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November 9th, 2008

Basilica of Bom Jesus – Goa, India

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The Basilica of Bom Jesus, “Good” or “Infant” Jesus, is a Catholic basilica in Goa, India. It is best known for housing the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary to India and Japan.

One of the richest churches in Goa, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is covered with marble and inlaid with precious stones and paintings depicting the life of St. Francis Xavier. The basilica is considered the finest example of baroque architecture in India.

For Catholics, the chief importance of the Basilica of Bom Jesus is that it shelters the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. St. Francis’s body was brought to Goa almost 150 years after his death. It was a gift from Medici, Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. It now lies in an airtight glass coffin, placed inside a silver casket fashioned by a 17th century Florentine jeweler.

In 1946, the Basilica of Bom Jesus became the first church of India to be elevated to the status of Minor Basilica.

The chapel attracts large numbers of visitors every year.

November 5th, 2008

Prague – Czech Republic

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The ancient city of Prague hugs the hills rising from the river Vltava. Rows of steeples stacked on onion domes pierce the sky, a spectacle that has earned Prague the moniker “The City of a Thousand Spires.”

Prague has seen many wars and conflicts over its long history, but today it is only hordes of tourists that pound its cobblestone streets. There is much to see of religious interest in Prague, including a Gothic cathedral, countless interesting churches, sites associated with the pre-Luther reformer Jan Hus, and a historic Jewish Quarter that is home to the oldest synagogue in Europe.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Its soaring spires visible from all over Prague, the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála sv Vita) is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe. Construction on the present building began in 1344 and was not completed until the 20th century.

Above the south entrance to the cathedral (through the Golden Portal) is the Last Judgment mosaic. A remarkable work of art in itself, it is also notable in that mosaics are quite rare in northern Europe. The work dates from the 1370s and is made of 1 million pieces of glass and stone. In the center it depicts Christ in glory, adored by Charles IV, his wife and several saints; on the left, the risen dead and angels; and on the right, Satan surrounded by hellfire.

Inside, the square Chapel of St. Wenceslas (Svatováclavská kaple) holds a 14th century tomb with the saint’s holy relics. St. Wenceslas was prince of Bohemia and the “good king” of Christmas carol fame. He founded the original church of St. Vitus on this site in 925 and was killed by his brother four years later. The chapel was built by Peter Parler between 1344 and 1364.

A small door with seven locks in the south-western corner of the St. Wenceslas Chapel leads to the Crown Chamber (Korunní komora) containing the Bohemian Coronation Jewels. It is not open to the public and its seven keys are kept by seven different people. The Royal Crypt contains remains of various royals, but is primarily interesting for the visual history of the cathedral it provides. On the way down the stairs you can see parts of the old Romanesque basilica and the original rotunda church.

A more notable burial is the Sarcophagus of St. John of Nepomuk. According to legend, when Nepomuk was exhumed in 1721, his tongue was found to be not only preserved but pumping with blood. This tale likely served a political purpose: the Church and the Habsburgs needed a new folk hero to replace the reforming heretic Jan Hus. A few years later, Nepomuk was canonized and buried with great ceremony in the present 3,700-pound ornate silver tomb. His tongue was enshrined in its own reliquary.

The Wallenstein Chapel (Valdstejnská kaple) contains the tombstones of its two architects, Mathias d’Arras and Peter Parler, who died in the 14th century.

Old-New Synagogue

The Old-New Synagogue (Czech: Staronová synagóga; German: Alt-neu Schul) in the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) of Prague is Europe’s oldest active synagogue and one of the earliest Gothic buildings. It is still active today.

The Old-New Synagogue is still an active center of worship for Prague’s Jewish community. It is not part of the Jewish Museum and there are no museum displays inside. It is well worth a visit, however, for its Gothic architecture and historic importance.

The single-story synagogue consists of a central prayer hall for men, with the women’s gallary surrounding it. The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest surviving example of the medieval twin-nave type of synagogue. Above the bimah (prayer/reading area) hangs a remnant of a red flag with the Star of David, the Jewish symbol. In 1357, Charles IV, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire at the time, allowed the Jews of Prague to have their own city flag.

The tattered red banner hanging next to the Jewish flag was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III to the Jews for their help in stopping an invasion by the Swedes in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War. On the east wall is the Ark which contains the Torah scrolls.

November 5th, 2008

The Basilica of Lourdes, France

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Lourdes (can be pronounced either “lourde” or “lourdz”) is a small town in the Hautes-Pyrenees department in southwest France. Lourdes is the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in France, and one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world.

Lourdes lies 497 miles south of Paris in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. The small town of only 17,000 inhabitants receives more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists each year because of a set of visions reported by a young girl named Bernadette in 1858. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes incorporates 52 hectares of property and 22 places of worship, including the sacred grotto, two basilicas, and a variety of buildings for pilgrims and the sick. Outside the sanctuary, many pilgrims also visit the Lourdes home of the young visionary, St. Bernadette.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

The facade of the basilica bears a circular panel with the image of Pope Pius X smiling and holding in his left hand the decree of November 13, 1907, by which the Mass of the Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes was extended to the Universal Church.

The lower circular panel, above the entrance to the Crypt, represents Pope Pius IX who proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. At the entrance on the right is a marble plaque containing the complete text of the judgement made by Mgr Laurence, recognising the Apparitions as authentic.

The sanctuary of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception holds 500 worshippers. The altar is directly over the place of Apparition. The stained glass windows recall the story of the Blessed Virgin from the beginning to the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, in 1854, by Pope Pius IX and of the apparitions of Lourdes in 1858. Every hour, the Basilica’s bells play the “Ave Maria of Lourdes.”

Grotto of Massabielle

The Grotto of Massabielle is the site of St. Bernadette’s visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. The Blessed Virgin is said to have pointed out a previously undiscovered spring in the grotto and instructed Bernadette to drink from it.

The spring water from the grotto is believed to possess healing properties, and the Roman Catholic Church occasionally officially recognizes miraculous healings. Faithful pilgrims, especially those in need of healing, flock to the Grotto of Massabielle to immerse themselves in the grotto’s 17 pools – 6 for men and 11 for women.

Basilica of the Rosary

The Basilica of the Rosary (Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire) is one of several places of worship at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. It is located below and in front of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Designed in a Byzantine-influenced Romanesque style in the shape of a Greek (equal-armed) cross, the Rosary Basilica features two unique elliptical ramps embracing a square that can hold almost 80,000 people. Above the main doors of basilica, two mosaic circular panels made in the workshops of the Vatican depict Pope Leo XIII (left) and Bishop Schoepfer of Tarbes and Lourdes (1899-1927).

When she appeared at Lourdes, the Virgin Mary was described by St. Bernadette as holding a rosary in her hand. The Basilica of the Rosary is dedicated to this theme. Its three arches depict the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. Catholics meditate on these mysteries (events in the lives of Jesus and Mary) while saying the rosary.

Around the central dome, the transepts and the sanctuary contain 15 Chapels of the Mysteries, which are decorated with mosaics depicting the 15 mysteries of the rosary (the five joyous, five sorrowful, and five glorious).

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