One of the things that I wanted to be absolutely sure to see while I was in Prague was the statue of the Infant of Prague. This little (it’s small!!) wax statue, located in the Church of Our Lady Victorious, is a highly venerated image of baby Jesus….or for some of us, Ellegua. (Maferefun, Ellegua!). This is one of the popular and fairly common syncretizations for Ellegua and it’s my favorite.
The day after we visited Sedlec and Kutna Hora (I know, I know, I’m getting out of order, but I promise I’ll write about that amazing visit most likely tomorrow), we went to various special sites in Prague. One of them, was the Church of Our Lady Victorious. I didn’t know what to expect. I have a statue of the Infant of Prague for Ellegua, but that’s a far different cry from actually being in the presence of such a venerated relic.
Firstly, with all due respect, the Czech Republic seems very different from Poland in the matter of piety. Many of the Churches we visited were no longer active, which was very disconcerting for me personally to experience. All in all, there wasn’t the visible display of piety that I found in Poland. I even had one woman tell me that the majority of her countrymen were atheists (I think she was likely exaggerating, but it seems that WWII and the Soviet occupation had a deep, abiding, and corrosive impact on the faith of the people). Perhaps I am simplifying but whereas in Poland, the devotional piety was so palpable I felt like I could almost grab it and wrap myself in it like a blanket, in Prague, I mostly sensed vestiges of it long, long past. (It’s worth pointing out that the Czech Republic was also a battleground during the Catholic – Protestant wars in the 17th century and that surely had is repercussions here too).** So I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into this church (goin’ to church to visit Ellegua…. ^_^).
I was pleasantly surprised. Oh my Gods, when I first walked in, my belly was all -aflutter. I was excited at the prospect of finally getting to see the Infant of Prague in person. There was a queue, a devotional queue! He is placed centrally along the right-hand wall, in an elaborate shrine and there’s room in front of the shrine for worshippers to go, kneel, and pray. To His right, to my surprise, was a Black Madonna, given to the Church by Brazil. I have a deep love for the Black Madonna and saw four of Them on this trip. Sadly, I did not make it to Czestochowa, but I do intend to visit there too one day. This one took me as a surprise. Since there was a little crowd praying around and before the Infant of Prague (Ellegua!), I first paid my respects to the Black Madonna and only then made my way to the prayer book – written in multiple languages—that rested on the railing in front of the Infant.
I spent some time paying my respects, praying, and eventually making offerings (candles….one could buy and light plenty of candles in the church. I really need to get a multi-tiered iron tea light holder for my ancestor shrine room…). That was all. Then I went to the small religious gift shop attached to the church and got a few things for my Ellegua shrine (including holy water from the church, and a small replica of the Infant of Prague).
It may sound uneventful, but it was really quite exciting for me. There’s a synergy in that Church, around that shrine that words fail me in describing. It was, yet again, one of those places where all the ragged threads of my religious and spiritual journey through the years came full circle and it was delightful. Maferefun, Ellegua!
** Vestiges of this history show up in some of the religious imagery in the churches too. A the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the violence of the imagery – saints murdering Protestants—right central to the main altar instead of the crucifixion really disturbed my more –or-less Protestant traveling companion. I pointed out that the iconography was no friendlier toward my kind: on one side they had saints slaughtering Protestants, and on the other, Pagans. That church was, however, an anomaly. We spent more time than usual in it only because of the amazing acoustics – we attended a concert there one evening.
(image mine, of Prague Old Town Square–pretty houses)
I was so happy to head to Prague. While the artists’ residency was a wonderful experience, I do not like suburbs and rural areas. I like cities. I couldn’t wait to get to one. I get really, really antsy and uncomfortable if I’m in the suburbs for too long. Cities nourish me in ways that quieter, more rural or suburban areas never will. This is one of the reasons I truly loathe doing rituals outside or attending events that are held on camp grounds and the like. I much prefer the dynamic of a city, and preferably indoors. I figure our ancestors worked long and hard to give us the luxury of civilization and culture and I’m going to take advantage of it! So setting off for Prague on July 18 was delightful. The only downside was saying good bye to all the wonderful people we’d met in Poland!
Going to Prague was a largely quiet ride. The night before, I made a public offering to Hermes in the local park (pictures to follow for my Public Shrine Project). We’d come back early to see if it was still there (one I made in Germany years ago lasted weeks) but it wasn’t, instead someone had set up a weird little display of pine cones where the offerings had been. I took that as a good omen). We made offerings to all the relevant land and city spirits and asked for safe passage to Prague and then we were off. It was a quiet and uneventful drive, save for getting my ear accustomed to Czech rather than Polish. The languages are closely related, but where Polish uses sibilants, Czech seems to prefer harder sounds. It was neat comparing the two.
(image by Mary Ann Glass. Used with permission).
We made excellent time and actually got to Prague about three pm. That gave us plenty of time to walk around, and me to promenade and greet the city spirit properly. That was, this time, the first thing I did! I do learn from my mistakes. We were staying at Hotel Paris, a gorgeous Art Nouveau inspired hotel right near the Old Town Center (oh my Gods, cobblestones kill) so we set off to do a bit of shopping and make our way to the astronomical clock. I”d seen it in pictures and wanted to see it in person. As we went, we sort of scoped out what we wanted to do between excursions (I had the trip to Sedlec ossuary/Kutna Hora planned, as well as one to Brno and Austerlitz). We had half a day to just relax and breathe before doing anything pilgrimage related.
Oh Prague is a beautiful city. Coming over the bridge into the city proper was breathtaking. The Czech people are not afraid of color! It was a feast for the eyes: pinks and ochres, salmon, rust red, yellows, oranges, light minty greens, and for the first time, aquas and blues. I don’t recall seeing those latter two colors used much at all in Krakow. Visually I found the rococo onion domes on so many of the buildings enchanting (a pain in the butt to draw freehand, but enchanting). There aren’t many cities that affect me like Prague did, but I almost immediately fell in love with the place.
(Image mine, of the “Dancing House,” a modern piece that was quite controversial when built. It does, however, blend nicely into the more antique architecture surrounding it.)
That’s about all I have to say in this post. The city is magic. I want to go back and spend a longer period of time there just taking it all in. Tomorrow (or maybe later today if I am feeling energetic), I”ll write about our trip to the Sedlec bone chapel, and perhaps also the next phase of my erstwhile and unexpected Marian pilgrimage: Loretto, and the Church of the Lady Victorious.
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