Prague’s Secret All Souls Day Tradition

Exploring a lesser-known Prague cemetery and an All Souls Day Tradition that dates back to the 19th century

The Czech capital’s Lesser Town Cemetery is a remarkable place on the border of Smíchov and Košíře. Tucked between two very loud outposts, the streets of Plzeňská and Vrchlický, it lies not in the Lesser Town, but far behind its walls.

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No one has been buried there since the end of the 19th century, and the cemetery has been threatened with closure many times.

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Photo: David Černý

The most visited place here is the smallest of all graves—the tombstone of a girl named Anička, a who died when she was only 3. Her beautiful tombstone was created in 1851 by sculptor Jan Max. On the faded inscription, it reads Anička Degenová (1848-1851). Her parents lie in a tomb just a short distance away.

According to legend, when souls were distributed in heaven for newly born children, there was a mistake. Instead of receiving a human soul, Anička received that of an angel. And so when she came into the world, a bright star shone in the heavens, the birds joyfully chirped, and flowers and trees blossomed throughout the area. Nature seemed to rejoice at the arrival of such an angelic child.

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Photo: David Černý

Anička was said to bring home beggars and thieves. She always gave them everything she could. Her parents said she just felt in her heart the need to help. Legend has it that she even understood the words of animals and flowers.

But it turned out that earthly life for such an angelic soul was too much of a burden. Anička, while playing at a window with a rag doll, stretched out to save the toy after a big gust of wind blew it out from her hand. She fell to the ground from the third floor and died.

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Photo: David Černý

It is said that she did not stop helping, however, even after death. Tales abound of her so-called miracles including one about how she rescued the inhabitants of a Petřín orphanage from death by lightning.

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Local children continued to visit her grave, bringing toys, holy relics, and asking for help, especially on the Czech holiday Dušičky, or All Souls Day.

What is a myth and what is the truth we will never know. But the truth is that up until the 1950s the children of Prague continued to leave flowers and handwritten messages on her tombstone. This tradition is slowly returning and the tombstone is covered with candles and flowers today.

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The picturesque Lesser Town Cemetery is located near the busy Anděl junction at the border of Prague’s Smichov and Košíře districts. Despite its two busy arteries (Plzenska and Vrchlického streets), it is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the city.

In the shadow of the old trees, you will find the work of remarkable Czech architects, sculptors, and painters such as Dietzenhofer, Platzer, Antonin and Wenceslas Manes, and Adolf Kosarek as well as a generation of friends and admirers of WA Mozart: František X. Dušek and Josefína Dušková, Jan Vitásek, and Václav Tomášek.

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Photo: David Černý

Every year the cemetery is open to the public on or around Dušičky for a guided candlelight walk. This year the holiday falls on November 2; the cemetery will be open on November 4. Go there and pay a visit to one of Prague’s littlest guardian angels.

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Photos and text courtesy of Miluju Prahu. See here for original Czech language.

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