Heritage
The Morbid Legend of the Count Who Was Buried Alive in Prague
The beautifully built Church of St. James holds many myths, but the one of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice might be the most intriguing.
IMAGE PUBLIC DOMAIN; Björn S.../ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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In beauty, there is sometimes despair. Perhaps you’ll agree with this statement upon learning the tales about the hauntingly beautiful Church of St. James located in Prague’s Old Town.

Travel guides call the structure an impeccable testament of the Baroque architecture popular in the late 16th to the early 17th century.


Myths and Legends

Its historical significance also puts it on the city’s list of most visited religious landmarks. The church has endured its fair share of hardship—from a devastating fire in 1689 that eventually paved the way for its Baroque remodeling to the many funeral ceremonies that were held in the massive three-aisle basilica. But what perhaps makes this religious place of great public interest are its eerie relics.


Upon entering, a withered arm hangs on a chain to the right of the church entrance. The blackened limb is believed by some to be the arm of a thief who once tried to steal the jewels offered to a statue of the Virgin Mary. While trying to retrieve the gem, urban legend says the statue gripped the thief’s hands tightly so he would not escape—not exactly what you’d find in a history book—and come morning, it was decided that the thief’s hand be amputated. Afterward, the hand was left by church authorities to serve as a reminder (and a warning) to anyone else who might be tempted to steal.

The Count Who Was Buried Alive

The history of the church offers many ghost stories but one that resonates till today is the unfortunate burial of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice. The Count, also known in full as Count Johann Wenzel Wratislaw von Mitrovitz, was a prominent lawyer in the 18th century. In 1705, the nobleman was appointed High Chancellor of Bohemia, where he served in the court of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, and advised the ruler on foreign affairs.

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Shortly after Emperor Charles VI ascended to power, Vratislav died of dropsy, or edema, in 1712. Or so his physicians thought.

His remains were transported to his final resting place in Prague. To commemorate his death, they commissioned the finest masters of the Baroque style. Viennese architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach designed the tomb, while Bohemian sculptor Ferdinand Maximilian Brokof adorned the tomb with elaborate statues, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Art.

Resting directly atop the red marble tombstone is a sandstone replica of the count being supported up by a female representation of Glory. To the right, Chronos, the god of time, holds an hourglass, while another female allegory weeps in the lower left corner.

Locals and various travel guides continue to believe the legend, however, that the count was buried alive. They say that after he was entombed in his final burial place, strange noises were heard coming from the tomb in the days following the funeral.

Parishioners and bystanders believed the noises came from the Count’s unsettled spirit. To halt the disturbances, parishioners doused the tomb with holy water and a few days later, the noises stopped.

It is now believed the count had been very much alive. A few years after his burial, his tomb was opened and the count’s corpse was found outside his coffin, writes the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide. Scratch marks were found on the inside of his coffin. Many believe that the count had been in a deeply unconscious state and awoke only in his tomb. He somehow managed to escape his coffin but remained trapped by the doorless marble slab and died from starvation.

To this day, many consider the burial place of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice the most beguiling mystery in the Church of St. James, housed in what's believed to be the most beautiful Baroque tomb in all of Bohemia. The urban legend of his death continues to draw visitors from far and wide.

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Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
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