ossuary(Brno, CZ – Vsetín, Zlinsky Kraj, Česká republika)

Over the weekend, my traveling companion and erstwhile guide-with-the-book, Susan, and I traveled to the second largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno (Burr-no) for the weekend. The weather was perfect and the Austrian-looking town was a terrific place to hang out for a couple of days away from Vsetín. We have school holidays this week so no public courses and a little more free time to try and learn how to cook and maybe nap a bit more and practice my vast vocabulary of Czech.

Hard to believe it is March already and the dreaded winter I was promised seems to be less dreaded. (The way people were talking about Winter left me with the impression that if I fell in the deep deep snow on my way to school, my body wouldn’t be discovered until Spring) While in Brno we noticed buds on some of the trees indicating, at least to me, that Spring was making an appearance. We stayed at the Penzion na Starém Brně, a teeny tiny hotel next to the Augustinian monastery where Gregor Mendel lived and worked on genetics. This is the first hotel I have stayed at where breakfast is delivered to your room, not as room service, but because there is no dining area nor breakfast room. I have to say, it was very tasty. The hotel itself used to be part of the monastery and the rooms were “cells” that the monks lived in. I couldn’t help wondering what life was like for the monk who had my room, back in the day with no heat or running water. I wonder what his name was? I thought of that while taking a nice hot shower in his room.

Our self-guided tour took us all over the top and underground sections of the city. The Church of the Assumption right next door to the hotel is one of the most beautiful churches I have seen to date in the Czech Republic. If I didn’t know it was built by the Augustinians I would have thought it was built by the Jesuits. There is so much silver in the place that it gleams. In this church as well as St. James we ran into a self-appointed “guardian” who began shouting at us in Czech about not taking pictures to respect the sanctity of the place. Of course the sanctity of the place was destroyed by his yelling. Go figure.

The tour was evenly punctuated between live things and dead things. The live things included the oldsspeter town hall, the labyrinth under the market square, The Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul, the Špilberk Castle as well as the various “squares” throughout the town. The dead things we found were at the Capuchin crypt beneath the street and church where the monks were laid out on the ground in their habits rather than in the ground. The other dead place was the ossuary under St. James’ church where the bones of about 50 thousand people some who died in the plague or cholera epidemics or the 30 years war are on display carefully and methodically stacked one on top of the other. I, being Irish, couldn’t help but wonder who they were, did they have families and of course, what were their names? It is probably appropriate near to the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday to stare into the empty eyes of a skull and be reminded of where I have been and where I am going. A sign at the Capuchin crypt reads Tu fui ego eris “What you are, we were. What we are, you will be.” I guess it’s always good to reflect on the ultimate and then face the new day with determination.

So, tomorrow begins the long haul of Lent to Easter. Lent is always a time for solemn reflection. That’s why we give up creature comforts for 40 days. It forces us to look at stuff with clear heads. When we were kids we always told people what we gave up for Lent, like candy or TV. As I’ve grown older, the idea of giving up just doesn’t cut it anymore. Oh, I’ll follow the rituals of meatless Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday like I always do. It’s no biggie, but maybe instead of “giving up” I’ll be proactive and “give away” my time or energy or talent, or whatever, to do something positive for someone else. Who knows, it may become a habit beyond Easter. In the words of Cat Stevens in the song “Oh, very young”

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

I’m still trying my best to dance, albeit awkwardly and pathetically (think of Elaine from Seinfeld). This Lent as in past Lents I remember I’m not going to “last forever” and with my dancing I will try to leave situations I encounter a little better than when I first encountered them… or at the very least leave them with some humor.

and so it goes…