This massive three-aisled basilica with a long, high chancel is the third longest church building in Prague. The church was founded in 1232, and was rebuilt in Baroque style in the 18th century. The choir is home to an organ dated back to 1705. The Basilica of St James is currently also the venue for organ concerts. The famous St James’ organ has 4 manuals, 91 speaking stops and 8,277 pipes.
The church was built at the Minorite Monastery founded under King Wenceslas I in connection with the establishment of Prague's Old Town. One of the most attractive churches in the town, the coronation feast for the royal couple, John of Bohemia (John the Blind) and Elisabeth of Bohemia, was held here in 1311, After a destructive fire in the monastery, in 1319 King John of Bohemia founded a new Gothic church which was completed by Emperor Charles IV in 1374. The top of the vault rose up as much as 30 meters and was one of the three longest Royal Cathedrals in Prague. This was also often the site of royal funeral ceremonies. It was here where the body of Charles IV was shown in an exquisite catafalque, surrounded by five hundred candles; in 1577 Emperor Maxmilian II was temporarily interred here.
After the fire of 1689, architect Jan Šimon Pánek remodelled the church in the Baroque style. Structural work was completed in 1702, while the interior work was carried out from 1736 – 1739. The change erased the Gothic shapes and forms from the exterior of the church, but the original floor plan remained the same, as did part of the walls from the early 14th century.
The church is a massive three-aisle basilica with a long Baroque choir and towers in the southwest. The decoration of the façade is the work of Ottavio Mosto, a native of Padua, Italy. He created three stucco reliefs over the portals featuring St Francis of Assisi, St James and St Anthony of Padua.
The interior of the church is monumental. The tall, long space has a Baroque tribune gallery over the side aisles, divided by artificial marble pilasters (artist: K. Schartzmann).
The oldest sculpture in the church is a Late Gothic polychrome Pietà from around 1500 at the main altar. The painting of the patron of the church at the main altar, Martyrdom and Glorification of St James, was created by Wenzel Lorenz Reiner. The beautiful High Baroque tomb of Count Johann Wenzel Wratislaw von Mitrowitz, the High Chancellor of Bohemia, is also of high artistic value. The tomb was designed by Viennese architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and completed in 1714 – 1716. Located in the left aisle, the tomb is decorated with sculptures by Ferdinand Maxmilian Brokoff. The Basilica of St James contains the third largest collection of paintings by Peter Brandl.
The Church of St James was protected by the Prague Guild of Butchers. This may be the reason why one thief had their arm cut off when they attempted to steal a valuable statue. To this day the arm hangs to the left of the entrance to the church, serving as a general warning.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI raised the Church of St James the Greater in Prague's Old Town to the level of a Minor Basilica. The church belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.