Matthias of Arras

Written by Katerina Sediva

Category: Notables

Matthias of Arras

Matthias of Arras

Gothic architecture was in its infancy when Matthias of Arras, an eminent architect from France, was called to lead the construction of the most meaningful and esteemed building in the Czech Republic – Saint Vitus Cathedral. Nowadays, the cathedral is still generally called Saint Vitus Cathedral even though in 1997 it was also officially dedicated to Wenceslaus and Adalbert.

Matthias was born in northern France, specifically, as his name indicates, Arras. The town was particularly famous for its woolen industry long before the middle ages. Its most famous products were tapestries, spread swiftly across Europe. Unfortunately, there are not many records of Matthias’s early life in his native land.

His career in the erstwhile Kingdom of Bohemia began in 1344 when Charles IV. – the first Bohemian king to be also crowned Holy Roman Emperor, required Matthias to come to Prague and conduct the development process with the currently founded St. Vitus Cathedral. At that time, he stayed in the Palace of Popes in the Southeastern French region – Avignon.

The cathedral’s foundation stone was laid by King John of Bohemia, and Matthias designed the project according to his vision of typical French Gothic basilica although added some complex structural parts – for instance, flying buttresses. They are described as Flying because they are not attached to the ground. It was not long after the city of Prague was elevated to the archbishopric.

However, his work remained unfinished after he died in Prague in 1352, and his successor became Peter Parler, who was noticeably young at that time. He managed to finish what Matthias started and brought some of his ideas. The main distinction between Peter and Matthias was that Matthias was more focused on geometry, proportions, and mathematics Peter was more artistic because he used to be a sculptor and a woodcarver.

Apart from the cathedral, there are some theories about Matthias of Arras leading the construction of the Karlstein Castle as well or helping with the building of Prague’s New Town. These theories have not yet been proven or denied.

Although Matthias himself did not finish the cathedral, his work was foundational to the most significant church in the Czech Republic.

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