AKA Night of Churches and Old Trains.
So this is going to be another one of those flashback posts. I really wanted to do at least one final update about Julie's trip here, because her last weekend in Czech was pretty fabulous and also highly unusual.
On the last Friday of May there was a very special night in the churches around the Czech Republic. In Cheb there were I think 7 old churches that were a part of this very special celebration. It was an event designed to connect the people of the Czech Republic with some of the amazing churches that fill their country.
I've long been impressed by these monstrously huge, and yet sadly empty buildings. When my students did their tour of Cheb one of them called the churches nothing but a bunch of old rocks. Such a tragedy. Here is a country so rich in church history, the homeland of Jan Hus, a great reformer who really called the Catholic church of his time to account, and began a serious reformation in this country that spread throughout Europe. Yet the people here scarcely know the point of these incredible buildings. They see them as historical monuments to a long dead faith, a place to step out of the heat during the summer, and little more. On this night, however, the churches came to life and I was in awe to see all the people, many of my students even, wandering around in these lovely houses of faith.
It was a day of total openness on the part of the churches. Areas usually blocked off with velvet cords, doors typically locked, were thrown open and the general public was invited to a glimpse of the most sacred and ancient parts of these buildings. Julie and I were in total awe as we were allowed into places, and even some buildings, I'd never been able to enter. Music poured forth, and the people seemed to truly embrace these places they know so little about.
I particularly enjoyed a youth choir that we were able to listen to. They weren't necessarily the greatest musicians, but their hearts were in the words, and it was amazing to see these young Czechs praising God.
We also went to a dance performance that was super cool. These young girls walked through the lives of ancient nuns through dance. They mingled their way through the aisles, doing repetitive steps that allowed everyone in the packed out audience to get a feeling for what they were doing. There was even a section when they joined the crowd in reserved chairs and continued to dance. At the end of the dance they took the hands of different people from the audience and encouraged us all to follow them throughout the ancient monastery where they demonstrated different activities of the nunnery. Julie and I particularly enjoyed one girl who had a huge round loaf of very tough bread. She was attempting to pass out chunks to people as they passed by, but it was quite a battle for her to get anything off. Quite entertaining.
In all, it was one of the most amazing nights I've ever experienced in the Czech Republic. Not only was it awe inspiring to enter the forbidden areas, it was so beautiful to see so many people inside the churches, interacting with what is happening here. The only thing that would have made it even better would have been if the small church that I attend had opened its doors as well. It isn't an ancient building, but I think the transparency and the welcome would have been a powerful opportunity for them to show the community that they too want to invite people in and have an impact on the people of Cheb.
Here are a few pictures that I was able to take during Noc Kostelu:
I forgot to note that most of these churches don't even allow photos to be taken most of the time, so that also made this even more exciting.
The next day we didn't have a chance to sleep in because we were off for another very exciting event. There was a celebration of transportation, and as part of this they brought out old vehicles and offered people free rides around the area. We met Mark in Marianske Lazne and were soon snug with a lot of other people on this old steam engine.
The travel was veeeeeery slow, but it was also quite interesting. We were on a beautiful stretch of track, running through the forests from Marianske Lazne to Becov Nad Teplou. It was so funny along the way to see all the people, predominately men, waiting in fields and along the road to get pictures of the train as it snaked along with huge clouds of ash spewing from the engine. If we put our heads out the window we were doused with chunks of coal, so it was best to keep in and just enjoy what little air came through.
At the big stops there were bands with majorettes waiting to entertain us. We got off in one place to walk around and enjoy the festivities. I really enjoyed watching this one little old couple who were so excited by the feeling in the air that they started dancing to the band. It was really precious. Sadly, I didn't get a photo of that, but here's a little peek into what the entertainment looked like.
When we got to Becov the train stopped for a couple of hours, so we got out to enjoy the town. With our special free train ticket we were able to get a reduced price for the chateau tour. We had a nice time and even got a few photos in :)
We had lunch as quickly as we could. Julie and I have learned that if we share a meal here we can actually manage to finish it, so it all worked out perfectly. Then we had time to get back to the train and still have seats.
Our next stop on the way back was Tepla. This is the location of an ancient monastery. It was highly damaged during the communism, but they have repaired some of it inside and the library, which is enormous and full of truly amazing books, was spared because it was already preserved by the state.
We really enjoyed looking around here, and Julie and I sang in the sanctuary which was a particularly special moment. So often these places are so incredible, and yet feel so desolate. It's such a gift to be able to let God's praises ring through them once again, recalling them to the glory they were designed to give. Despite the run down look on the outside, we were all impressed with what we discovered within.
Once again we were very thankful for our special tickets. After the regular tour was over we were allowed some very special access. We were on a small tour with only one other lady that went into the part of the monastery that is actually in regular use by the monks there. We saw their small chapel, a place we could imagine people being better able to focus on spiritual things rather than being distracted by the gold and statues in the main sanctuary. There was also this really incredible room where you they had painted statues on the wall that really did look 3D.
As we were finishing the tour the guide sent us down to the front on our own and there we ran into a very startled monk. It was quite funny to see his startled expression. Mark quickly explained to him that we were on a special tour. He still didn't seem to quite understand, so we hurried along on our way.
The monastery was once quite an important place in this area. It was a monk from Tepla who started Marianske Lazne. They used to bottle the special spa waters and they were the ones who encouraged the area to become a town in the first place. They also used to have their own brewery, beer being a general favorite of monks, but the Communists completely destroyed that during their occupation.
After the tour was complete we made our way back toward the train station, only to learn that we had about two hours until the next transport. After a small photo shoot
we went up into the town to get some dinner. We wandered around the area for a while and then ate in a very old restaurant. I can't remember the year it began now, but it was several centuries in the past. After dinner we went back to the station and still had to wait quite some time for the train. It was interesting to wander around and see the people in this small community and the way they interacted together. It was definitely different than in the larger places where I've lived. I love these little opportunities to get a glimpse of local life. To kill the time before we headed back home we played a little dice game and were quite amused by ourselves. Simple things for simple people I geuss.
In all it was a pretty incredible weekend.
Sunday we headed back to Prague and then on Monday I put Julie on a flight back to the US. And that...is pretty much that.