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Bohemian Crown Jewels: the most valuable treasure in the country

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The Bohemian Crown Jewels are the most famous and valuable treasure in the Czech Republic. They consist of the crown of Saint Wenceslas, the royal orb and scepter, the coronation vestments of the Kings of Bohemia, Saint Wenceslas’ sword, and the gold reliquary cross.

Today, the Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept in a chamber in Saint Vitus Cathedral. The chamber is barely accessible, and the door leading inside has seven locks. The key to each lock is in the hands of seven different men: The President, the Prague Archbishop, the Chairman of the House of Deputies, the Chairman of the Senate, the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of St Vitus Cathedral, and the last one is held by the Mayor of Prague.

The crown

St. Wenceslas Crown
St. Wenceslas Crown via Prague Castle

The most valuable of the Bohemian Crown Jewels is the crown which is the fourth oldest in Europe. The crown dates back to the 14th century when the Holy Roman Emperor and king of Bohemia Charles IV had it created for Saint Wenceslas in 1347. The crown was originally placed on the skull of Saint Wenceslas, and was ceremoniously “borrowed” from the Saint during each coronation of a new King. The King being coronated had to pay Wenceslas’ skeleton a fee to borrow the crown,. The fee had to be paid in groschen, the currency at the time. After the coronation ceremony, the crown was placed back on Wenceslas’ skull.

The crown was revered by the church at the time, and Pope Clement VI gave Charles IV a papal bull for protecting the crown. 

The crown weighs over 2.35 kilograms and is made from 22-carat gold. It has 96 different gems, the most valuable being 19 blue sapphires from Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. There are also 44 red spinels from Sri Lanka, 30 green emeralds from Egypt, and 20 pearls from the Indian Ocean. The largest stone on the crown is a 250-carat rubellite which is also the largest in the world. On the top of the crown is a golden cross with a depiction of Christ, and a thorn allegedly taken from Christ’s crucifixion. 

“Hic est spina de corona domini” can be read, which means: This is a thorn from the crown of the Lord.

Orb and scepter

Royal Apple
Royal orb via Prague Castle

The royal orb and scepter is 18-carat gold from 1526, created for Ferdinand I. The orb symbolizes the earth, while the cross symbolizes Christ, who rules the earth. The scepter represents the power of the king, originating from the shepherd’s stick.

The Jewels were previously kept in Karlštejn Castle, and have been moved around several times for security reasons. During the Thirty Years War, they were in a parish church in České Budějovice before being taken to the Imperial Treasury in Vienna. 

Legend of the crown

Royal Sceptre
Royal scepter via Prague Castle

Legend has it that anyone who wrongfully wears the crown becomes cursed, and dies within a year. In 1941, German SS official Reinhard Heydrich put the crown on his head for fun while inside the castle. 6 months later he was dead from assassination.  

Once every five years, the Bohemian Crown Jewels are put on display in Prague Castle, and Czechs from around the country come to see them. The last time they were displayed was in January of 2018.

The combination of historical value, size and rarity of the gems, makes the Bohemian Crown Jewels impossible to appraise. There is no known evaluation of the treasure. 

Featured image: the Bohemian Crown Jewels by K. Pacovsky/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

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