July Update in August: Vaclav Hanka’s Funeral

The Slavic reading of Prague in literature, newspapers, and national funerals prefaced such a reading in monuments and other representational forms. The 1861 funeral procession of Vaclav Hanka, who by this time emerged as a ‘father’ of the national revival, was the point of departure for the gradual domination of Prague urban space by Czech national symbols. It presented an alternative to religious and dynastic commemorative ritual through its attention on the ‘Czech’ folk and construction of the nation from below. Demonstrating the cultural autonomy of the Czech nation – as exercising political autonomy was prohibited in the Empire – the commemorative act opposed itself to the culture of German ethnicity: albeit temporally, it removed German iconography from urban public space. Hanka’s funeral was a tool of narrowing and exclusion to assert Czech belonging to and possession of Prague public space, while emphasizing German unbelonging to that space.

The route itself narrated Prague as a Slavic space with the accompaniment of a symbolic and literal Czech presence. The procession began in the courtyard of the Patriotic, later National, Museum, proceeding through Príkopy, later Jungmann, Street towards Charles Square and thus the 14th century Slavic monastery founded by Charles IV, ending in the cathedral at the ‘ancient Vyšehrad.’ According to the newspaper Bohemia, all these spaces were connected with a living chain of people. The Slavic space constructed in the Green Mountain Manuscript was materialized in Hanka’s funeral: the living chain of people connecting Vyšehrad with Prague emphasized the Slavic reading of Prague. The route was additionally overladen with Czech symbols – Czech songs were sung at the coffin, the national red-white-and-blue tricolor displayed, the laurels decorating the hearse referred to “vítesláva” in Czech, or “Slavic victory,” and another “discovered” Hanka Manuscript was placed on a splendid cushion as the Czech public deliberately assembled on Prague’s balconies and roofs and in its streets to insert themselves as an integral part of the procession. A veritable representation of the entire Czech nation gathered in Prague to demonstrate proof of its ‘multitude and zeal,’ as one Czech newspaper put it. Hanka’s funeral perfected a model for the “funeral rally” which would grow into a paradigm for future national memorials and commemorations, emphasizing the Czech multitude and homogeneity, the Czech language, national tricolors and banners, and the inclusion/marking of nationally relevant places, such as Vyšehrad, the Museum, and later the National Theater.  Moreover, the fundraising campaign for the funeral through voluntary collections, sponsorship balls, gatherings, and theater performances constructed the national collective and ritualized the collective funding of significant monuments and events by the national community.


Marek Nekula, Constructing Slavic Prague. Bohemia (52) 1: 22 – 36.

Marek Nekula, Prague Funerals: How Czech National Symbols Conquered and Defended Public Space. In: Buckler, Julie/Johnson, Emily (eds.): Rites of Place. Northwestern UP 2012.

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