The smooth stones of Place Stanislas are slick underfoot. I slide a bit with every step. It appears they have been polished. It wouldn’t surprise me, given the meticulous detail and care taken with this square. Two corners are adorned with Rococo fountains that lay dormant in the crisp morning air.
The sun is out for the first time in what feels like ages. There is still a chill to the air, but the sun feels warm. I turn my face towards the sun and smile. I notice the elderly man sitting at a cafe table doing the same. I presume it is the first time the cafe has had their tables out on the square in months.
Locals and tourists mingle as they shuffle across the square: walking their dogs, carrying their Saturday shopping, taking photos of the gold adorned archway that forms the stone nymphs’ backdrop.
A clock tower is partially visible, peeking out from between the buildings on a side street a few blocks away. Drawn to walk closer and snap a photo, a Baroque church becomes visible as I cross the tram tracks and approach the front of the concrete structure with the impressively large doors.
The cool stone steps crunch beneath my every step. They are salted and I wonder if this is out of habit this morning or if they were being cautious that the warmth wouldn’t hold and any remaining puddles from yesterday’s storm would freeze and create risk of falling. These steps appear to always be in the shade of the apartment building next door.
The church is cool inside, which fits my stereotyped image of European churches. The cavernous building is worn with time. It doesn’t match the polished upkeep of the square just a block away. These stones beneath my feet appear to never have been polished. They are chipped and raised in places; the dirt tracked in by centuries of the devoted collects in the jagged stones.
There are large cracks in the ceilings and walls and the one across the back of the room appears to be weeping moisture. The ceiling fresco is beautiful but the colors have been muted with time. There has been no restoration of them yet the dullness of their color does not diminish their splendor. The soot from the centuries of candles burning below have softened the story they tell.
I look for a candle to light in prayer and spot a pile of them on my left. I don’t see their customary accompaniment – the donation box. I walk the exterior wall to the next stack and see no donation box there either. I walk to the back of the church, near the ginormous wooden doors, and look for one there to no avail. I notice painted on the column a list of the clergy killed in the war. This surprises me.
There are silent monuments all over this part of Europe – one in every community – for the boys who were lost in one of the great wars that scourged the area. I’ve never seen one for the clergy. There are dozens of names on this homage, both priests and nuns, and I find myself wondering what they were up to. Was it their resistance that ultimately lead to their deaths?
I enjoy visiting places of worship all over the world and this understated well worn church has instantly become one of my favorites.