A month in Prague



By Sister Beatrice Garnett

Last year I was in Prague for a month during November to help the Ursuline school while staying with the community.  Both are well situated, city centre, next door to the National Theatre.

As I had worked in the school before I was able to take more lessons, and knowing the setup it was possible to be of more use.  The staff, again, were really welcoming. I had a good timetable and by the last week was even confident enough to set exams!  English is so important, and Czech so impossible, that it let me off trying anything more than ‘Kyrie Eleison’.  Also, in community, between amateur French and English, I was able to fit in. I always had one psalm at office (in English!) and could make up my own outings without needing a guide. 

My spare time was wonderful.  Prague works hard to open buildings, host exhibitions, art, etc, in line with the major capitals of the west.  The current artist was Rousseau.  I found a guided tour in English, given with pride that the paintings’ owners had agreed to the venue.  Then there were various specials: I spent half the night of 2 November in pitch dark clutching a candle in the most prestigious and ancient cemetery where the Ursulines still have places.  Another interesting day for me was the 17th, anniversary of the beginning of the velvet revolution, and apparently this really began in the Ursuline church. 

It is on the main street, which, in 1989, was packed as crowds, mostly  students, were confronted by lines of armed communist police - and an atmosphere of violence building up.  Someone in the church realised and wide-opened the doors.  It’s a big church and many took refuge inside giving time for the atmosphere to calm.  Then they went up the road to Wenceslas Square, like Trafalgar Square only much longer.  I was told the Revolution is still quite a live issue, life for some was easy under communism so it has supporters.  This explained the huge pro-revolution street displays, photographs, candles, lights, wreaths, flowers spreading everywhere across the pavements, all watched by police.  I took a few photographs, discreetly.

Later, I was around for the beginning of Advent.  There is no shortage of priests, church on every corner, each with a history beyond belief and ready to put on dawn Masses.  You begin, again, in pitch dark, one candle on the Advent wreath if you’re lucky, singing Rorate with a Czech accent - and you come out in sunshine.  Then in the evening, explore the Christmas markets which are a sight to behold.  Everywhere floodlit, whole traditional villages built up in the squares full of winter novelties, food, drink, all you could desire and everyone out enjoying it.

This time, having tried air travel, I used a coach, arriving in Prague just two underground stops from the convent, no fuss with luggage and sensible times.  The journey was fascinating, Dunkirk, Gravelines, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, plenty of spare seats, hot drinks free and offered as you wanted.  For me it was fine, and thank you to all who enabled any and every bit of it.