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2015 Grateful 37

In times when the Catholic Church in particular, and religious institutions in general, are receiving a bashing, it is nice to see that some churches are still attracting young people in their droves, to celebrate life in their own inimitable way. Yes, they might never darken the doors of the church itself, but they gather in their hundreds outside on the steps to sing and celebrate. They come from many different countries and mix and mingle in the shadow of one of the world’s most famous churches. Everyone welcome. Everyone accepted.

IMG_6378 (800x600)IMG_6388 (800x600)This is what happens each evening on the steps of the Sacre Coeur in Paris. Hundreds gather to sit on the steps and listen to impromptu concerts as enterprising buskers tout their CDs in the wake of their live performances. Hawkers sell bottles of Heineken at €5 a throw, still cold, despite the heat. There are no deals – perhaps they are all agents for a monopoly, or perhaps they have agreed amongst themselves, made a pact to get the most out of those who have forgotten that BYOB is de rigeur for this particular party.

IMG_6413 (800x600)Lots of people are drinking and yet no one is drunk. Perhaps this has something to do with the Cathedral looming in the background, banners hanging from its portals declaring that it has been open every day for 125 years. An amazing feat, given that I’ve often been hard pushed in Ireland and Hungary to find a church open mid-week.

Situated in Montmartre (the Mount of Martyrs), where worshiping of some sort or other has been going on since the Druids, the Sacre Couer dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. It’s a stunning piece of architecture that came into being as a result of a promise. Back in 1870, when France and Germany were at war (Germany won and partially occupied France as a result), two men – Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury – saw France’s troubles not as political but as spiritual. Their idea was to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart in reparation. So they did. And it’s still there.

IMG_6425 (800x598)As the evening draws on, the lights in Paris switch on, one by one, gradually lighting up the city below. It’s a show not to be missed, free for all to see, and so compelling that many come back again, and again. The atmosphere is electric. It’s what church and religion should be – and sadly are not.

IMG_6418 (800x600)The only anomaly are the three security agents on patrol, dressed in combat fatigues, touting what guns that I imagine AK47s to look like. They walk in circles, constantly scouting 360 degrees, fingers on the triggers, ready for whatever comes their way. I wondered briefly whether this was a reaction to the recent terrorist attacks or whether it’s always been this way. I have no way of knowing. I would hope it’s reactionary and given time, will no longer be necessary. But perhaps, that too, is a sign of changing times.

This week, a week where patience (a limited commodity in my world on a good day) was tried and tested, where frustrations at my own inabilities ran high, and where self-berating was the order of the day, I’m glad of this memory. It was a lovely evening, on a lovely weekend, a weekend when I got to know Paris a little better and was big enough to admit that I was wrong about her.

 

 

Frescos and cheese

I’ve never professed to be an art expert – what I know about art (other than knowing what I like) could be written on the bristles of a paintbrush. I have a very rudimentary, non-technical idea of what a fresco is but had never heard of a fresco-secco. And I’d certainly never heard of mixing lime and cheese (specifically that cheese that is found in a túró rudi) and dye to get paint!

Church in Ráckeve

Back in 1994, when artist Patay László (1932-2002) was preparing to paint a fresco-secco in the Catholic church of St John the Baptist in Ráckeve, he used 170 kg of tehén túró cheese when mixing his paints. I resisted a childish temptation to lick the walls and see if any of the taste remained. It took one year of dedicated work during which Patay painted 245 faces and his team of volunteers filled in the rest. About 600 square meters of walls space is now home to a glorious feast of colour, blending beautifully with the baroque paintings and the glitter and gold that are features of Catholic church decor worldwide.

Frescos in church in RáckeveWith a population of 9000 people, about 70% of those living in Ráckeve are Catholic. The local church made a smart move in its day when it agreed to open a Catholic school on condition that all parents attended mass with their children each Sunday. Of the four regular Sunday masses, two are more than half-full and the other two have standing room only. I doubt many visitors get any prayers said as there is so much to see.

Frescos in church in RáckeveThe fresco moves from Adam and Eve in the garden right through to hell and damnation. The seven deadly sins are featured as are the twelve Apostles, and the three virtues of Catholicism (faith, hope, and charity). Everywhere you turn you see something new, something different. Tilting your head back and looking up towards the ceiling brings a rush of blood that is further exacerbated by the vision of what’s looking down on you.

Frescos in church in RáckeveFrescos in church in Ráckeve

Up till now, the only time I’ve come across the word ‘secco’ is on a bottle of sparkling wine. I knew it meant ‘dry’ but I hadn’t realised that a fresco-secco is one that is painted on a dry wall. Whereas other frescos are painted on freshly plastered wet walls. You learn something new every day.

Of all the scenes depicted by Patay, the one that really hooked me was of the four horses of the apocolypse. Very eerie and yet very beautiful.

Frescos in church in Ráckeve

Frescos in church in Ráckeve

While preparing the walls for the fresco (the whole process, by the way, was overseen by someone from the Vatican who was there to ensure that everything was depicted accurately and in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic church – a project manager with a difference!) they came across evidence that it had been painted on before. I wonder whose decision it was to go ahead and continue painting rather than strip the walls and see what lay underneath. My curiosity would have killed me so I know what I’d have decided.  If you’re in the area, St John the Baptist’s is worth a visit. From Budapest, take the #6 hév from Vágóhíd (at the end trams 2 and 24) and it’s about a 75-minute journey.