My husband, Steve, and I visited a wooded path in Ashach today, located in the outskirts of Amberg, Germany. We were invited by our friend, Emma, to visit the Stations of the Cross that had been set up along the trail.
Children, as well as adults, were extended a special invitation to participate in the display. They were asked to submit drawings or artwork representing the Holy Week and the Crucifixion of Christ. These drawings were then displayed from the bushes and tree branches along the path.
The celebration of Easter is of great importance to the citizens of Germany. It seemed, at first, that the government was going to prohibit all church and family gatherings due to the pandemic, but the order was rescinded after a rather strong protest.
Holy Week arrived early this Spring, so most of the trees and bushes have yet to bud, but we did notice a few patches of violets and “liver plant,” as well as several beautiful butterflies that followed us.
At the end of our trail, as we came up on the last station, we were surprised to see that Emma had submitted a copy of one of her own paintings. It depicts a small finch with reddish blotches. The legend states that the finch attempted to pull out the thorns from Jesus’ crown, and drops of blood stained its breast.
After walking the path of the Stations of the Cross, we drove back to the town of Amberg to visit the church on the hill that we had seen from a distance on our hike. Amberg was a Medieval city, first mentioned in 1034. It was an important trading center in the Middle Ages, exporting mainly iron ore and iron products. Next to the beautiful Baroque style cathedral is a Franciscan Monastery, located on what is called the Hill of Our Lady Help of Christians.
The church has an interesting history. It began as a small chapel built during the Bubonic Plague; also known as the Black Plague or Black Death. In the year 1634, up to 40 people a day were dying in the city. The local rector donated a painting of the Madonna and Child, and plans were made to build the small chapel to house the painting, in hopes that it would call parishioners to prayer. A few months later, the plague miraculously stopped. The news of this miracle spread far and wide, and soon pilgrims were making a journey to visit the painting and the chapel. In 1697 construction began on a larger cathedral that included the adjoining small chapel.
The interior of the church has exquisite reliefs and beautiful fresco paintings on the ceiling which describe many Biblical stories. Emma shared an interesting story of one of the murals that depicts a group of people and a dog lying close by. A very well-known artist was commissioned to do the paintings, but he had many students and understudies assisting him. However, only the commissioned artist was allowed to sign his name to the paintings. One of the clever students managed to sneak his name onto the dog’s collar. You can spot the dog in the lower left corner of the middle fresco.
Visiting the Stations of the Cross today, followed by a visit to the church, caused me to do some serious reflection. I think we have a lot to learn from the survivors of the Bubonic Plague. What was it that caused the miraculous end of the plague; was it not the prayers of the faithful?
We have now passed the one-year mark of our own plague, Covid19. Things are not much better here in Europe. Now there is news of variants of the plague making an appearance in other parts of the world. Could things get even worse? My question is this: are we Christian believers praying and asking God to intercede for us to stop this pandemic? Or are we looking to our various governments to come up with solutions? I can guarantee you government intervention has its limitations. Man can only do so much with limited resources and limited understanding of this pandemic. Have you heard your pastor or church leaders leading in intercession? Are YOU praying, or are you just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best? God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he allows plagues to try to get our attention.
Like I said, today just caused me to do some serious reflection.