This was special. These were moments to cherish. This was not only about religion. This was about enjoying, celebrating and appreciating the beautiful buildings that Prague have.
What was the event?
Night of Churches is an annual event that occurs in Prague but also the whole of Czech Republic. With over 1,600 churches and religious sites in the whole of Czech Republic opening to the public with a celebration of cultures, arts, music – it was beautiful and educational. On the 24th of May it brought Prague alive – literally. Ignore the stag doo’s staggering about and there was an hundreds of people walking about as part of the event.
What happened at the event?
With my red brochure which included a map of all the churches I followed the route and tracked down in total 7 different churches. However, I was firstly astonished with the amount of people around me who were doing the exact same. When I got to the first church I visited the place was full. Completely full. The lights up full and at the front a choir standing at the altar. Immediately inside me I felt quite positively emotional. It was a beautiful alternative friendly night for Prague but it was a Friday night the opened Prague up.
The audience who were walking through the city going church to church were not just tourists but everyone. It was a mixture of everyone who was wanting to see churches in Cezch Republic which usually are never opened. This included certain areas of the churches organ lofts, towers, crypts and also, which I saw a few spectacular bell towers. Night of Churches as a concept is something that has been occurring throughout Europe for the last 15 years. It actually all started in 2005 by a priest in a church in Vienna. He left the door opened to the church with a candle outside on a Friday night and was amazed at how many people came in to visit. Germany, Austria and Czech Republic have now well and truly allowed the event to be part of the events programme of the city. In 2009 the Czech Republic began opening the churches and now in its 10 year was by far more than just an event. It has probably became the biggest tool to trying to educate people about Christianity in the Czech Republic. One more thing each and every place still has a candle outside the church as part of the history of the origins of the event.
This type of event has actually now became a destination for many people. On hotel and hostel websites including Hotel International, which is a very popular hotel in the city center, they highlight the event is a “unprecedented experience”. The free event goes much more than only allowing people to see inside the places of worship. It allows activities including bible-readings, creative competitions, puppet shoes, book readings and some of the finest musical interludes you have ever heard. And it is for everyone. Some events are aimed for families, individuals, groups and all ages.
Anything else happen at the event?
Starting at 6pm many activities ranged for a few hours and some until the small hours. Each church I went to had a diverse and different programme. One thing I want to focus on is the idea that events can have a hidden meaning. The meaning here was inclusion. Religion is something that is quite a topical and at times can build barriers for people to appreciate more than just the central reason the religion occurs. By opening doors. By holding concerts. By standing at the entrances of churches it was more than just an event. It was a tool of the future. To educate and allow people to feel they can enjoy the spectacular beauty some of these buildings hold.
Some of the event logistics elements I noticed was each church had a welcome desk. They had lots of programmes and lots of paper (unfortunately maybe not as sustainable as could be…) but they also had a lot of the community out engaging. I met monks, priests, member of the community volunteering. It was beautiful to experience and see those who weekly are part of the community were wanting this event to be successful. Each had a badge but that badge was also about pride. It was about saying “I can talk to you about this building, this community and my church”. I think this message of pride is something, especially in the UK and the western world we create divisions inside of togetherness. Togetherness only comes up when tragedy hits a religious community but instead this event has transcended boundaries weekly to allow the doors to be open and the community to enter.
One thing to take away…
Events can build, create and open communities. This was exactly what this event achieved and is achieving each year that it occurs and gets bigger…also why don’t you go and explore a place you have ever thought that the door may be closed…