October 29, 2018
Prague, Czech Republic—Week 7 Fr. James Donohue, C.R.
In a previous blog, I mentioned that I needed to take photos of people from the front instead of from the back. I think I have made some improvements and you can now actually see some faces!
We have had so many wonderful cultural events while here in Prague. A first for many students was the night that we got dressed up and went to the opera. The opera we attended was Wolgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at the famous Stavovské Divaldo (Estates Theater). This famous theater was the venue where Mozart premiered his opera Don Giovanni in October 1787. It was also the theater used to film the Oscar winning film about Mozart called Amadeus (1984), directed by the Czech Miloš Forman.
As you can see from these photos, the opera house is simply beautiful! You might also notice that our seats were rather high!
I have to admit that not everyone was a thrilled with the opera experience as I was. I talked to one student the next day. He told me that this was his first opera. Then he looked me right in the eye and said, “It will also be my last opera!” Hey, everyone has his/her own tastes! Some people don’t like hockey!!!!! But, it was a great experience and at least everyone tried it out.
In addition to the opera, we went on a tour of Prague with an eye towards identifying the various types of architecture: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Our tour led us to Old Town Square, where we spent some time at the famous Astronomical Clock. It has been under construction in anticipation of the 100 year anniversary of the creation of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918. The scaffolding that surrounded it was only removed last week, so this was our first chance to see it in its refurbished state.
The oldest part of the clock, the mechanical clock and the astronomical dial, dates back to 1410 when it was made by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, who was later a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University. Around 1490, the calendar dial was added and the clock façade was decorated with gothic sculptures. In 1629 or 1659 wooden statues were added, and figures of the Apostles were added after a major repair in 1787–1791. During the next major repair in the years 1865–1866 the golden figure of a crowing rooster was added. The bells in the clock tower sound on the hour to hundreds of people who gather in front of the clock, waiting for the apostles to circle around. We went early in the afternoon and were able to get in a good position to see and hear everything.
Below, you can see that there are four figures on the sides of the clock face. From left to right we see representations of vanity (the man is looking at himself in the mirror), greed (the man is carrying a fat money bag), death (the skeleton), and imprudence (the man is care-free as he eats and drinks and plays his musical instrument).
One final treat on our architectural tour was to be admitted into one of the towers at the end of the Charles Bridge. We able to climb up to the top most attic space and then have a view of Charles Bridge that few people ever have the chance to see. Climbing up the steep steps and the ladder was an adventure. As you can see, some people like to have their photos taken more than others!
The hard work of climbing up through the dark was rewarded with a great view of the Charles Bridge.
The reason that we went into this tower in the first place was to see one of the oldest sculptures in Prague. While not certain, some experts believe it is a depiction of (Saint) King Wenceslaus I (in Czech: Václav) receiving his charge from the Pope John X. Wenceslaus’ grandmother Ludmila had converted to Christianity, became regent, and oversaw his education. She was murdered by Wenceslaus’ mother, who was jealous of Ludmila’s influence over her son. When he was 18, Wenceslaus took control of the government and exiled his mother. On September 28, 935 Wenceslaus was murdered by his younger brother Boleslav.
Considered a martyr and saint immediately after his death, the cult of Wenceslaus grew in Bohemia and England. Within a few decades, four biographies about him were in circulation. These biographies laud his care for the poor. John Mason Neale published the carol Good King Wenceslas in 1853, although he may have written his carol some time earlier. The Christmas carol tells the story of the Bohemian King Wenceslaus going of a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the Second Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The final verse reminds us that those who bless the poor, will find blessings themselves.
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.
"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.
There is a wonderful version of this carol by the Canadian singer and composer, Loreena McKennit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElO6auK1GYw