“Salve Amice Old And New” | Blog #9

“Salve Amice Old And New” | Blog #9

Picture gallery at the bottom of the blog!

Yesterday was perhaps the fullest and most satisfying of the whole journey. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect and that as we started early (and are traveling ‘early in the season’) there were no crowds. Our guide said that a month from now most of the most popular sights would have been shoulder to shoulder. As it is – and it drives Amy crazy – I generally separate myself from the group either walking well in front of or far behind to be out of the crush of folks. In all fairness, I listen intently to the guide on the “whisperer” (and ask too many pesky questions – one of the guides asked me whether I was a historian), but I like to be able to focus and look at what interests me. 

The day started with a 5-hour walking tour of the city. Five hours. Five. We started along the river and then through the Old Town through the Jewish Quarter to the main square to the Jan Hus statue. We continued to the Charles Bridge, past the Lennon Wall (a place to rally for freedom and to express freedom). Mercifully, the bus took us up the high hill to the Prague Castle. In some ways that title is a misnomer because it is a castle complex started in the 9th century. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. Dominated by the soring spires of St. Vitus Cathedral it is one of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. The Cathedral stands opposite the presidential palace and both Amy and I wondered what encountering that imposing edifice did for the president every morning. Does he see faith as important in the life of the nation when 80% do not believe?

The stained-glass, while modern, is magnificent (https://thecreativeadventurer.com/a-guided-tour-of-st-vitus-cathedrals-incredible-stained-glass/#:~:text=The%20most%20distinguished%20of%20all%20the%20stained%20glass,an%20allegory%20of%20Christ%20blessing%20the%20Slavic%20Nations.) One window caught my eye; a piece designed by Alphonse Mucha in 1930. It is an allegory of Christ blessing the Slavic Nations. I am looking forward to seeing the Mucha museum this afternoon. Another window that was equally impressive was the Pentecost window. I’ll certainly keep it in mind as we celebrate Pentecost in a few weeks. 

After the Castle tour ended Amy and I caught a tram down and crossed over to the Jewish Quarter that has 5 synagogues, a statue of Kafka, and the hauntingly holy Old Jewish Cemetery. Visiting on the traditional Remembrance Day for the Holocaust made it even more poignant. The cemetery has a path that winds through some 12,000 headstones leaning in all different direction from over the centuries, as it was the burial ground allowed for Prague’s Jews from 1439-1787. Estimates are there are closer to 85,000 buried in the small space. One of the other synagogues, the Pinkas Synagogue built in the 1530’s, has the names of all of those Bohemian and Moravian Jews lost in the Shoah (81,000 ), including the names of Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s grandparents; in all, more than a dozen of her relatives were killed as Jewish victims of the Holocaust. We were able to watch part of her state funeral in the very little TV time we caught this week, but I was always so grateful for the clarity of her witness against any anti-democratic movement either abroad or at home.

We walked back to the Old Town Square where we had made plans to meet up with an old friend and meet a new one. Mattie Crenshaw, who grew up in Nashville with Ben & Leah, is teaching here in Prague. She has one up on our twins in that she’s one of a set of triplets! Mattie’s folks, Jane and Marshall, came back to Westminster after the triplets headed off to college. The summer before their senior year Marshall became increasingly ill with cancer and died just as their semester’s started. Since then I’ve felt a particular closeness with Mattie, so it was a delight to meet up for dinner last night and hear how her 3 years teaching here has gone. 

After about an hour we were joined by a new friend, Pavel Pokorny, a relative of Alec Koukol’s from church. As it turns out, Pavel and Mattie had several connections. Her best friend teaches at his daughter’s school. Then we got talking about Pavel’s visits to the US. One of them was with friends and they came over to watch the solar eclipse back in 2017 and went to Idaho to view it. It turns out they were watching about 30 miles from where Mattie was with her whole family because her dad was such a passionate armature astronomer. What are the chances?! It was so fun to reconnect with an old friend and meet a new one. Even better was the ability to introduce them to one another. Knowing Mattie has someone here – other than her friends and folks she teaches with – makes me happy. 

When I was in youth group as a teen – back when the earth was still cooling – we sometimes would play the game, “If you are part of the Body of Christ, what part of the body would you be?” Most would say hands or feet, mouth or brain. More than one wag suggested I was the stomach, but that wasn’t helpful, even if true. I always thought my gift was more central nervous system, connecting people. Having the chance to do that with old and new friends made my day complete.