Another insight into Czech life and culture

The rocks and forests of the Czech countryside © Ricky Yates

The rocks and forests of the Czech countryside © Ricky Yates

Yesterday, I officiated at the burial of ashes of two people, a husband and wife, into the family grave. Whilst this is something I would quite regularly do when Rector of a group of North Oxfordshire villages, this was the first time of doing so in just over six years of ministry here in the Czech Republic. I have also only conducted four funerals during that time, a reflection of the predominantly young age of the English-speaking expatriate population resident here.

However, although I conducted yesterday’s graveside service in English, it was very much a Czech occasion and was an illustration of several aspects of Czech life and culture. And because I want to protect the privacy of the family, I hope readers will forgive me for not referring to people or exact locations by name.

The existing family grave is located in the massive Olšanské Cemetery that lies in the Prague suburb of Žižkov. Whilst the cemetery is well-maintained by the local authority, like so much of Czech officialdom, it is not managed to encourage the practice of religious faith. Two things illustrated this.

The first was the attitude of the two cemetery staff who were present when we arrived at the grave. Whilst the grave had been opened and the appropriate hole dug, in true Czech bureaucratic style, the only thing that mattered to them was thoroughly checking the paperwork brought by the next of kin, the son of the deceased. Once they were convinced that the paperwork was in order, they just left us to it with a, ‘we’ll be back later to fill in’.

The second was the complete lack of provision for me. There was no chapel or vestry where I could robe & leave my belongings securely. Instead, aided by the eldest grandson of the deceased, who kindly held various things for me, I robed standing alongside a bench adjacent to a path running behind the family grave.

I have previously written about the Czech love of flowers which helps to keep innumerable flower shops and stalls in business. This love was very clearly in evidence with every family member arriving with a bunch of fresh flowers to lay on the grave. And I mean everybody, right down to the six great-grandchildren of the deceased.

However, it was what followed the graveside service which struck me as being so much part of Czech culture. The service was at 11.00 in the morning, so afterwards, everyone who attended was invited back to lunch. But lunch was not at the family flat in Mala Strana where I’d met the next of kin the previous day. Nor was it at a restaurant, not so far from the cemetery. No – we were all transported over thirty kilometres out of Prague into the Bohemian countryside, to a large three storey house – the family chalupa.

The house was built in the early 1930s, in a time that is now always referred to as ‘the First Republic’, when Czechoslovakia was an independent state between 1918-1938. The deceased couple were responsible for having it built.

The history of the house reflects the history of the nation. During the Second World War, when the country was occupied by the Nazis, there was a German military base nearby, so the house was commandeered to house a senior Nazi military officer. Then, following the communist coup of February 1948, the family were confined to the basement whilst the two floors above were occupied by others. Even after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the subsequent restitution of property laws, the family allowed a remaining ‘tenant’ to live in part of the house, until her death in the mid 1990s.

The son of the deceased gave a speech in which he recalled his childhood weekends and summer holidays, spent living in the basement and sleeping in a wooden ‘summer house’ in the garden. They were memorable times, despite the deprivation of the communist era.

And although he and his parents escaped to Switzerland in 1968, when he was in his late teens, and he, along with his wife and three of their four children, now live in England, this house in the Bohemian countryside is still the family home. Here, where his elderly uncle still lives, is where the soul of the family resides and was the only place where the lives of his late parents, who both lived into their nineties, could be properly celebrated.

The story of this family, could be told with some variations, by so many Czech families. The story also reflects the psyche of the wider Czech nation – that deep down Czech people believe that the soul of the nation is found in the forests, rivers and lakes of the Czech countryside. Even whilst we were eating our lunch yesterday, Má vlast, ‘My Country’ or ‘My Fatherland’ by Bedrich Smetana, was being played in the sitting room, music that encapsulates that very concept.

A little change for the better

Before © Ricky Yates

The photograph on the left, shows the top of the organ in Kostel sv Kliment/St. Clement’s Church, as it was until August 2014, and as it had been for all of the previously nearly six years I’ve been Chaplain to the English-speaking Anglican congregation in Prague. At the centre of the picture is a mirror on a stand, to enable the organist to see beyond the front wall of the balcony, and know what is going on at the front of the Church – in particular, to know when to stop playing once the administration of Communion is complete.

But because the mirror stand is not sufficiently high, it has been propped up on three music and four words editions of our hymn book. Over that time, I have often observed this set up and thought how wasteful it was. . . . → Read More: A little change for the better

Ceský Ráj

The view from Drábské svetnicky © Ricky Yates





Ceský Ráj, which literally translates into English as ‘Czech Paradise’ or ‘Bohemian Paradise’, is beautiful area of sandstone rocks and forests lying between 70-100 kilometres north east of Prague. Yesterday, on my first proper day-off for about a month, I took an 18 km walk through the western edge of Ceský Ráj, starting and finishing in the small town of Mnichovo Hradište.

After walking four kilometres from Mnichovo Hradište railway station, crossing the railway line, the Prague – Liberec motorway and then open fields, I reached the small village of Zásadka, which lies at the foot of the rocks. Here I enjoyed a traditional Czech lunch of Smažený sýr a hranolky, accompanied 0.5l of Svijany beer. Thus fortified, I set off further along the red waymarked route.





. . . → Read More: Ceský Ráj

The 2014 Eastern Archdeaconry Synod in Prague

St. Clement’s Anglican Episcopal Church, Prague © Ricky Yates

As I explained at the end of my post about the 2013 Eastern Archdeaconry Synod, the Prague Anglican Chaplaincy volunteered to host the 2014 Synod meeting. It was held last week between Thursday 25th – Sunday 28th September and I have to say that I’m still recovering from the experience!

In agreeing to host the Synod meeting in Prague, I wanted to overcome two issues. Firstly, long-standing Synod members had told me that when the Synod had last met in Prague, during the time of my predecessor, it had been held in a suburban hotel and attendees had felt rather isolated from the heart of the city. Secondly, when being solely based in a hotel, for example as we were in Izmir in 2009 and Athens in 2012, worship . . . → Read More: The 2014 Eastern Archdeaconry Synod in Prague

Since my return from Switzerland……

My worn-out boots © Ricky Yates

Five weeks ago today, I returned to Prague after spending a wonderful two weeks accompanying Sybille on her pilgrimage from Prague to Santiago de Compostela, walking with her across Switzerland. Since returning, I have successfully written and posted seven blog posts about our journey together. A big ‘Thank you’ to the faithful few who have left kind and appreciative comments on these recent posts.

The evidence of how far we walked can be seen by state of the soles and heels of my much loved walking boots. In the last couple of days of walking, I did slip slightly in a few muddy places, because of the increasing lack of tread. I also discovered that the waterproof cover, integral to my rucksack, was unfortunately no longer waterproof . I have now invested in a new pair . . . → Read More: Since my return from Switzerland……