As a card-carrying Catholic, I’m pretty well up on my saints. I can’t say I know them all, but I thought I’d heard of most of them. Until I came across St Adalbert. I slept in on Sunday and missed mass in the village. After a three-country week with long nights and early mornings, I slept through the church bells and missed the 8 am call. Luckily, I’d suspected this might be the case and having written off 4.30 pm mass the day before in Zalamerenye, I’d found an 11.30 in nearby Garabonc, home to the hitherto unknown St Adalbert.
The small Baroque church dates to 1755 and has just 12 pews (with heated seats, I might add). We pushed the numbers into double digits (not counting the priest and the organist) and himself did terrible things to the gender balance as the only man in the congregation.
The priest is also our priest in the village and the same priest who said mass the day we were in Zalamerenye.
I got the nod.
I suspect he might think I’m a groupie.
I don’t think people make a habit of massing outside their local church but technically we’re sticking to the same parish so that has to count for something.
Even given its size, it has that eyesore of a projector screen common to all Hungarian churches. The one that does nothing for the decor. And as everyone there was of a vintage that knew their prayers, why was it needed?
But like other churches in the area, the walls were colourful and challenging. Picking out scenes from the bible that wouldn’t be seen in churches in Ireland can be a challenge. I got most of them (okay, so I wouldn’t have recognised St John) but the big one along the northern walls stumped me.
Many moons ago, a dear friend commented that were aliens ever to drop down on Earth and visit a Catholic church, they’d run a mile seeing as most have a large crucifix over the altar. The church in Garabonc goes one better. It has a statue of St Michael spearing a demon in the eye!
And, after much thought, we decided that the painting was of St Adalbert himself, confirming someone perhaps?
Adalbert of Prague, known in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia by his birth name Vojtěch, was a Czech missionary and Christian saint. He was the Bishop of Prague and a missionary to the Hungarians, Poles, and Prussians, who was martyred in his efforts to convert the Baltic Prussians to Christianity.
I’d never heard of the chap myself and don’t know anyone called after him, not even a Bertie who might not have been a Cuthbert as I’d always supposed. But apparently, he may have baptised Géza of Hungary and his son Stephen in Esztergom, which would make him a very important saint in this part of the world.
His was an interesting if relatively short life. He died at 41. But his story lives on, told as it is on the doors of Gniezno Cathedral:
The massive bronze doors of Gniezno Cathedral, dating from around 1175, are decorated with eighteen reliefs of scenes from Adalbert’s life. They are the only Romanesque ecclesiastical doors in Europe depicting a cycle illustrating the life of a saint, and therefore are a precious relic documenting Adalbert’s martyrdom. We can read that door literally and theologically.
After mass, we spent some time asking if anyone knew who the two women were on the altar. No one did. Their robes are similar to those of St Theresa, the Little Flower, who was a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite but I wondered what they’d be doing with Adalbert.
Back when I was but a mere child, a missionary priest, Fr Jim, a relative of my mother’s, would come home every so often. I loved the seeming irreverence with which he’d explore a church, going in and out of the confessionals, treading the altar to check the baptismal font, lifting a station of the cross off the wall to see how it was made. He called it doing research. I thought he was being excitingly nosey. His legacy to me was a similar curiosity, particularly regarding the stations. These were the first I’d seen made of pottery.
As we were leaving, tucked underneath the organ gallery at the back of the church is a wonderful painting, another new one on me, by Hungarian Gábor Toth. I suspect it’s of a shameful St Peter as he hears the cock crow for a third time.
I’ve a fondness for village churches and am grateful for the restorative power of quiet spaces that have so much to see. I’m even more grateful though to have found a later Sunday mass. And to have gotten my three wishes.