The cross as a symbol of reconciliation after four hundred years

5. Bílá horaThe medieval military conflict in Prague on Bílá Hora (White Mountain) in 1620 divided the Czech nation and threw it into darkness for the next one hundred and fifty years. The anniversary of the battle now offers an opportunity for a common symbolic act of reconciliation. And so, while the churches have been following the common path of ecumenical cooperation for a long time, in November 2020 a reconciliation cross was erected on White Mountain as a permanent sign of forgiveness and mutual understanding.

The Battle of White Mountain definitively suppressed the uprising, during which the Czech states tried to achieve, among other things, religious equality between Catholics and Protestants. Instead, a period of domination and oppression came, for which the term “dark age” has taken hold throughout history. During the violent re-Catholicization, up to half a million people went into exile, including world-famous personalities such as Jan Amos Komenský (Comenius).

(photo: Jiří Šťástka/Člověk a víra)
(photo: Jiří Šťástka/Člověk a víra)

After four centuries, this commemoration offers us the opportunity to deal with ancient traumas, historical injustices and the divisions of many generations. It seeks to build on what unites us, rather than on what divides us, as members of different churches.

The Cross of Reconciliation has become a permanent sign of these efforts in Bílá Hora, in the Alley of Exiles. Reconciliation crosses are part of the Czech spiritual and cultural tradition and have been erected in places where something unfortunate has happened. A sign in the landscape as a symbol of ancient injustice and renewed understanding and forgiveness.

The modern form of this cross, whose creator is the German Benedictine Br. Abraham Fischer, refers to the deeper spiritual meaning of reconciliation, which is not only a human effort but also the work of God.

(photo: Jiří Šťástka/Člověk a víra)
(photo: Jiří Šťástka/Člověk a víra)

The cross is triple – it consists of two steel crosses and one titanium. The two rusted steel parts seem to represent the two warring sides of the conflict, the rust seeming to point to our sinful and conflict-filled world. The blue, titanium part, the third cross, which is not subject to environmental influences, seems to point to the heavens and to the fact that we can achieve true peace particularly when we realize that what unites outside this world unites us in it.

At the same time, the cross of reconciliation, when laid on the ground, takes the form of a barrier that prevents it from travelling. Only when it is erected and straightened by joint effort does it become a cross – a cross that is equally visible from all sides and from all angles. This cross is a sign of the reconciliation that the churches hope for and which, despite the difficulties of the past, is largely in place today.

The high point of the joint commemoration, organized by the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ERC) together with the Czech Bishops’ Conference (ČBK), was to be an ecumenical vespers on Bílá Hora on the anniversary day, Sunday, November 8, and the associated pilgrimage of young people from all over the country to this place.

However, the extraordinary situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected things significantly. The programme has had to be severely curtailed, and the common service, which was to have been attended by hundreds of believers, was eventually changed to being a television broadcast without public participation. The Vespers also includes a penitential prayer in which church leaders confess past wounds and ask God not only for forgiveness, but also for hope for a common path to the future.

(photo: Jiří Šťástka/Člověk a víra)
(photo: Jiří Šťástka/Člověk a víra)

The anniversary also includes a longer-term project of the ČBK and the ERC, who together have created an expert commission to study the confessional history of the 17th century and related topics. This group regularly publishes worksheets for churches, parishes, schools and the public and organizes professional colloquia. “It is an effort to remove any prejudices that remain between us and to truly touch on the events that will lead us to the truth, because they are led in the direction of Christ. The point is for us to be closer as Christians thanks to the results of the commission’s work,” explained Daniel Ženatý, Chairman of the Ecumenical Council of Churches and Synodal Senior of the ECCB.

With the contribution of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, Jiří Hofman