St. Ludmila Pilgrimage – Day 1 from Mělníkby Thomas Zahn - 2021-05-26
The question about where to begin a journey to celebrate the life of Saint Ludmila seemed rather clear. We set out from the place of her birth, the town of Mělník, about half an hour drive from Prague. In this case, though, we went by train, which took just over 1 hour. We would pre-walk the 5 legs of this journey to Prague, and post our findings, so that anyone who wishes to walk this path, in memory of the 1,100 year anniversary since her martyrdom, would have some idea of what to expect.
The walk from her birthplace to the place where she was murdered (Tetín) is just over 110Km (https://en.mapy.cz/s/docahobose). This first leg from Mělník to Lužec nad Vltavou is only about 11Km. With the exception of the hill that the historic center of Mělník occupies, the terrain is level, and follows either a canal or the Vltava River channel the entire way. The plan is to celebrate a Mass at the Church of St. Ludmila on Sept. 2 before setting out on the 1st day’s walk to Lužec.
The path descends from the base of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, down past the ancient vineyard below the Mělník Castle, across the Lábe River, then continues on a bike and foot path, through a wooded park, to Hořin, site of the Lobkowicz Family burial crypt and the recently restored Lock on the Vraňansko-hořínský Canal.
After Hořin there is only one other village that we pass through on our way to Lužec. Vrbno is small and non-descript, but it has a genius loci (a set of extraordinary characteristics and meanings characteristic of a certain residential location). Whereas, we sought symbols or signs to remind us of St. Ludmila, instead we met only a small chapel by the side of the road as we entered Vrbno. This peaked our interest, as it contained names written in gothic script from the early 1700’s.
The village of Vrbno had once been very prosperous, evident by the size of the farms. Today it has only the remains of a dozen or so of these farms, with their roofs and walls collapsed. There are at least two exceptions to this; farmhouse number 1 with courtyard, currently being tastefully restored; and the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, surrounded by the sparse remains of a cemetery, and a chapel (presumably a Charnel House) with barely visible interior wall frescoes, and a remarkable wooden truss supporting the roof.
It was this structure in Vrbno which gave meaning to our first day’s journey with St. Ludmila. It seemed necessary to look into the status of this structure; Who ownes it? Is there any image of St. Ludmila in the frescoes? Is it scheduled for restoration? Can we, through the efforts of our pilgrimage, help to realize this goal to preserve it?
Leaving Vrbno, we found ourselves on the European Velo Trail, an asphalt path for cyclists that crosses many countries. This last 3-4Km stretch is not particularly pretty. It is flat, and there are few shade trees. To be fair, though, it is not simply a strait line. It has some gentle curves, and appears to be a great place to ride, with an occasional table and bench to take refreshment. It was certainly a good spot to let thoughts run wild about how to assist with the restoration of the Chapel that we had just become inspired by.
Perhaps this is how the Saints speak to us, by placing such wonders on our path.