Posts Tagged ‘pilgrimage’

2:57 pm

Svata Hora

On Sunday, I took myself on a little pilgrimage to Svatá Hora (Holy Mountain), in Pŕíbram. (Pŕíbram is about an hour from Prague by bus.)

From the website:

"The most well-known, as well as renowned, place of pilgrimage consecrated to the Virgin Mary in Bohemia – Svatá Hora (Holy Mountain) – has been, in its present-day form, towering high above the old mining town of Pŕíbram offering a majestic panorama for more than 330 years. Svatá Hora is a vast baroque complex of buildings with a multitude of towers with its severe external look and corner chapels reminiscent of defensive bastions giving the impression of a fortress, of a castle of the Virgin Mary to whom it has been consecrated. Because of its location in the center of the nation, Svatá Hora has been considered as the spiritual heart of Bohemia."

The main color scheme of the complex is pink and cream.

A closer view of the complex from the main plaza:

The statue of Madonna and Child in the middle of the plaza:

A side entrance to the complex:

The grounds are lovely and quite extensive. I’m always a little surprised at how much wealth the Church apparently managed to hang onto despite 40 years of Communism. But then, I suspect that land (at least outside of Prague) is pretty cheap in the Czech Republic.

This structure houses "Mary’s Well":

The notice regarding the well is in Czech, and I can’t find any other information on it, alas.

There is other fairly predictable statuary on the grounds, including two different Crucifixions. This one is along the path leading up to the complex from the town:

This one is on the hill itself:

On entering the complex through the main entrance, there is a main outdoor chapel:

The altar of the outdoor chapel:

There are indoor chapels at each of the four corners of the cloisters, as well as outdoor altars lining the cloisters, each dedicated to a different event in the life of Mary. The roofs of the cloisters are covered in stuccoes depicting miracles attributed to the intercession of Our Lady.

The main altar in the Church is rich with silver and gilt; not surprising, perhaps, as Pŕíbram was a mining town. A scanned postcard:

It’s not readily apparent from the picture, but to the right, just in back of the altar rail, there’s a short pillar with a notched top. I couldn’t make out the purpose of it, but it became apparent later.

The real star of the show, though, is the statuette of the Virgin Mary. (I swiped this picture from the Svatá Hora website):

At the risk of sounding irreverent, I have to say that the way in which the robes cover the limbs of the Virgin and Child makes it look as though they’re Siamese twins! And, as with the statue of the Infant Jesus here in Prague, the statuette in Svatá Hora has multiple changes of robes, corresponding to the different liturgical seasons. The statuette typically resides in a niche above the tabernacle (as seen in another picture swiped from the Svatá Hora site):

I attended the late afternoon Mass (which was in Czech, of course). People didn’t leave immediately after Mass, and I soon found why and also the reason for the pillar: after Mass, there was veneration of the statuette. The priest removed the statuette from its niche, covered the robe with a tulle cape, and set the base on the pillar. This picture, another pinched from the website, shows veneration taking place at the outdoor chapel:

There were several groups of pilgrims visiting at the same time, mostly Germans (or German-speaking, at any rate), but there didn’t seem to be very many Czech pilgrims.

9:44 am

Svata Dobrotiva

Last year, I joined the pilgrimage to svatá Dobrotivá. This year, I did so again.

The experience was very similar to last year’s: the bus ride to Olešna, where we began our procession:

Then the cross-country procession. I remain amazed that the area surrounding Prague becomes so quickly pastoral on leaving the city:

The Augustinians (with the help of some of sv. Tomáš’s parishioners) are continuing to restore the monastery, with the view of turning it into a family retreat center. They’ve made a fair amount of progress since last year:

But there’s still a good deal more:

The church, too, is only partially restored. The main altar has been finished, of course:

But the side altars and aisles still need work:

1:59 am

Pilgrimage to Svata Dobrotiva

While the Augustinians have been at sv. Tomáš since the end of 13th century, svatá Dobrotivá, near Zaječov, was the first Augustinian foundation in the Czech lands. The church and monastery are named for Saint Benigna (and how you get “Dobrotivá” from “Benigna” is a mystery to me), whose relics are kept there. sv. Tomáš holds an annual Marian Pilgrimage there the Saturday of the 6th week of Easter. This year was the 11th such pilgrimage since the practice was resumed.

The Story behind the Pilgrimage

Quoting from the program:
“According with the oldest legend, in the year 1262 Oldrich of Valdek, who was devoted to the Blessed Mother, one night heard in his room a certain whispering, or slight movement, and while still in bed listened to a voice that said:

“Oldřich, this is the will of both my Son and myself that in this place in which you see me standing you would as soon as possible build in his honor and in my name a church and a monastery for my servants and you will receive from my Son whom you willingly serve an ample reward…”

“The tradition said that everybody who went to the sactuary and left their problems at the feet of Mary, she would take them upon herself. Let us go to Mary. Do not forget our petitions. O holy mother.”

The Pilgrimage

I’m told that there were about 85 of us; I’m guessing that roughly 2/3 were Czech and (most of) the rest were English-speakers. (There was one girl who was pointed out to me as being from the Spanish-speaking community, but for the most part, the Spanish-speaking community was not represented. I don’t know why not.) We left Prague at about 8:30 and arrived at Olešna, the starting point for our walk, at about 9:30:

The buses were available to transport those who felt themselves unable to walk the 2 km or so, but the rest of the group set off for Zaječov. The walk took us through some lovely, open countryside:

As we walked through some of the villages along the way, the residents turned out to watch us and even to take pictures. We apparently introduced a marked note of novelty into their day!

There was a little chapel at about the midpoint, where we stopped for the Litany of Loreto:

The monastery complex came into sight a little bit past the chapel:

The cemetery en route is where the priests, parishioners, and benefactors of sv. Tomáš and the Augustinians are buried, and so we paused to pray for their souls:

There is what I think is a war memorial along the side of the monastery as we approached:

And a closer view:

When we reached the church, we processed around the altar to see the place where Our Lady is said to have appeared to Oldřich of Valdek and then sang the "Salve Regina"

The local parishioners turned out to welcome us. While we had been instructed to pack lunches, this turned out to be completely unnecessary: our local hosts were ready for us. Tray upon tray of open faced sandwiches, cookies, seriously addictive baby tarts and more were waiting for us in the refectory. They were extremely gracious in their hospitality, and it seems that this pilgrimage is a high point in the parish’s year.

After lunch, we had free time for exploring the monastery and for the Sacrament of Reconciliation before Mass at 2 PM. We headed back to Prague at about 4 PM.

The Augustinians had been turned out of sv. Dobrotivá by the Communists in 1950, and the monastery subsequently used as an internment camp, refugee asylum and finally a sports museum before being returned in 1998. The Augustinians have been working on its restoration since then, and the church has been largely restored:

Restoration of the cloister, on the other hand, remains an ongoing project and clearly has a long way to go:

(Once a month, on the third Saturday, sv. Tomáš sponsors a "work party" to go down to sv. Dobrotivá to help with the restoration.)

The parish website had a slideshow of last year’s pilgrimage, but apparently it’s no longer available.

2:07 pm

Pilgrimage to Lourdes

My excursion the second week of Easter vacation was a trip to Lourdes; Lourdes is about 6 hours out of Paris via the TGV.

Now, I should say at the outset that Our Lady of Lourdes is not in fact one of my particularly favorite devotions. As far as Marian apparitions go, I’m much more of a Fatima (and rosary) girl, and I toyed with the idea of going to Portugal instead. But my “home” parish is Our Lady of Lourdes in Oakland, and it seemed silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to visit its namesake.

I arrived on Wednesday, April 18, and stayed, at the Hôtel Saint Etienne, until Sunday the 22nd. The Saint Etienne is very convenient to the sanctuaries, just a five minute walk away from the Porte of St. Michael, and the staff were all very pleasant and helpful. It’s also cheap and correspondingly shabby. Clean, mind, but it could seriously do with some fresh paint and new carpets & bedding.

The Pilgrimage

I visited the sanctuaries Wednesday evening to check out the visitor information center and just generally get the lay of the land. The grotto and the Basilicas of the Immaculate Conception and of the Rosary are easy enough to identify, of course, but there’s also the (underground) Basilica of St. Pius X, the Church of St. Bernadette, various chapels, receptions centers, meeting rooms, residences, special facilities for the sick (though no hospital per se), a Way of the Cross on the hillside and another in the prairie, and a “Water Walk” (cf the map of the sanctuaries on the second page).

I had arrived in time to see the 5 PM Blessed Sacrament Procession, which is followed by the Blessing of the Sick. Hundreds of people, most of them either in wheelchairs or even gurneys or else pushing them, following the Sacrament from the meadow alongside the river to the Basilica of St. Pius X. I didn’t join, but just watched them pass.

The Baths

During the “Pilgrim Season” (roughly April 1 through October 31), the baths are open daily from 9 to 11 AM and again from 2:30 to 4:00 PM (except on Sundays and feast days, when they’re open only in the afternoon). So, somewhat naively, I showed up at 9 AM on Thursday morning to find that they were already full up for the morning; the attendant suggested coming back at 1:00 to be sure of getting in for the afternoon.

Instead, I came back Friday morning. This time, I left my hotel at a little after 8 AM, getting to the baths at about 8:15. The “holding pen” was about half full, and was indeed completely full and late-comers were being turned away by about 8:45. (The sick at Lourdes on medical pilgrimage have their own entrance and schedules, although they’re still bound by the opening times.) I suspect that if this had been the “high” pilgrim season, even arriving at 8:15 would have been too late.

A large group of Italian women had been among the first to arrive; they passed the waiting time in praying the Rosary. This provoked some mild, good-natured disdain among the French: they had no problem with the Rosary, mind, but they disapproved of the Italians praying aloud and disturbing the others who might have preferred to pray or meditate silently. “But that’s Italians for you”, murmured the attendant.

At 9 AM, proceedings opened with a prayer, and the ambulatory medical pilgrims were admitted to the baths while a first group of women was moved to the benchs lining the outer walls of the baths and the rest of us snaked forwarded among the rows of benches. As women left the baths, the women from the benches outside the walls moved inside, and more women were moved to fill their vacated benches, and rest of us repeating the snaking bit.

When my turn came to take a seat on one of the benches outside the baths, one of the attendants struck up a conversation. She had noticed that I had picked up an English leaflet (they’re color-coded, which made it easy to spot), and asked if I were Irish or English. When I said that, no, I’m American, she wanted to know from where; from California, I said. -Where in California? -Oakland. Turns out she’s from Burlingame, spending a few weeks in Lourdes as a volunteer.

On entering the building, we found yet another row of benches lining the inside walls, facing a row of cubicles. The middle one was especially wide, and that was the one used, though not exclusively, by those in wheelchairs or gurneys. And we waited some more.

I finally made it into one of the cubicles. Stations for six, with chairs and hooks and shelves for clothing and other possessions, and six attendants were there. Another curtain separated this dressing room from the bath itself. One of the attendants took charge of me (the others being preoccupied with their own charges) and directed me to an empty station. She held a big blue cape around me while I undressed and fastened the cape for me from behind when I was done, plucked my glasses from the shelf and put them back on, and handed me my bra. The bath was empty right now, she told me, so I could go right in.

Passing through the curtain, I found three more attendants. One of the women, who seemed to be the “lead” attendant, took my bra from me and held the cape while the other two wrapped a thin, damp white towel around me and then the cape was removed. The bath itself was grey stone, set in the floor with steps leading in, and with a small statue of Our Lady at the far end. They guided me in, one attendant holding each arm. The water was icy: not just cold, but downright frigid. I had been expecting cold, but not like this, and I was startled into letting out a yelp. This was not an unusual response, but neither was it entirely acceptable, and I was gently shushed.

While I stood on the first step, trying to adjust to the water temperature, the lead attendant reminded me that I might want to pray. Oh, right: that’s why I’m standing in this ice bath. The other two attendants guided me down the next step and further into the bath; the water was a little over knee deep. Would I like to kneel or sit, the lead attendant asked, or maybe kiss Our Lady’s statue. I settled for a quick genuflection before kissing Our Lady’s statue. Once I rose, they turned me around and led me out. They were very careful about not letting go of me: they take no chances on anyone slipping and falling.

The blue cape came back out and the towel vanished, and my bra went back on and was fastened. They’re very practiced at this, and they were done before I even quite realized what they were about. (I think my brain was still frozen!) I returned to the dressing room, where my attendant once again held the cape around me while I dressed. Throughout, the attendants were very careful about protecting the modesty of the women in the baths: I don’t think the most self-conscious of women could find any cause to blush.

When I left the baths, it was 10:30.

Candlelight Procession

Scattered about the grounds of the sanctuaries are stations holding candles and paper “cages” to protect the flame; the candles sold on the grounds cost 1€. You can also find candles at the gift shops; those candles are 0.50€. The paper cages for the sanctuaries’s candles are gold, while the those from the gift shops are white, so it’s easy to distinguish between the frugal and those willing to spend the extra money to support the sanctuaries.

The procession is led by porters carrying an statue of Our Lady in an illuminated box, flanked by other porters carrying torches. While the schedule says that the procession starts at the Grotto, in practice, it appears to start from the foot of the esplanade. It goes out toward the Porte of St. Michael and loops back around to Rosary Square. Some of those in the procession are in wheelchairs; I didn’t notice any gurneys. There are also lots of canes and crutches. Some people carry two candles, presumably on behalf of someone who can’t be present or sometimes for someone who can’t manage both crutches and a candle. Once the statue gets to Rosary Square, the crowd is held back until the statue reaches the portico of the Basilica of the Rosary, and then the crowd is allowed to fill Rosary Square.

Many of the groups of pilgrims have banners; the banner bearers also take their final positions on the portico of the Basilica.

The Rosary is prayed during the procession. Each decade is announced with a brief meditation in each of the six languages of Lourdes (French, Italian, Spanish, English, German, and Dutch*). The Our Father and Gloria are prayed in Latin, while the Hail Marys are prayed in different languages (i.e., the first five Hail Marys of the first decade are in French, the next five in Italian, with the first five of the second decade in English, and the second five in German, etc.). A hymn follows each decade: mostly it’s a hymn that’s sung to the tune we use in English for Immaculate Mary, and the refrain (“Ave, ave, ave Maria; Ave, ave, Maria”) is the same. At the refrain, the procession pauses, and everyone raises their candles. This gesture in particular moved me near to tears each time. It takes until about the end of the third decade or beginning of the fourth for the statue to reach its destination. The crowd is dismissed at the end with the Kiss of Peace. I found it all immensely touching. Indeed, it was immensely more moving than the bath, which after all is a largely solitary experience. I think that Our Lady must be pleased.

*Aside: I understand the other five languages, but how did Dutch get in there? I wouldn’t have thought of the Netherlands as an origin for Marian pilgrims.

The Water

I don’t think that “fetish” is too strong a word to use to describe the attitudes of some of the visitors to the water. At the taps, I saw some people with four and six 5-liter bottles to fill with water. In my literal-minded way, my first thought was “How are they going to get all that home”? Not to mention “What are they going to do with all that water”? In some cases, I’m sure they were collecting water for family and friends, but still…

I think that those who run the sanctuaries are also concerned about the possibilities of excessive devotion to the waters themselves. The little leaflet I picked up at the baths makes the point that

You can have a wonderful pilgrimage without going to the baths. Bernadette only washed her face (the miror of the soul) and drank “a little water”.

The deep meaning of the water of Lourdes is inscribed above the place where the taps are located:


They also have a Water Walk alongside the river, opposite the Grotto. Each of the nine stations of this water walk focuses on a different scriptural passage related to water.

But yes, I did bring home some water: I bought & filled a little bottle that holds about one fluid ounce.

The Movie

They don’t show Song of Bernadette at Lourdes (at least, not on a regular basis). Rather there’s a French movie that covers much the same ground, Bernadette. There’s a little movie theater near the sancturies that shows it several times a day. It’s a little sappy, but more authentic than Song…. There’s a sequel, Passion of Bernadette, that covers her life in the convent. I would have liked to see that one, too, but it’s only shown a couple of times a week, and I managed to miss both showings. Apparently, Lourdes pilgrims lose interest in Bernadette once the apparitions are over.

Sightseeing, Etc.

Within about a 1/2 mile radius of the sanctuaries, there’s little beyond gift shops, hotels, cafes, and the usual tourist traps. Once you escape that half mile, though, Lourdes appears to be quite normal and really very charming. I took the Tourist Train to get a feel for the town, and visited the Chateau Fort with its Pyrenean Museum as well as the Pic du Jer with its funicula.

I also found a truly superb restaurant, Le Magret. I had been looking for something regional and non-touristy and this definitely fit the bill. While I was there, they were offering a foie gras menu: 7 courses (I think), all featuring foie gras de canard, even the ice cream and dessert. Yes, you can make ice cream out of foie gras, and it was amazing. The waiter was a Basque and entirely charming.


And here’s a little slideshow (this will open in a new window).

3:25 pm

St. Malo Vacation

We had two weeks vacation following Easter, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get out of Paris for a little while. The decision to visit Bretagne was somewhat arbitrary: all I knew was that I wanted to head for the ocean. The decision to opt for St. Malo (new window will open) was even more arbitrary: I can’t recall ever having heard of it before. But it’s on the coast and the guide books speak favorably of it and it’s easy to get to from Paris. I thought about renting a car so that I could explore more of Bretagne while I was there. But the automatics were outrageously expensive, and I didn’t much fancy the idea of learning to cope with a manual transmission. As it turned out, I managed to come down with a cold (my very first night even!), which seriously dampened my enthusiasm and stamina for excursions, so it’s just as well that I didn’t bother with a rental.

I arrived in the afternoon of April 10 and stayed until the morning of April 16. Easter week is a popular vacation time throughout Europe, so there were lots of tourists, especially from England (which is just across the Channel).

The walled city is all cobblestones, narrow, windy streets, and stone buildings. The parts of the city nearest the portes in the wall are the most touristy: restaurants, gift shops, and hotels galore. The gift stores aren’t quite as homogenous as usual: some focus on Breton crafts, some on Breton food and drink, some on pirate (whoops, make that corsaire) trinkets. As you move away towards the ocean, it becomes more low key.


I took commented tour offered by Le Petit Train de Saint Malo to familiarize myself with the walled city. And so I learned that in the 6th century, an Irish monk named Mach Low visited a hermit, Aaron, who lived on what was then an island. Over the years, "Mach Low" mutated to "Maclou", then to "Malo", and he apparently picked up a sainthood along the way. (Why our hermit friend Aaron got left out of the story was not explained.) The walls for which St. Malo is known were the brainchild of St. Malo’s first bishop, Jean de Châtillon, in the 12th century. The buildings are all stone because of a royal decree following a fire in the 14th (?) century that wiped out 3/4 of the buildings. Jacques Cartier, who is credited with discovering Canada, is probably the Malouin best known in North American. However, the corsaire Robert Surcouf seems to be sailor of whom they are most proud. It’s said of him that he trained very early at sea and embarked when he was 13 as a ship’s boy, became a merchant-captain at 20, and at 22, in 1795, he started chasing the English vessels in the Indian Ocean and earned a reputation as a fearsome corsaire with outstanding spoils. When he was 23, he and his crew of 16 captured a English warship armed with more than 200 sailors. He became one of the richest ship owners in Saint Malo where he died at 54.

The commentary was delivered in both French and English, and there were a few differences in the commentary:

  • Saint Malo was nearly totally destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in the original style. (It took over a year just to catalog the building stones.) The "lower city" was destroyed by the Germans. In the English version of the commentary, the "upper city" was destroyed as a result of Allied bombardment, the result of a mistaken assumption that there were Germans still hiding out there. (They were in fact hiding out in the Fort de la Cité.) In the French commentary, American and English bombardment were responsible.
  • For centuries, St. Malo was among the richest cities in France. This was largely due to the activities of the corsaires (don’t call them pirates*!), 1/3 of whose plunder went to the Crown, 1/3 to the ship owners, leaving the remaining 1/3, and a generous 1/3 it was, to be divided among the crew. In the French commentary, it was made clear that the English were the main involuntary contributors to St. Malo’s wealth (with some relatively modest contributions from the Dutch); in the English commentary, St. Malo’s benefactors remained anonymous.
    *"Corsaires" had official Crown permission to pursue their activities, hence distinguishing them from freelance pirates.

Day Trip to Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel is just a bus ride (well, okay, two buses: one to Pontorson, the train station for Mont St Michel, and a second one from the station to the Mont itself) away from St Malo. Leaving a little before 10, we arrived at about 11:30; the return trip was slated for 4:00. I was a little worried about being able to fill the time, but that turned out not to be a problem.

Pictures really didn’t do much to prepare me for the reality.

The abbey seems to be all of a piece with the mont, as if it had been carved out of the earth itself. And the scale of it is immense: I have trouble picturing it as actually serving as a home to (how many at a time?) monks. I should think it would be very easy for a novice to become disoriented and lose himself for days at a time in its corridors and nooks. (I have the same trouble in the Louvre or Versailles, though, so maybe it’s just a failure of imagination.) It’s now "staffed" by about a dozen members of Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem. The men live in the abbey, while the women have a convent in the the town. They’re responsible for liturgy and also conduct retreats.

I did the audio guided tour, which, while interesting, didn’t yield any memorable insights into the abbey. I also attended the noon Mass. So, between the tour, the Mass, and a late lunch, I had only about 45 minutes for visiting the rest of the town, which was just about right. It’s mostly the usual restaurants, gift shops and hotels. There are also innumerable "museums", but if you ask the people leaving them, they’ll typically tell you that it’s just a musty room with a few stray pictures and uninteresting displays.

Day Trip to Dinard

Another day trip was to Dinard, for no particular reason, except that it was just a 10-minute ferry ride across the channel of St. Malo Bay.

In St. Malo, the tourist season (though not the high season, which is July and August) starts with Easter (or April 1, whichever comes first). Dinard, on the other hand, seems to have only the high season (again July and August) and the off season, so much of it seemed closed for the winter. Even many of the residences looked to be closed for the winter: shutters closed, gates locked, lawns overgrown.

The architecture is particularly distinctive, Victorian ornamentation but rendered in stone:

Dinard was apparently a very popular resort in the late 19th century with wealthy British who built summer homes in their familiar styles with the local building materials.


The rest of the pictures that I judge suitable for viewing are in this slideshow (this will open in a new window).

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