St. Michael’s in Olomouc, Czech Republic, is an ornate church, richly done in the Baroque style. The marble is dark salmon and fleshy, the church is lavishly painted, and the ceiling murals of heavenly hosts tell the story of resurrection – exquisite.
It is quiet, and I am walking around unattended. So far, only a nun is present and she sits in prayer at the front of the nave facing the altar.
A side chapel flanks a courtyard like you would see in a monastery, with open halls that circumnavigate an inner garden.
Inside the halls are large paintings serving as Stations of the Cross
I am in the hall, looking at a painting of Christ being offered drink; bloody from his bodily scourging. I notice a door behind me on the opposite wall of the walkway.
My curiosity pulls me toward it.
I check. It is not locked.
Looking to my left and to my right I pause, then open the door and swiftly slip through to a landing atop a staircase.
I cautiously descend into darkness into a small cave-like room. No, it IS a cave. The lights are on, but it’s very dim.
It’s not big, and I am crouching at the end where there appears to be a pool.
Yes, it is a pool with a stone cross. An arch to my left reveals a couple of chairs, a small statue of Mary, and a framed print of the risen Christ, His sacred heart radiating the light of truth and His love to us all.
It is a small space, thrifty and effective. For me, being underground in tight space alarms my sensitivities. I am sure this is the point of it, to alarm a person’s sensitivities.
I have seen many baptismal pools, but this one acts symbolically (and effectively) in a way the others do not. I am in the belly of the earth. I am claustrophobic. Even my interest in documenting this place digitally cannot quiet my heart from pounding or my breath from quickening. Descending into darkness, my focus is sharpened to the commitment at hand.
This is a very visceral pit, not unlike a grave chamber.
To be baptized here is to surely encounter one’s symbolic death.
I’m actually getting the creeps.
What is more interesting to me is the ascent from below into the light above.
When one dies to their old life in this pit, they ascend to the light of day – one arises from a life not fully realized or fulfilled, a life in darkness of the unknowing, dimly lit artificially, to a new life in the True Light.
As the newly baptized person ascends the steps, the first images he or she encounters at the top of the steps are of Jesus walking toward His crucifixion.
That is powerful.
And when they step back into the awaiting church, the hosts of Heaven celebrate. The newborn to the faith stands inside a space decorated with meaning that now comes alive with the splendor of heaven.
I get the sense that religion is taken very seriously here.