December 3, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs something seasonal with something odd. You can select your own two or pick from the suggested pairings above. Keep one associated with the December holiday season.
I figured this challenge had me beat too, until the ghost of a memory from my days as a student with the Prague Castle Archaeological Unit began to take on more and more corporeal form. One of the first things the Czech boss used to show new students were the things from the archaeological record that were considered important in defining Czech National identity. Like the very real and archaeologically documented site of the Czech national saint and hero who gave his name to so much of Prague’s heritage trail? Well, yes, and he would be the character we know from the Christmas carol we sing every Christmas, Good King Wenceslas. When we got to the place where his brother had had him murdered so that he could seize power for himself, I remember how it had surprised me that Saint Wenceslas, or Svati Vaclav as he’s known in Czech, had been a real living person whose real life could be so easily traced back to such an olde worlde little place as Stará Boleslav. It really was in the territory that the rest of non-communist Europe had been glad to forget, a sleepy, crumbly place devoid of much colour, or indeed of much else. It hadn’t always been, though: follow the images trail on Google and you’ll see a thriving and prosperous Baroque town.
The Czech boss had led us on a well-rehearsed tour of the church that now sits on the site of the martyrdom of Svati Vaclav/Saint Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia 907-935, one that he was obviously immensely proud of. There was no archaeology left from the actual date of his murder in the original church of the Panny Marie, but there had always been a church on that site since that auspicious date, the feast of Saint Stephen AD935, in one form or another. I remember being led through the crypt of the foundations of one of the earlier churches, that still served the latest Baroque incarnation of the church that stands there now, and thinking how much better at telling the stories of their heritage the Czechs were then we Brits. I felt the wonder and romance still present in that beautifully-vaulted crypt which made such a fitting shrine to the king from the carol we all know so well.
Below there are pictures of the outside of the modern day church of Panny Marie/Virgin Mary (in its less gaudy, un-repainted, very-early-post-communism coat, because that’s the way it looked when I first saw it!), and next to it is an 18th century drawing of the good king’s shrine in the crypt below. A bit of Czech history and archaeology that touches my heart with its magic as much now as it did when I first saw it twenty years ago.
Back in Prague a few months later I got to excavate the graves that would make me something of a celebrity. Whilst excavating along the foundations of the south wall of the apse of St Vitus’ Cathedral, prior to a flashy new lighting installation the cathedral was being treated to in order to show it off at its best while under cover of darkness, I happened upon a double grave. A man and woman lying side by side in death, resplendent in all the requisite trappings of high status, high enough to have been given burial within the castle walls and deep within the earthworks of the foundations of the 14th century cathedral, fixing both date and status comfortably.
The Prague newspapers loved it, and the added bonus of it having been found and excavated by a British archaeologist seemed to be something I could dine out on in perpetuity. To me I was just lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time – yeah, right, says the person who truly believes that everything happens for a very good reason – and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about; some of my female Czech colleagues were shall we say somewhat envious of the media frenzy that surrounded me for a week or so, but the boss explained to me how in the political climate of post-communism it was important for the unit to have British connections, particularly ones to such a prestigious seat of learning as University College London as were mine. His words, not mine, which he fed to the media assiduously, putting the noses of the envious girlies further out of joint.
I wrote a very detailed synopsis for a novel based on my time in Prague, accompanied by a few thousand words. I was seeing a Czech policeman who had been part of the Secret Police during the communism, it was called “The (Czech) Secret Policeman’s Ball”, and still helps increase the corpus of unfinished novels that litter up my filing trays.
If you’re following Eartha and Elysia’s Advent Journey you’ll find out more about it in a week or so. Below is an artist’s impression of the legend of Good King Wenceslas – looks like a Beardsley to me but it’s not attributed and I can’t be sure without more research which I just don’t have the time for right now. And there’s a cute little popular painting too, just to remind us of the story.
Good King Wenceslas and the Archaeologist
It came upon a midnight clear, the voice of King Wenceslas in my ear:
“You must honour my countryfolk!”
“And how am I to do that? It’s been twenty years since I dug them up. Back then, they were forensically unidentifiable even as Bohemian aristocracy. A 14th century Duke and his Duchess, privileged to have been buried so close to the walls of St Vitus’ Cathedral, was the best I could do.”
“I know their names, as you do their story. On the feast of Saint Stephen you will go to my church in Stará Boleslav and proclaim it.”
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the flash that was inspired by the memories above, I hope, too, that it’s odd enough in its juxtaposition of odd stuff!
Brightest Blessings, as always,
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