying teleological and confessional models. One locates the violent clashes surrounding an embattled Prague preacher within the context of the European-wide struggles between parish priests and mendicant friars. Another takes as its subject the controversial attempt of a popular preacher to convert a brothel into an experimental religious community of priests and reformed prostitutes. The final chapter investigates the effects of Charles IV's renowned relic-collecting on the religious culture of Prague, which included the establishment of new holy days, countless indulgences, and even a miracle-producing cult that together reinforced the emperor’s efforts to transform his capital city into one of later medieval Europe’s greatest cities.

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