Easter in a Monastery

Esztergom, former capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, is the centre of the Catholic Church in Hungary. Besides the cathedral on the castle hill - the biggest cathedral in all of Hungary - there are lots and lots of smaller churches and chapels, even though the city has just about 30.000 inhabitants.

And in the centre of the town is a Franciscan monastery with a boy’s boarding school, which opens its gates every Easter for families and friends to celebrate the holy days with them.

Sebastian, my teamleader, went to the boarding school and has been returning there for Easter for many years. And he invites interested volunteers to come with him and Zsofi on this journey.

Nagycsütörtök - Holy Thursday

Because the first mass is already starting at six in the evening, we start our tour to the Slovakian border during the early afternoon. The drive from Velence to Esztergom takes about two hours. Linda went to her family during easter, but our third volunteer, Isabelle from France, comes with us, and so we’re going to the monastery in a group of four.

After putting our luggage into the sleeping rooms we greet the other guests. Sebastian and Zsofi already know most of them from the last years and we are introduced to them all. Sadly, only very few speak English, but the atmosphere is great nonetheless.

The evening mass is a recollection of the Last Supper, starts with organ music and ends with total silence, while the altars are cleaned from all their adornments. In pious silence we make our way to the dining room before going - at least for me - quite early to sleep.

Nagypéntek - Good Friday

I’m already standing in the yard of the monaster before sunrise the next morning. Because there is a hiking tour through dawn planned for today, where we visit different crosses and prayer places around the town and the surrounding area. The same tour will also be offered again in the afternoon, but the calm and melancholic mood is a lot stronger now in the morning, in a really small group of not even twenty people.

The way of the cross takes nearly three hours, with a short rest on top of the Vaskapu hill, where we find a statue of Saint Mary. We get back to the monastery a few minutes befor the lamentation starts and can regain our strength with the breakfast afterwards.

For the Hungarian guests the monks offer meditational meetings, where Isa and I can’t take part in. So we spend the whole day in the sun, strolling through the city, reading and telling each other stories.

Good Friday, too, has a big mass in the evening, a recollection of the death of Jesus on the cross. Sebastian and I have a lively discussion about the differences between the Protestant and Catholic Easter celebrations, because for Protestants the Good Friday is the most important day of the church year, while Saturday evening and Sunday morning are more important for the Catholic Hungarians.

Nagyszombat - Holy Saturday

Saturday morning also start with the lamentations in the church, before we go to breakfast. We sing mostly Gregorian chants during the Easter time here, and because the whole liturgy is written down in a book about the holy week, and there are two to three of these books per row, I am not only able to follow the mass but can also sing the songs - I only understand a little of what I am singing, but it sounds great nonetheless.

Sebastian mentions afterwards that I have a really nice pronounciation when singing in Hungarian, which makes me really proud. To be fair, singing in Hungarian when having the lyrics directly in front of you is a lot easier than holding a conversation.

In the evening there is an early dinner and then the long and ceremonious Resurrection Mass. It starts in the yard where we light an Easter fire, which we use to set the new candle of the Church year alight. This candle is then carried into the church, in a solemn procession with singing and everything.

The mass goes on for more than three hours and covers not only the ressurection party and an old Hungarian Te Deum, but also a baptising. I feel very exhausted once it’s finished, but instead of going to sleep we now have a midnight dinner with egg, sweet bread and ham. Because Lent is over alcohol can be drunk again, too, and bottles of wine seem to appear magically on all the tables.

I still go to sleep quite soon, because the Easter feeling hasn’t yet really settled in for me - or maybe I’m really just very tired.

Húsvétvasárnap - Easter Sunday

Sunday morning the breakfast is before the mass. People come into the dining room little by little, and more than one person looks really hungover. The mass is appropriately calm, but festive, and shortly after the first people make their way back home again.

We stay until after lunch and travel to Dobogókő afterwards, a village in the Pilis mountains with a great view over the surrounding area and the Danube, that basically invites people to stroll or go for a small hike.

But we, too, are exhausted from yesterday evening’s feast and continue our journey back home to Velence after a while, which we finally reach in the early hours of the evening.

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