Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sviecky v tme

[Candles in the darkness]

While I described my long weekend and All Saint's Day, I never got to All Souls' Day, which was far more remarkable.

Ruth was unfortunately terribly ill all Tuesday--All Souls' Day. (She ended up not going to school all that week.) However, we still bundled up and left the apartment at 5:30, bound for the cemetery.

The cemetery was much darker than I'd seen it the day before. But there was nothing eerie or disquieting in it; instead, the scene spread out before us was peace. Bright candles in their red glass jars glowed warmly in the night. All but two graves I saw were lit up by candles. (At one of the latter, Ruth bent down and lit a candle at the foot of the cross-topped obelisk, muttering as she did, "There you go." "That was very nice," I said. "That one never has anything," she said. "I think everyone's dead.")

Some of the graves were overflowing with bright candles, and flowers, and wreaths, and other such decorations (such as the three mausoleums); some were watched over by just one little light. I didn't think it mattered, so long as there was just the one.

Most of the stones were dark ebony. As we walked down the rows which seemed to stretch for miles, we saw two versions of the candles there: As they were, and as the dark reflections repeated them back to us. On one slab, the stone worked in rivulets, there was a warped-class candle which cast a spiral-shaped glow. The wave on waves made it look like dunes; I couldn't help but think of a sands-of-time metaphor.

There was one plot which, instead of a solid stone slab, was topped in a delicately-sculpted miniature garden. I thought that was a very nice idea, to instead of sealing off all life in thick stone, nurturing the cycle's progression. It felt more self-rejuvenating and eternal to me that way.

When we had arrived, the sky had been indigo; I blinked and it had become, somehow without my noticing, inky black; the street lamps hanging over the main boulevards had turned on. Of course in the darkness the candles burned brighter. It was a sea of light. It was absolutely beautiful.

We met stara mama and Gabo's family and made more rounds than the day before. I don't know how all of the people were related, but each had candles lit for them and respect paid.

Later, when it was just Ruth and me once more, we went to the chapel there in the cemetery. Packed on the steps to its locked doors and overflowing out several feet on the ground, were hundreds of more candles. Candles were lit for your far-off dead you couldn't visit, Ruth told me, and gave me a candle to set with the others. Matches were rarely used the whole night, and at this chapel, never; you lit your candle off another, and so the chain of light grew.

We spent over an hour there, and then Ruth and I left for mass. On our way to the church we saw what looked like a river (or the Washington Monument!) of candles stretching out on the ground from a statue of Mary. We took the little detour to see. It was interesting in the ribbon of flame to see the dark stripe in the middle, where the first candles had now burned out, and were too far in for anyone to reach them and replace them. Some of the tealights (they were mostly tealights here) had burned through their thin metal shells and had oozed wax on the pavement underneath. The whole thing was very beautiful to see.

We continued up the small hill that what I call the "Double Church" is on. The Double Church--which dates I believe from the 18th century-- has twin green-bronze spires (thus my nickname) and is painted yellow. It is also the other Catholic school in Nitra (aside from Ruth's school). I'd been inside twice before: Once, on one of my first days exploring Nitra when I first arrived, and again the day before the day of my story, when on a whim I decided to take a little walk up there to see it once more.

This was the first time I'd been to mass there with Ruth, though she said she used to go to it quite often. Despite the thick scaffolding up front (the reconstruction or whatever it is started last year, according to Ruth), I love the design. The ceiling in the main sanctuary is very high and the walls are very widely spaced. It has an open, cavernous feel. Either it's more spacious than its other fellows in Nitra, or not as popular, but there was so much empty space in the pews. It was a luxury; usually we have to really look hard to find a little room to sit. (At the church on Klokocina, there are legions of people standing. It's hard to find a seat even in the upstairs balcony!) So I really enjoyed the Double Church, which has always in exterior design been my favorite.

Much love!

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