Thursday, September 10, 2015

Churches of Eastern Europe - V

Some of the great blessings of travel are the surprises you uncover.  Such was our vacation stop in Passau, Germany, on the Danube River.

Our floating hotel, the Viking Prestige, was made for a city like Passau.  We tied up at the confluence of two tributaries, the Ilz and the Inn, flowing into the Danube.  (Hey, a city of three rivers!  I can identify with that!)  We walked off the boat, and --voila!-- we were in the old town.  A short walk up a mild grade took us into the center of town, and the subject of this blog, St. Stephen's Cathedral.

If you have been reading my church accounts, you may have noticed the name Passau come up in previous histories of other churches and cities.  From what I can gather, in the 13th and 14th and 15th centuries, before the prominence of Vienna or Budapest or Prague, Passau was the ecclesiastical center of this part of Europe.  From the plains around Saltzburg, Austria, a mere 90 minute bus ride south, came salt.  Salt was the gold, the industrial might, the digital revolution, of the Middle Ages.  Salt meant wealth.  Salt came to Passau, with its accessible transportation downstream on the Danube, and made a few bishops and businessmen very rich.

However, before telling the tale of another overwhelming Baroque cathedral, let me share with you two stories from our university-educated guide Passau guide.  As we walked through a narrow alley, he stopped at a nondescript old brown wooden door.  He said that the door, and the building, were hundreds of years old.  In the door was a smaller (maybe 10" square) cut-out at shoulder height.  He explained that the cut-out was used during the Black Plague as a way of townspeople giving the home's inhabitants food.  But the kindly Good Samaritans didn't want to get close to the home's residents, lest they catch the deadly disease.  So they would put the food on a long stick, and from a distance insert the stick, with its food, into the cut-out.  Hence came the saying, "Don't touch me with a ten-foot pole."

Another story is that in the Middle Ages it was hard to tell if a person had died.  In some cases coma and death were too close.  So the undertaker would put a bell on the hand of the deceased as the body was placed in the coffin.  If in the church or the graveyard the mourners heard a noise, they immediately opened the coffin.  He was "saved by the bell." 

Floods also mark Passau.  Some were from centuries ago.  But the city endured a "500-year" flood in 2013.  Usually the Danube is no more than two meters (six feet) deep.  But heavy rains in April 2013 caused such flooding in the area that the Danube River rose to a height of 10.5 meters (40 1/2 feet).  We saw the flood water marks on bridges and buildings. 

As with most of the church buildings in this part of the world, St. Stephen's Cathedral was built over centuries.  The earliest church on the site dates to the 700s.  (If this date is amazing, it is no less than the restaurant in Saltzburg which has been in continuous operation since 803.  "St. Peter's Restaurant" was begun alongside a Benedictine monastery, and still is open for food today, 1,212 years later.)   A three-aisle basilica was built about 990, and survived until 1662, when it was destroyed in a fire.   The current cathedral was begun shortly thereafter, with completion about 1707.

Besides its very ornate Baroque frescoes, the Cathedral's claim to fame is that it holds "the largest cathedral organ in the world" and "the largest organ in Europa."  The original organ was installed 1684-91, and enhanced in 1715-18.  Later renovations of the organ were done in 1886-90 and 1977-80.  The organ now has 233 stops and 17,974 pipes.  "Organ" is a mis-nomer, as it is actually five organs, in three locations in the cathedral.  

God was with our little group, as we arrived for our eight hour visit to Passau on Friday, May 1.  Organ concerts are held daily from noon to 12:30 from the first day of May until the last day of October.  We were able to hear the year's first concert.  Our guide gave us tickets (two euros) to the concert.  The cathedral's seats were filled with rubber-necked tourists who obviously had never been in a Christian church.  The sound of the organ can only be described as "AWESOME."  From the lowest of low notes to the highest of bird chirps, it was magnificent to be surrounded by visual and aural beauty in St. Stephen's Cathedral.

After the concert, we strolled through the old town.  There was a market just outside the cathedral.  I bought a warm fresh pretzel from a truck of "Ratzinger Brothers Bakery."  (Any relation to Pope Benedict XVI?)  There was also a puppet show for the children.  The kids sat on the ground entranced by the movements of the small wooden marionettes.  A lone accordionist accompanied the action on stage.  

I found a nice church books and gifts store on the other side of the main square.  Nearby were contemporary stores--and fine ice cream for a warm sunny day.  Down two alleys I walked into a Franciscan church, a complete opposite of the ornate cathedral.  This poor church was merely white walls and a few wooden statues.  What a contrast.  

I enjoyed our short stay in a delightful old/new town, Passau.

Media covering religion

One of the websites I regularly check is .  This title is a pun on the Real Clear Politics polling outfit.  Please do not confuse this with the same title, but ".com" applelation, a conservative wanna be.

Two recent articles which were especially sharp were one on Stephen Colbert (written from a Jewish perspective) and a small history of a great, unknown parish priest in southern Louisiana in the 1950s ( Father Maloney ).  Both make us Catholics proud.  

I may have mentioned it before, but if you visit the site, check out the ugliest churches, more ugliest churches, and ugliest vestments in the world listings in the upper left hand corner of the home page.  We all need more humor in our lives.

Foolishly Picking Pigskin Winners 5

Astute readers (and you -- singular -- know who you are!) will notice that I've chosen not to use a Roman numeral in my title.  That's because this year the NFL has chosen not to use a Roman numeral in its naming of the Big Game.  Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016, not Super Bowl L.  

We have now gone beyond Deflategate, and are coming up upon the real thing--256 games of real pro football, followed by 11 playoff games.  I for one am glad the legal wrangling is over, though Tom Brady again proved a major principle of American justice.  If you have a wealthy lawyer, you can win anything in court.  A guilty conscience, and friends with a pin to let the air out, are just not enough.  Roger Goodell is a bigger loser than the Cleveland Browns (with their 24 starting quarterbacks since 1999).

With tonight's game between the Super Bowl champions almost a  foregone conclusion (Patriots, zero suspensions,  Steelers, two, plus All-Pro center Pouncey out;  over/under for Patriots offense is 38), it's time for me to predict again the winners for the 2015 NFL season.  But not before a look back.

As that great (former) football blogger Gregg Easterbrook wrote often, "All predictions wrong or your money back."  Last year I only got five of 12 playoff teams correct.  But, amazing of amazing, I did pick Brady & Belechik and company to win the Lombardi.  And they did, in beyond-exciting fashion over the Seattle "I'll pass again and again on the one-yard line" Seahawks.  My prediction was that the Patriots would beat the Saints.   Ha!  The Saints didn't even make the playoffs!  

But then again, I predicted our Steelers would go 6-10, and a wonderful, bewildering season resulted in 11-5, more brilliance by Big Ben and Baby Bell, and a division championship over Baltimore and Cincinnati, which both crept into the January tourney as wild cards. 

This year, again, I'm cannot be blinded by the offensive brilliance, Ben's magic touch, and Coach Tomlin's Tomlinisms.  All I see is a defense that is at least one year away, and maybe three more skilled personnel additions, away from playoff caliber.  Steelers, 7-9.

So here are my predictions for the 2015 NFL season:

NFC EAST:  Eagles (3)

NFL NORTH:  Packers (1)

NFC SOUTH:  Saints (4)

NFC WEST:  Seahawks (2)

Wild cards:  Rams (6) and Cowboys (5)

Eagles over Rams
Saints over Cowboys

Packers over Saints
Eagles over Seahawks

Packers over Eagles

AFC EAST:  Patriots (1)

AFC NORTH:  Ravens (4)

AFC SOUTH:  Colts (3)

AFC WEST:  Chargers (2)

Wild Cards:  Bills (6) and Broncos (5)

In such a super competitive league, I am picking the two Super Bowl participants to win their respective divisions.  But I can't see either New England or Seattle making it back to Five-Oh in Santa Clara.  Too many distractions, too great a possibility of the wrong injuries.  The surprises in the league will be the Rams, making it back into the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, similarly with the Bills.  This will be the swan song for the great Peyton Manning, alas.  And I think Aaron Rogers and Mike McCarthy (of St. Rosalia Parish, Pittsburgh, fame) will win their second big trophy.

Colts over Bills
Ravens over Broncos

Ravens over Patriots 
Colts over Chargers

Colts over Ravens

SUPER BOWL 50:  Packers over Colts