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||1480: Panny Marie Vítíězné (Our Lady Victorious),
Prague, Czech Republic
Mystery Worshipper: Tartuffe.
The church: Panny Marie Vítíězné (Our Lady Victorious),
Prague, Czech Republic.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: The building dates from 1611, the first Baroque structure
to be built in Prague, and was originally a Lutheran church. After the battle
of the White Mountain (1620), in which Catholic forces under Holy Roman
Emperor Ferdinand II routed the Protestant Bohemians, the church was given
to the Carmelite order as a sign of gratitude. From the outside it is a
simple yet elegant structure resembling any standard small church on any
of Prague's back streets. But inside the reality becomes clearer. Gold and
marble are everywhere, making the interior very shiny as only the Baroque
can be, if a little tacky!
The church: The church is home to one of the most famous Catholic
images of all time, the Bambino de Praga (the Infant Jesus of Prague),
a little wax effigy presented to the Carmelites by the Habsburg patron Polyxena
of Lobkowicz in 1628. Devotion inspired by the statue is said to have resulted
in many miracles, including saving Prague from the bubonic plague. Housed
in a glass case on an exquisite Baroque altar, the infant has attracted
many pilgrims over the years, some leaving behind gifts which are on display.
The statue has 380 different outfits, including one embroidered by Queen
Maria Theresa herself, and its clothes are changed daily by the local Carmelite
nuns. Tacky copies of the Infant of Prague can be bought from any number
of neighbouring shops, and reproductions can be found in countless Catholic
churches and homes throughout the world.
The neighbourhood: The church is in Malá Strana, at the foot of Prague
Castle at the centre of the old city. This is the tourist-filled, charming
and picturesque heart of the capital of the Czech Republic.
The cast: A priest and two laymen, none of whom was named.
The date & time: Trinity Sunday, 3 June 2007, 12.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Mass in English.
How full was the building?
Nearly completely full with worshippers (about 200) and a constantly changing
group of tourists who wandered about during the service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed me and, indeed, had there not been a group of people sitting
in pews waiting, I would never have known a service was about to start.
Was your pew comfortable?
Narrow, low-backed seating that could not have been made comfortable by
any trick or stratagem. The wooden kneeler left very little room to stand.
I was most comfortable when I was on my knees.
How would you describe the pre-service
Confused, nervous and lost, as people had no idea what was about to happen.
What were the exact opening words of the
We sang "Morning has Broken," after which the priest recited the
words: "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Welcome
to this mass."
What books did the congregation use during the
There were no books, no order of service and no Bibles. This meant that
you had no idea what was coming up, what was happening, or (if you did not
know the hymns by heart) what was being sung.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a painful (though keen) choir of some five people.
Did anything distract you?
Throughout the service I was struck by a sense of loss. I had no idea what
was going on and the congregation had no idea when to stand or sit, how
to move about, or what should be said. All these concerns distracted from
the act of worship. Tourists wandered around and chatted throughout with
no attempt to stop them – I could barely hear the sermon. The singing
was poor throughout and, during the sanctus, I ceased being able to work
out the tune, let alone praise God. Renovations were underway and the scaffolding
behind the altar looked dangerous; I was fearful for the priest's safety.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
This was a traditional, conservative novus ordo Catholic mass.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 The priest, though clearly fluent in English, spoke with such passion
that his sermon became almost unintelligible.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The mystery of the trinity is beyond our understanding. The trinity is mentioned
throughout the Bible but is not simply God in three forms – it is something
more complex (though we were never told quite what). In the end, the close
relationship within the trinity is the close relationship we should strive
for between ourselves and God.
Which part of the service was like being in
Singing "Lord I lift your name on high" at the end of the service.
I felt I was the only one singing, but the majesty of the organ and the
opportunity to sing out loud was brilliant.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sense of loss and bewilderment due to the lack of order of service was
awful... as was much of the music. Also, no one directed the procession
of faithful to receive communion, resulting in pushing and shoving akin
to a rugby scrum.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A girl sitting two rows ahead of me smiled, but that was as close as it
came to any human contact. I was just another lost tourist.
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee? 'Fraid not. I was offered a cheap replica of the Infant of Prague,
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 This service would do if you had to go to church, but
I found no spiritual support and no real opportunity to worship God.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Not really – this was Christianity out of a necessity to attend church,
not out of a desire to worship God. No effort was made to let anyone know
what was going on, and apparently no one cared.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sense of loneliness and bewilderment as I had no idea what was going on.
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