Niche in a wall with a carved arched wooden door with a glass pane behind which sits a statue of a lady in blue

2023 Grateful 21: Old and dead

Occasionally, I plan. Like last weekend. I wanted to sleep in. Just one morning when I didn’t have to get up and do stuff. The only morning I had was Sunday but mass in the village is at 8 am. I checked the greater parish website and found a mass in Kisrada at 5.30 on the Saturday evening. Problem solved.

Until I couldn’t find Kisrada.

Once a village in its own right, Kisrada’s independence was taken away and it was subsumed into the village of Garabonc. I’m not sure when. In 1933, it warranted this entry in the history books:

Small village in Pacsa district. Its area is 1194 cadastral acres. It has a Hungarian, Roman Catholic population. Their number is 381. Administratively, it belongs to the district registrar’s office in Nagyrada. Your local leader is Municipal judge János Kovács. Its parish is also a branch of the Nagyrada parish. It has an elementary folk school with one teacher. The chairman of the Levente Association is László Gerencsér, a district clerk in Nagyrad. Zalavári Abbey has a large estate on the border of the village. A significant area is also in the hands of the Grazing Association. There are 4 independent industrialists and 1 trader.

Despite being absorbed into Garabonc, it remained a parish, reportedly because of a young congregation.

The church is small, very small—some 69 square metres of space with no sacristy. Built in 1998 as an addition to the existing belfry (1938), the plaque on the door says it was wired for electricity only in 2015.

The parish website says it’s dedicated to Our Lady and celebrates its feast day on 15 August, the Assumption. Yet the sign over the door mentions St István. I was confused. Until I realised that he gets the Belfry, and she gets the church.

In we went, swelling the ranks in the pews from 3 to 5 with two standing sentry in the tiny hallway.

Church interior - four wooden pews on either side of a carpeted walk walk - a man adds numbers to the wooden songboard which reads 223, 126, 12? and 188, A chandelier with 12 lights hands from the ceiling. Two sconces with lights adorn the walls on either side. The main painting over the altar is of a women in a blue robe being lifted up by angels. THe one to the left is of a man and the one to the right, a holy image of Jesus. There's also a wooden crucifix on the right wall and a two wooden chairs on either side of the altar.

The priest was late. I knew he had another Saturday mass in Zalamerenye and if he got stuck behind a tractor or a horse and cart on his way down the hill, he could be hours. I had time to look, in detail, at the three paintings (St Joseph, the Assumption, and the Divine Mercy) and the carved wooden altar.

carved wooden altar on which is inscribed: Csinath Zoltán emlékére állitatta családja - draped in an embroidered altar cloth on which stands two candles, a crucifix, and a green linen cloth with a gold cross covering something. In front is a wooden pedestal on which sits a white vase with red and white roses.

The altar, dedicated to the memory of Csináth Zoltán, is a beautiful piece of work, so different from the usual marble offerings.

I am fascinated by Hungary’s holy pictures and how they differ from the diet of religious paraphernalia I was brought up on. It was the first time in my catholic memory that I’d seen an image of Our Lady where she looked her age. None of this airbrushing into eternal youth. But old.

On the morning of August 13th, 1822, Catherine Emmerich said: Last night I had a great vision of the death of the Blessed Virgin, but have completely forgotten it all.’ On being asked, in the middle of a conversation on everyday matters, how old the Blessed Virgin was when she died, Catherine Emmerich suddenly looked away and said: She reached the age of sixty-four years all but three and twenty days: I have just seen the figure X six times, then I, then V; is not that sixty-four?

And back in those days, 64 was old, old.

Painting of a old woman in a blue robe being lifted up into the clouds by angels.

Even the angels looked older than usual.

Realism. Reality. Re-revisionism. Whatever you want to call it, it hit me square in the face.

I googled famous paintings of the Assumption and from Titian to Rubens, they all depict a youthful Mary with her eyes wide open. Nothing at all like the old, dead, woman I was looking at.

It was refreshing. Very refreshing. On so many levels.

Even though you could count the number of congregants on two hands with fingers left over, we still got the full mass. And the sermon. The priest spoke too quickly for me to understand anything other than the odd word here and there, but that didn’t matter. I go to mass to receive communion.

I am exceedingly grateful for these small parish churches and their weekly masses. I’m grateful for the insights and the reflections and the peace. My week would have a gaping hole in it without them.

I’m grateful, too, that I still have a few village churches to see.

2 Responses

  1. To see some fine village churches, don’t forget to go to eastern Hungary. Mandelshtam’s line “Beauty is the shrewd eye-measurement of a peasant carpenter” applies outside rural Russia too.b

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