The masthead photo was shot on a frigid January day in 1996 by my lady wife. It shows part of the historic medieval astronomical clock on the Town Hall in Prague and which itself dates to 1338.
This mechanical marvel was built in 1410 during the Reign of HM King Wenceslaus (yes, that King Wenceslaus of Christmas carols fame).
(For those more familiar with England’s Monarchy, HM King Henry IV was then Sovereign. Upon his death a year later, his son, HM King Henry V, took the throne.)
As a North American comparison, in 1410 Christopher Columbus was merely a twinkle is his Papa’s eye. It would 82 years before Chris would sail off and discover America.
In the photograph, moving from top left to top right, the first sculptured figure is Vanity, represented by a figure admiring himself in a mirror. Next, a too-crudely stereotypical Jew is shown holding a bagful of gold, representing Greed or Usury.
Across the clock’s face stands Death, a skeleton that moves and whose bell (in his right hand) strikes the time upon the hour. Finally, the Turk speaks of entertainment and Pleasure.
Since 1410, every midday when the clock strikes 12, The Twelve Apostles appear one at a time at two doorways above the clock. As a pair, two Apostles come forward into their respective doorways. Each bows to the crowd and turns back to his own left and allows the next following pair to do the same.
In a small way, the very fact that this magnificent piece still operates testifies to the mettle of the Czechs. Hitler’s army invaded in 1938. Their Second World War nightmare continued until US Army troops liberated their Nation in 1945.
After a mere three years of breathing freedom and normalcy, the Communists sucked all that away. They took power in 1948. Their mean grip held fast for over 40 years. Heaping vitriol into a stew of repression, the Soviets invaded in 1968. Twenty-one years passed before the Czechs freed themselves. Their “Velvet Revolution” came in 1989.
To me, this particular clock symbolizes the indefatigability of the human spirit. Today, on any given midday, free Czechs welcome visitors from around the globe. All nationalities and faiths can marvel at a masterpiece created by men who lived over 600 years ago.
The Roman poet Virgil put it best: “Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore,”
“But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail,”
Liberation, most certainly.