Río Wang tours in 2017

The tours of río Wang have grown out of this blog at the request of our readers. For the fourth consecutive year, we are organizing tours to regions that we know well and love, and which are not found in tourist office advertisements, or even if they occasionally are, they do not delve so deeply into the history and everyday life of these places, the tissue of little streets, interior courtyards, cafés and pubs only frequented by the locals: to the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Iran, the Far East.

Our journeys are no package tours, but rather friendly excursions. Almost always there is someone who admits to never having wanted to take part in a package tour, but he or she could not resist the offers of the blog. And in the end he/she recounts with relief, that it was absolutely no package tour. That we consider a really great compliment.

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The publication of this year’s tour calendar has been preceded by a lengthy correspondence, in which we harmonized with the several hundred readers who have subscribed to the río Wang mailing list, whoever wants to go where within the wide range of offers, and whoever prefers which dates. Meanwhile, for some tours the maximum number of participants – about sixteen, the capacity of a small bus – has already been reached. So if you want to participate in the shaping of the tour calendar in the future, and want to be sure you do not miss the most popular tours, sign up for the mailing list at wang@studiolum.com.

In the wake of last year’s tours, we continue to discover the Caucasus, and we reach one of the most beautiful and hardest-to-reach regions, the valleys of Tusheti in Georgia. In Iran we also get to know a new and little-known region, the beautiful mountains of Kurdistan, and the Iranian Jewish pilgrimage sites. In the Mediterranean we continue in Tuscany the Traveler and Moonlight tour, begun last year in Umbria. We go to Sardinia for Carnival, and to Sicily for Easter. We visit the Catalan Pyrenees, the cradle of Romanesque art, and tour the mountain villages of Mallorca. With our Albanian tour we begin to discover the Balkans, and with the Cyprus journey at Pentecost, the Greek world. We repeat our popular Odessa tour, during which we also go through the Ukrainian cradles of Hasidism. After Prague, we continue our series of secret city tours with Berlin. Finally, the greatest leap of this year will be China, whose discovery we plan for several occasions. On the first, we will tour one of the most beautiful ad most archaic regions, lying under the Tibetan mountains, Yunnan, the homeland of Chinese tea and most small Chinese ethnic groups, the land of breathtaking mountain ranges and thousand-year-old little towns.

We regularly hold introductions, history and art history lectures and travel reports. We also send news about them in our newsletters.

You can register or inquire about our tours at wang@studiolum.com. In response, we send out a detailed program with all the necessary information. According to our well-tested custom, the flight tickets (if we fly) are individually purchased by you, the rest is organized by us. The following participation fees usually include one bed of a two-bed room (with breakfast), the bus rental and the guide; where there are more expenses, I specify. In case you want an one-bed room, I will write you the supplemental fee. Where the participation fee is indicated approximately, it will depend on the number of participants and the corresponding final hotel expense.

January 16-23: The feasts of Mallorca. To many, Mallorca is a German tourist paradise, but this is only limited to the narrow southern beach. In reality, this island is a beautiful, archaic and unknown world, as we described in our earlier invitation and joint travel report, with medieval villages and abbeys, Arab gardens and olive plantations, a still vivid medieval Jewish quarter, traditional small trattorias, stunning mountains and coastline. January is the best month to visit the island, not only because there are no tourists, but the air is warm, and the oranges are ripe, but also because this is the season of the three largest popular feasts: the temptation of St. Anthony celebrated with all-night dancing and a pig roast; the blessing of the animals, and the feast of St. Sebastian, when thousands of demons march with fiery chariots through the old town of Palma. • Full house

February 24 – March 3: Carnival in Sardinia. The isolated inner part of Sardinia, the Barbagia, is one of the most archaic regions of the Mediterranean, a stunning mountainous region, with villages preserving age-old traditions, and with thousands of prehistoric stone constructions. Their Carnival parades also go back to roots of thousands of years. On these we participate in a few villages, while we also tour the mountains, medieval churches and small mountain towns of the region. • Participation fee: ca. 550 euro • Three free places left

March 8-12: Unknown Venice. “My father limited his visits in Venice to two buildings: St. Mark’s Basilica and Harry’s Bar”, writes John Julius Norwich, the great monographist of the city. Modern tourists are not much different from that. However, during this weekend we go further, and we tour Venice from alley to alley, house to house, from the Lido to the still extant Jewish quarter, and learn about the history of its everyday life. Check for details the announcement of last year’s Venice tour, and browse our posts on Venice. • Arrival individually, by plane, train or car, participation fee (accommodation with breakfast, one-day boat pass, guide) 350 euro

March 24-26, April 6-9, July 6-9: Berlin. Long weekends to get acquainted with Berlin’s iconic sites and less known parts, contemporary architecture and exotic quarters. We will tour the historic core of the city, the recently built centers, the trendy entertainment districts and the hidden small worlds. We will pay special attention to the sites of the cultural blossoming of the 20s, the Russian and Jewish immigration, the post-war division and the alternative scene of the 80s and 90s. • Flight individually, participation fee ca. 300 euro

April 11-18: Easter in Sicily. We take a minibus around the coastal cities and less known mountain towns of the island, the intact Jewish quarters and the monuments of Arab-Norman architecture, as well as the ancient Greek temples fitting harmoniously in the landscape. We take part in the traditional Holy Week and Eastern parades and ceremonies, which are celebrated with a particularly archaic splendor in Sicily. • Flight individually to Catania, participation fee 580 euro. • Our Easter tour is full, but due to the high level of interest we organize a second Sicilian tour in December, for the feast of Santa Lucia: register soon!

May 23-30: Odessa and the birthplace of Hassidism in Podolia. We have already done this long and highly successful tour a couple of times. We start by bus from Budapest, to pass through Southern Galicia, the city of Czernowitz, the beautiful medieval fortresses of Khotin and Kamenets-Podolsk (World Heritage Sites) and the oldest, in some places still vivid Hassidic shtetls, finally arriving at the emblematic city of Russian and Jewish culture, from where we retrun by flight to Prague. Whoever does not wish to immediately continue on his way home, will also be able to participate in a half-day alternative Prague sightseeing tour. Our posts on Odessa are summarized here, and here you can browse our posts on Galician, Hassidic and other Jewish topics. • Participation fee (which also includes all dinners, a special dinner in a traditional Odessite music pub, and the bus) 600 euro; the flight back from Odessa to Prague ca. 100 euro. • Full house

June 1-8: Cyprus. Most people only know the southeastern corner of the island, the beaches of Larnaca and Aya Napa. However, the interior of Cyprus, the small towns and mountain monasteries preserve thousands of years of history. We will see these in our week-long tour, during the Orthodox Pentecost. We will get acquainted with the fascinating, vivid world, hidden memories and coffee houses of the divided Nicosia, visit the painted monasteries of Troodos Mountains (World Heritage Sites), and Paphos, which this year is Europe’s Capital of Culture. We also go over to the northern, Turkish side, where we tour the most beautiful and most pristine regions of Cyprus, the small port towns, the Venetian mountain fortresses, and the impressive Gothic cathedrals of Famagusta. • Flight individually to Larnaca, participation fee ca. 550 euro.

June 26 – July 4. Georgia, Tusheti. This is the third year we come back to Georgia, always making small changes in our path. This year we visit the old town of Tbilisi, the cathedrals of Mtskheta and Jvari, and then we journey up the Georgian military highway. From there we approach by off-road vehicles one of Georgia’s most archaic and most difficult-to-reach regions, the valleys of Tusheti under the border ranges of the Greater Caucasus. On the way back, we visit the cableway town of Chiatura, and the monastery of Katskhi. Our collected entries on Georgia and the Caucasus can be read here. • Flight individually to Kutaisi (e.g. Wizzair from Budapest, ca. 200 euro), participation fee (which also includes the off-road vehicles and all dinners) 600 euro. • The first tour is full, but due to the high level of interest we organize a second tour in July or August: register for it quickly!

August 25 – September 1: Barcelona and the Catalan Boí Valley. We visit the cradle of European Romanesque art along the valleys of the Pyrenees, where every village and church is World Heritage Site. We begin in Barcelona with a visit to the city and of the impressive Romanesque frescoes and carvings collected in the national museum, then we go up to the Pyrenees by bus. This tour is the first one in a planned series, in which we tour the richest regions of European Romanesque architecture, to be continued next year in Southern France. • Flight individually to Barcelona, participation fee ca. 550 euro.

September 4-11: From Sarajevo to Albania. Our first Balkan tour through a beautiful mountainous regions and small historic towns, in the final moments before mass tourism discovers this part of the world. We visit Sarajevo, make excursions in the mountains of Montenegro and Albania to fortresses, small towns and monasteries. • Flight individually to Sarajevo, participation fee ca. 500 euro. • Only a few free places left

September 19-26: Jewish and Kurdish Iran. After visiting Hamadan, the tomb of Queen Esther and Prophet Habakkuk, the most important Jewish pilgrimage sites in Iran, we go up to the stunning mountains of Kurdistan, where we visit thousand year old traditional villages, and world heritage sites. Through the Bakhtiari mountains we descend to Isfahan, where we visit the Jewish quarter with its seventeen working synagogues, not mentioned in any guidebook, and we also meet the local Jewish community. • Flight individually, participation fee ca. 700 euro • This tour can be connected with the following one:

September 27 – October 6: The feast of Ashura and the historical cities of Iran. After a year, we come again to Iran for the feast of Ashura, the most important Shiʿa religious feast. As in last year, we participate in the feast in Kashan and Nushabad with our local friends. We visit the former Zoroastrian town of Abyaneh, then we tour the axis of the most important historical towns along Yazd, Isfahan, Pasargade, Persepolis and Shiraz. From there we come back with domestic flight to Tehran. • Flight individually, participation fee ca. 900 euro.

October 10-17: Tuscany. Last year we toured twice with great success the path of Antal Szerb’s 1937 cult novel Traveler and the moonlight, from Venice through Urbino and Umbria, Gubbio, Assisi and Arezzo to Siena, identifying and enjoying the sites of the book. This year we continue our way to the west, to see what would have seen Mihály, the protagonist of the story, had he not given up wandering at the end of the novel. We will encounter Etruscan and Roman remains, mountain towns, stunning pieces of early Renaissance painting, and the magnificent sight of the Tuscan hills. • Travel: by bus from Venice. Participation fee (including all dinners) ca. 700 euro • Only a few free places left

November 5-18: China, Yunnan province. This year we start to get acquainted with China, with whose language and culture I have dealt with for over twenty-five years. Our first journey leads to one of China’s most beautiful and most archaic region, rich in historical monuments and natural beauties, the province of Yunnan, lying under the Tibetan mountains, the home of Chinese tea and the villages of most small Chinese ethnic groups. Scenic tea fields and rice terraces, mountain canyons and untouched historic towns (it is worthwhile to see the photos of my Chinese-language Yunnan guide, bought there some ten years ago). • Flight individually to Dali, Yunnan, participation fee ca. 1000 euro.

December 6-10: Hidden Rome. During the reprise of the highly successful Rome excursion in March, we tour the Renaissance and Baroque old city in the bend of the Tiber, visit the most important churches, palaces and squares, the two-thousand-year-old Jewish ghetto, the hidden corners untouched by fin-de-siècle urban planning, walk along the medieval pilgrimage routes, and make an excursion to the campagna. In the course of five days I try to offer in concentrated form all that I have learned during the year I spent in Rome and my later visits, and also leave time for the cafés, the trattorias, and sitting on the church steps at siesta time, without which you cannot really get to know Rome.

The window

The Chrysorogiatissa monastery in Cyprus keeps one of the holiest icons of Christianity, the one painted of the Virgin Mary by St. Luke the Evangelist himself. Other monasteries also boast that they keep this icon, three others in Cyprus alone, but also seven in Ethiopia, and many others in Russia, Rome, on Mount Athos, in India, and around the world. But you do not have to choose one and reject the authenticity of the others, and it does not need to be rationalized either, as the Kykkos monastery tries to explain, for the sake of peace, saying that St. Luke indeed painted three icons, and each of the three are kept in three different Cyprus monasteries. No. St. Luke painted only one single, most holy icon, the model of all subsequent images of the Holy Virgin, and this very one is kept in each monastery, always right there, where one makes a pilgrimage to it.

The icon of the Holy Virgin by St. Luke, kept in the Chrysorogiatissa monastery, may have been made in the 12th century, based on its stylistic features, but these cannot be seen on the iconostasis of the monastery, along which have been hung silver votive reliefs and wax dolls as supplication or thanksgiving for healing. The painted icon, in fact, is covered by a silver kleimo or in Greek skafto, an icon cover, on which we see in relief the figure of the original icon, Mary with the child. But even the silver icon cover is mostly covered by a black fabric, embroidered with a colorful version of the original figure. It is very fitting that the sacred, which enters this world, is not exposed to the multitude of uninitiated, skeptical or even indifferent gazes, but it can be seen, as if through a multiple layer of glasses, essentially only to the believer.

But to benefit also the simple pilgrim from the holiness mediated by the icon, a tiny crack appears in the glasses. The embroidered picture leaves the lower part of the silver icon cover exposed. And on this visible strip, a small silver door opens, through which a little piece of the original icon is revealed. All the paint has long been worn off of this small rectangle, and even the wood of the icon panel has been indented in the aftermath of the touch of thousands of pilgrims’ fingers. But even so, the little window opens onto the icon, like New Year’s eve on the coming of an unknown new year, full of hope for those who peer into it.

The cup of St. John

Hans Memling: St. John the Evangelist writing the Book of Revelations in the island of Patmos, ca. 1479. Detail of the St. John Altarpiece of Bruges

On June 24, Midsummer Night, that is, the day of St. John the Baptist we saw some little-known depictions of the saint: the two-headed John and the angel-winged John, the latter sometimes with a cup in the hand, in which the child Jesus is floating. Today, on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, we want to introduce a similar representation of this John, where he blesses the cup in his hand, and the poison in it, intended for him, escapes in the shape of a serpent or dragon.

El Greco: St. John the Evangelist, 1595-1604

St. John the Evangelist is better known from some other iconographic types, which are more widespread, because they are all based on the New Testament books: when during the Last Supper he leans his head on Christ’s bosom, when he and the Virgin Mary stand on either side under the cross, and Christ entrusts His mother to him, or when he is writing the Book of Revelations or his gospel in the island of Patmos. The “John with a cup” iconographic formula, however, has no biblical source. This type comes from a second-century apocryphal work, the Acts of John, where Aristodemus, the chief priest of the Ephesian Artemis Temple forces the apostle to drink poison. The story found its way into the most popular medieval collection of saints’ legends, the 13th-century Legenda Aurea. The original Acts of John recounts it like this:

“Now when Aristodemus, who was chief priest of all those idols, saw this [the destruction of many pagan temples of Ephesus and the conversion of 12,000 people], filled with a wicked spirit, he stirred up sedition among the people, so that one people prepared themselves to fight against the other. And John turned to him and said: Tell me, Aristodemus, what can I do to take away the anger from thy soul? And Aristodemus said: If thou wilt have me believe in thy God, I will give thee poison to drink, and if thou drinkst it, and diest not, it will appear that thy God is true. The apostle answered: If thou givest me poison to drink, when I call on the name of my Lord, it will not be able to harm me. Aristodemus said again: I will that thou first seest others drink it and die straightway that so thy heart may recoil from that cup. […]

Aristodemus therefore went to the proconsul and asked him two men who were to undergo the sentence of death. And when he had set them in the midst of the market-place before all the people, in the sight of the apostle he made them drink the poison: and as soon as they had drunk it, they gave up the ghost. Then Aristodemus turned to John and said: Hearken to me and depart from thy teaching wherewith thou callest away the people from the worship of the gods; or take and drink this, that thou mayest show that thy God is almighty, if after thou hast drunk, thou canst remain whole. Then the blessed John, as they lay dead which had drunk the poison, like a fearless and brave man took the cup, and making the sign of the cross, spake thus:

My God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose word the heavens were established, unto whom all things are subject, whom all creation serveth, whom all power obeyeth, feareth and trembleth, when we call on thee for succour: whose name the serpent hearing is still, the dragon fleeth, the viper is quiet, the toad is still and strengthless, the scorpion is quenched, the basilisk vanquished, and the phalangia [spider] doth no hurt – in a word, all venomous things, and the fiercest reptiles and noisome beasts, are pierced. Do thou, I say, quench the venom of this poison, put out the deadly workings thereof, and void it of the strength which it hath in it: and grant in thy sight unto all these whom thou hast crated, eyes that they may see, and ears that they may hear and a heart that they may understand thy greatness.

And when he had thus said, he armed his mouth and all his body with the sign of the cross and drank all that was in the cup. And after he had drunk, he said: I ask that they for whose sake I have drunk, be turned unto thee, O Lord, and by thine enlightening receive the salvation which is in thee. And when for the space of three hours the people saw that John was of a cheerful countenance, and that there was no sign at all of paleness of fear in him, they began to cry out with a loud voice: He is the one true God whom John worshippeth.

But Aristodemus even so believed not, though the people reproached him: but turned unto John and said: This one thing I lack – if thou in the name of thy God raise up these that have died by this poison, my mind will be cleansed of all doubt. […] John caled Aristodemus to him, and gave him his coat: […] Go and cast it upon the bodies of the dead, and thou shalt say thus: The apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ hath sent me that in his name ye may rise again, that all may know that life and death are servants of my Lord Jesus Christ. Which when Aristodemus had done, and had seen them rise, he worshipped John.”

Sarumi Mester: St. John the Evangelist drinks the poisoned cup. Salisbury, ca. 1250 k. Below: Bernardo Martorell on the same, ca. 143

This story is the source of the typical solitary representations of St. John the Evangelist, in which the standing saint is blessing the cup. And even if sometimes no snake comes out of it, you must know that in this moment the poison is disappearing from it.

Jan van Eyck: St. John the Evangelist from the Ghent Altarpiece, 1430-32 (click for the full picture)

On the other side, the cup also refers to a much more embarrassing event of John’s life, which he might have recalled with shame even at the age of hundred, in the island of Patmos. Namely, when with his mother and his brother James they went to Christ to ask him that in His glory they might sit on His right and left side. “You do not know what you are asking”, Jesus replied. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able”, they replied. “Yes, you will indeed drink my cup”, Jesus predicts. (Mt 20:20-23). This cup is the cup of suffering, of which Jesus, in His prayer on the Mount of Olives, asks that “if it is possible, let it pass from me” (Mt 26:39-42). And the story of the cup of St. John also suggest that, indeed, John also drank this cup.

Piero di Cosimo: St. John the Evangelist, 1500-1505 k.

This reference to martyrdom and to the passion of Christ increased even more the importance of the cup of St. John. This is why they could represent it in itself, as an emblem, like in Hans Memling’s renowned St. Veronica panel painting (ca. 1470-75). The just 30 cm high panel was probably a personal home altar. Its obverse side shows Veronica holding the image of Christ drawn not with human hand, and its reverse the cup of St. John. Both were widely spread apotropaic images in the Middle Ages, perhaps this is why they were represented on the two sides of a home altar, but also because, through the reference to the cup of sufference, both were in direct relationship with the passion of Christ. The panel had a winding path in the course of the past centuries, including the Hungarian castle of Rohonc for a while. But just at the beginning of the 1500s, it was in possession of the Venetian Bernardo Bembo – the father of the great humanist cardinal Pietro Bembo –, and Piero di Cosimo might have copied his cup from it at that time.

The story of the blessing told above the cup is the source of the medieval custom of St. John’s blessing, when people before departure on a long road or to battle, or even before being sentenced to death, drank wine that had been blessed in the name of St. John. The custom became a liturgical event, the consacration of wine, which still takes place in the Catholic churches on the day of St. John, on December 27, and if the variety of toxins nowadays present in the wine should still leave in the form of snakes, it would significantly enrich the reptile fauna of the world. The ceremony is called already in the first printed ritual book of the Hungarian Archdiocese of Esztergom of 1485/95 as Benedictio vini seu amoris Sancti Ioanni tertio die post Domini nativitatem, “blessing of the wine, or of St. John’s love, on the third day after the birth of the Lord.” The illustration of the ritual book skilfully combines the dragons coming out from the poisoned wine with the seven-headed dragon of the Apocalypse, which was described by St. John in the Book of Revelations on the island of Patmos.

Apocalypsis Sancti Iohannis, Germany, ca. 1470

French master: St. John on the island of Patmos. The beginning of St. John’s Gospel, 1490-1500. Koninklijke Bibliothek, The Hague

And still survives from the story the custom of “the cup of St. John”, or “St. John’s blessing”, which is the name of the last cup jointly drank by the company before breaking up: Igyuk meg a János-poharat! “let’s drink the cup of St. John!” That is, may every kind of poison depart from this cup and from between us. Which we particularly wish to everyone for the next few evenings, rich in cups, and throughout the whole new year.

Hans Memling: St. John the Evangelist, ca. 1479. Detail of the St. John Altarpiece of Bruges

La copa de san Juan

Hans Memling: San. Juan Evangelista escribiendo el «Libro de las Revelaciones» en la isla de Patmos, ca. 1479. Detalle del Altar de san Juan en Brujas

El 24 de junio, la noche de verano por antonomasia, día de san Juan Bautista vimos algunas representaciones poco conocidas del santo: el Juan bicéfalo y el Juan ángel alado, este último a veces con una copa o cáliz en la mano donde flota el Niño Jesús. Hoy, festividad de san Juan Evangelista, tenemos una representación similar de este otro Juan bendiciendo una copa en la que el veneno que le iba destinado sale en forma de serpiente o dragón.

El Greco: San Juan Evangelista, 1595-1604

San Juan Evangelista es mejor conocido por otros tipos iconográficos más populares porque se basan en los libros del Nuevo Testamento: cuando en la Última Cena inclina la cabeza sobre el pecho de Cristo, cuando él y la Virgen velan debajo de la cruz y Cristo le confía a su madre, o cuando escribe el Apocalipsis o su Evangelio en la isla de Patmos. La fórmula iconográfica «Juan con la copa», sin embargo, carece de fuente bíblica. Este tipo proviene de una obra apócrifa del siglo II, los Hechos de Juan, donde Aristodemo, el primer sacerdote del templo de Artemisa en Éfeso, obliga al Apóstol a beber veneno. La historia tuvo éxito en la colección medieval más popular de leyendas de santos, la Leyenda áurea, del siglo XIII. Los Hechos de Juan originales la cuentan así:

«Luego que Aristodemo, que era jefe de los sacerdotes de todos aquellos ídolos, vio esto [la destrucción de muchos templos paganos de Éfeso y la conversión de 12.000 personas], lleno de un espíritu maligno agitó la sedición entre las gentes de modo que unos se dispusieron a luchar contra los otros. Y Juan se volvió hacia él y le dijo: Dime, Aristodemo, ¿qué puedo hacer para quitar el enojo de tu alma? Y Aristodemo dijo: Si quieres que crea en tu Dios, te daré a beber veneno, y si lo bebes y no mueres, me parecerá que tu Dios es el verdadero. El apóstol respondió: Cuando me des a beber veneno, si pronuncio el nombre de mi Señor, no podrá dañarme. Aristodemo dijo de nuevo: Quiero que veas cómo otros beben y mueren enseguida para que hasta tu corazón retroceda ante esta copa. [...]

Aristodemo fue entonces al procónsul y le pidió dos condenados que iban a cumplir sentencia de muerte. Y tan pronto como estuvieron en medio de la plaza del mercado, delante de todo el pueblo y a la vista del apóstol les hizo beber el veneno: y así como lo bebieron, entregaron su alma. Aristodemo luego se volvió hacia Juan y le dijo: Escúchame y deja de instigar a la gente para que se aparte de la adoración a los dioses; o toma y bebe esto para demostrar que tu Dios es todopoderoso si después de beberlo puedes permanecer sano. A continuación, el bendito Juan, mientras yacían muertos los que habían bebido el veneno, tomó la copa como un hombre valiente que a nada teme, y haciendo la señal de la cruz, habló así:

Mi Dios y Padre de nuestro Señor Jesucristo, por cuya palabra se hicieron los cielos, a quien todo lo creado está sujeto, a quien sirven las criaturas, ante quien todo poder se inclina, teme y tiembla cuando reclamamos auxilio: cuyo nombre deja inmóvil a la serpiente, hace huir al  dragón, aquieta a la víbora y al sapo quita las fuerzas, aplaca al escorpión, deja vencido al basilisco, y la phalangia [araña] no daña —en una palabra, todas las cosas venenosas y las bestias feroces y los reptiles asquerosos son destruidos. Tú, digo, saca el veneno de esta ponzoña, arranca la muerte con que trabaja y prívala de la fuerza que alberga en su interior: y otorga a estas gentes reunidas ojos para que vean y oídos para que oigan y un corazón que pueda comprender tu grandeza.

Y habiendo dicho esto, persignó su boca y todo su cuerpo con la señal de la cruz y bebió cuanto había en la copa. Y después de haber bebido, dijo: Pido que aquellos por cuya causa he bebido se vuelvan a ti, Señor, y con tu iluminación reciban la salvación que está en ti. Y después de que por espacio de tres horas la gente observara que Juan permanecía con el rostro alegre, y que no había en él ni la más mínima señal de palidez ni miedo, comenzaron a gritar en alta voz: Él es el único Dios verdadero, a quien Juan adora.

Pero aún así Aristodemo no lo creía, aunque la gente se lo reclamaba: se volvió a Juan y le dijo: Una cosa me falta -– si tú en el nombre de tu Dios levantas a estos que han muerto por el veneno, mi mente se limpiará de toda duda. [...] Juan se acercó a Aristodemo y le dio su capa: [...] Ve y colócala sobre los cuerpos de los muertos, y dirás así: El Apóstol de nuestro Señor Jesucristo me ha enviado para que en su nombre podáis lavantaros de nuevo, de modo que todos sepan que la vida y la muerte son siervas de mi Señor Jesucristo. Cuando Aristodemo hubo hecho esto y vio que se levantaban, adoró a Juan».

Maestro Sarumi: San Juan Evangelista bebe la copa de veneno. Salisbury, ca. 1250 k.
Abajo: Bernardo Martorell idem, ca. 1430

Esta historia es la fuente de las típicas representaciones solitarias de san Juan Evangelista, en las que el santo, de pie, bendice una copa. Y aunque a veces no veamos serpiente alguna huyendo, hay que entender que es el momento en que disipa el veneno.

Jan van Eyck: San Juan Evangelista del Altar de Gante, 1430-32 (click para el cuadro completo)

Por otro lado, la copa también apunta a una serie de acontecimientos bastante más embarazosos de la vida de Juan, que recordaría con vergüenza incluso a la edad de cien años, en la isla de Patmos. Principalmente, cuando con su madre y su hermano Jaime fueron a pedirle a Cristo que, en la Gloria pudieran sentarse a su lado derecho e izquierdo respectivamente. «No sabéis lo que estáis pidiendo», respondió Jesús. «¿Seríais capaces de beber del cáliz que yo he de beber?» «Lo somos», respondieron. «Sí, ciertamente beberéis mi cáliz», predijo Jesús. (Mt 20: 20-23). Es el cáliz del sufrimiento del que Jesús, en su oración en el Monte de los Olivos, pide que se le aparte (Mt 26: 39-42). Así, la imagen de la copa de san Juan también sugiere que, en definitiva, el apóstol probó aquel cáliz.

Piero di Cosimo: San Juan Evangelista, 1500-1505

Esta referencia al martirio y la pasión de Cristo aumentó de hecho la importancia visual de la copa de san Juan. Y llegó a convertirse en una especie de representación simbólica suya, como en la famosa pintura del Panel de Santa Verónica de Hans Memling (ca. 1470-1475). El panel, de tan sólo 30 cm de altura, fue probablemente un altar personal doméstico. Su anverso muestra a Verónica sosteniendo la imagen de Cristo pintada sin intervención humana, y en el reverso muestra la copa de san Juan. Ambas imágenes fueron ampliamente difundidas en la Edad Media como objetos apotropaicos. Tal vez es por eso que se representaron juntas a ambos lados de un altar doméstico; y también porque a través de la referencia a la copa de sufrimiento, ambas estaban en relación directa con la pasión de Cristo. Este panel tuvo una vida azarosa a lo largo de los siglos, incluyendo una estancia en el castillo húngaro de Rohonc. Pero justo a comienzos del 1500 estaba en posesión del veneciano Bernardo Bembo —padre del gran humanista, el cardenal Pietro Bembo—, y Piero di Cosimo pudo haber copiado allí su copa en ese momento.

La historia de la bendición pronunciada sobre la copa es el origen de la costumbre medieval de la Bendición de san Juan, cuando la gente antes de partir para un largo camino o hacia una batalla, o incluso antes de ser condenados a muerte, bebía el vino que había sido bendecido en el nombre de san Juan. La costumbre se convirtió en evento litúrgico, la consagración del vino, que aún se lleva a cabo en las iglesias católicas el día de san Juan, 27 de diciembre; y si la variedad de toxinas presentes en la actualidad en el vino adoptara forma de serpientes, se enriquecería significativamente la fauna reptiliana del planeta. La ceremonia se conoce, ya en el primer libro ritual  impreso por la archidiócesis húngara de Esztergom, 1485/95, como Benedictio vini seu amoris Sancti Ioanni tertio die post Domini nativitatem, (bendición del vino, o del amor de san Juan, en el tercer día después del nacimiento del Señor). La ilustración de este libro combina hábilmente los dragones que salen del vino ponzoñoso con el dragón de siete cabezas del Apocalipsis, descrito por San Juan en el Libro de las revelaciones en la isla de Patmos.

Apocalypsis Sancti Iohannis, Alemania, ca. 1470

Maestro francés: San Juan en la isla de Patmos. Principio del Evangelio de san Juan, 1490-1500. Koninklijke Bibliothek, La Haya

Y aún pervive de esta historia la costumbre de la «Copa de san Juan», o «Bendición de san Juan». Es, como se viene haciendo desde la Edad Media, sobre todo en Alemania (la Johannesminne), el último brindis antes de separarse. En húngaro: Igyuk meg a János-poharat! (¡Bebamos la copa de san Juan!). Es decir, que cualquier veneno se aleje de esta copa y de nosotros. Cosa que deseamos particularmente a todos en las próximas veladas, abundantes en tragos, y también durante todo el año nuevo.

Hans Memling: San Juan Evangelista, ca. 1479. Detalle del Altar de san Juan de Brujas

The long voyage

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 8kán

Kedves anyukám élek
Eszt a levelet Buda Pesten
Irom Hogy hova
Megyunk nem tudjuk
hogy hova visznek
Aszt csak ök tudjak


Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31
Dated on 8th Agust

Dear Mommy I am living
This letter I write
On Buda Pest. We do not
Know where we go
where they take us
Only they know it

I kiss you
A hundret times

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Post office 133/31

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 9kén

Kedves anyukán hálistenek életben vagyok
Semi bajom nem történt csak az fáj
Nagyon hogy Magyar országon keresztül
Visznek benünket Romániába valami munkára
De majdcsak megsegit a Jó Isten hogy egyszer
Viszont látjuk egymást, hogyha megérjük
Üdvözlöm nénémet Böncikét Mamájékat
És az Öszes rokonokat és barátokat
Akik élnek, Csokolak Milioszor ate Apukád

Sógoromrol semitsem tudok 1 holnapja

Karasz Pálné Részére, Békés Megye
Orosháza köségi posta 133/31

Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31

Aki megtalálja
A cimzetnek
Dated on 9th Agust

Dear Mommy thanks God I’m alive
I’m healthy, it only hurts that
They take us through Hungary
To Romania to some work
But the Good God will help me that once
We will see us again, if we live to see it
I greet my sister, Böncike, my Mum
And all the relatives and friends
Who are alive. A million kisses from Daddy

I know nothing of my brother-in-law since a month

For Mrs. Karasz, Békés county
Orosháza, village post office, 133/31

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Post office 133/31

If you find it
Please send it
To the Addressee

Kedves férje aug. 10én Szolnokon utazott keresztül a fogoly vonattal Románia felé, de reméljük rövidesen visszasegíti őket a jó Isten és újra viszontláthatják egymást! Szeretettel köszönti Csikos Imréné


T. Karasz Pálné
Községi posta 133/31
Békés megye

[Feladó:] Csikos Imréné, Karczag, Petőfi u. 14.
Your dear husband traveled through Szolnok with the prisoners’ train to Romania on Aug 10, but he will be hopefully brought back soon by the good God, and you can see each other again! Warm greetings from Mrs. Imre Csikos

POW letter

To Mrs. Karasz
Post office 133/31
Békés county

[Sender:] Mrs. Imre Csikos, Karcag, Petőfi 14

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 10kén

Kedves anyukám ezt a levelet
Mezőturol irom a lezárt vagonbol
Sajnos hogy nemtudok haza
Jöni Semi bajom nincsen
Csak nagyon fáj hogy még csak
Nemis láthatlak újra
hoszu távollét után de hogy
Mikor látjuk viszont egymást
Az utunk Romániába vezet munkára
Édes anyukám Csokolak Milioszor

Csokolom Mamájékat
Csokolom Nénémet
Kis Böncikét

Ha a Jo Isten hazasegit életben

Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31
Dated on 10th Agust

Dear Mommy I write this letter
From Mezőtúr, the sealed cattle car
I am so sorry I cannot come
Home I have no problem, only
It hurts that I even canot see
You again after such
a long absence, but
When will we see us again
Our trip leads to Romania for work
Dear Mommy, a milion kisses
From Daddy

Kisses to Mum
Kisses to my Sister
To Little Böncike

If the good God helps me home
Then wewillbehappy

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Village post 133/31

Kedves ismeretlen magyar testvér
A mezőturi állomáson pénteken este 7 orakor be érkezett egy magyar fogoj vonat, én is kint voltam és fel vettem ezt az üzenetet, és sietek minél hamarab eljutatni önek, hogy meg tudja hogy férje él, románia felé vitték öket. Beszélni nem lehetet velök, sem nem lehet látni honan dobták ki a levelet. Mikor el megy a vonat akor lehet oda menni a céduláér. Maradok tisztelettel Erzsike

Kérem legyen szives értesíteni megkapták e üzenetemet
cimem. Mezőtúr. Székeskert 19.a Rima Erzsike

Kárász Pálné
Békés megye
Köségi posta 133/131

Fel. Rima Erzsébet. Mezőtúr. Székeskert 19

Dear unknown Hungarian sister
On Friday at 7 p.m. a Hungarian POW train arrived at the station of Mezőtúr. I was also there and I picked up this message, and I hurry to send it to you so you would know that your husband is alive, they are taken towards Romania. It was impossible to speak with them, one could not even see from where the letter was thrown out. Only when the train leaves, you can go there to pick up the letters. Respectfully, Erzsike

Please be so kind to inform me whether you got my message
my address: Mezőtúr, Székeskert str. 19/a, Erzsike Rima

For Respected Mrs. Kárász
Békés county
Post office 133/131

Sender: Erzsébet Rima, Mezőtúr, Székeskert 19

POW letter

Kelt 1945 Agusztus 11kén

Kedves anyukám ez a levél
Márt vagy a hatodik amit
Irok eszt márt a határtól
Irom Édes anyukám nagyon
Vigyáz magadra Mert csak
Te érted érdemes enyit szenved
Ni Elképzelheted hogy menyit
Szenved az Ember Eben a nagy
Hőségben mikor rázárják az
Ajtot és alig kapunk vizet
A Vörös keresztes növérek
Hoztak egykis csomagokat
De az Oroszok nemengeték
Be adni igy hát az idén
Semi féle gyümölcsöt nemetünk
Edés anyukám hálistenek énekem
Semi bajom nincsen egésegesvagyok
Ha a Jo Isten haza segit majd
Majd mindent elmesélek
Csak megtudod várni aszt az idöt
Csokolak Milioszor Apud
Csokolom Növéremet Böncikétis
Legközelebi Viszont látásig Pali

Karasz Pálné
Békés Megye
Köségi posta 133/31
Dated on 11 Agust 1945

Dear Mommy this letter
Is about the sixth which I
Write, this one from the border
I write. Dear Mommy, please
Take care. Because it is only
Worth for you so much to suf
Fer You can imagine how much
One suffers in this great heat
When they close the doors and we
Hardly get any water. The Red
Cross sisters brought
Us some little packages But
The Russians did not let
Them give it to us, so this year
We did not eat any kind of fruit
Dear Mommy thanks God I
Have no problem, healthyiam
If the Good God helps me home
I will tell everything
May you wait that time!
A million kisses from Daddy
Kisses to my Sister, also Böncike,
Till nearest Goodbye. Pali

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Village post 133/31

Kedves ismeretlen Karaszné, ha a levelet megkapja legyen szives válaszolni.
Maradok tisztelettel

Tudom hogy meg örül a levélnek


Karasz Pálné
Békés megye
Községi posta 133/31

[Feladó:] ifj. Simonka Péter
N[agy]váradi ú. 98.
Békés megye
Dear unknown Mrs. Karasz, if you get this mail, be so kind to answer me

I know you will be happy to get this letter

POW letter

Mrs. Karasz
Békés county
Post office 133/31

[Sender:] Péter Simonka Jr.
Nagyváradi út 98
Békés county

The Hungarian soldiers commanded by the Germans to the defense of the Reich west of Hungary, and there captured by the Red Army, were transported to the Soviet Gulag on two routes in the summer of 1945. The first led through Debrecen to the collecting camp of Máramarossziget/Sighetu Marmației, and from there by train to Kiev. The other through Arad to the collecting camp of Focșani, and from there through Constanța to Odessa by boat. The “sender” of the above letters, Pál Karasz from Orosháza was brought along the latter route.

The four letters which survived from the ones thrown out from the cattle car and entrusted to the solidarity of the fellow compatriots were written from 8 to 11 August 1945 in Budapest, Szolnok, Mezőtúr and Kétegyháza (marked in red on the contemporary railway map below). This road is now two hours by train. Then it was nearly four days. And then four times more followed to Focșani, where the prisoners could first get out of the crowded cattle car. I mean, the ones who survived the long voyage.

The solidarity post worked surprisingly well in the occupied and devastated country. From the six letters written until Kétegyháza, four ones reached the addressee. The route of the one written in Budapest is uncertain, but the one of Szolnok was forwarded by an inhabitant of Karcag (marked in blue), and the two other were posted by locals, accompanied with their sympathetic letters, to Mrs. Karasz in Orosháza (marked in green). To the prisoner, as he writes, it was especially painful that the train passed near his home, and he could not even look out of the wagon.

The train followed the same way as the hero of Pál Závada’s best-selling novel Yadviga’s Pillow (1997), Márton Osztatní, who was captured in Brno. He also “wrote tiny letters”, he was also from Békés county, he was also carried near his home to Focșani through Budapest, Szolnok and Mezőtúr. He also arrived there on 10 August. But he never reached Kétegyháza.

“[1945] July 17. We sleep squatting through the night. The toalet is a conic stovepipe across the floor. It’s dark and stuffy hot. I’m learning Russian, I have a Russian dictionary and grammar. I don’t follow the days. We have been traveling for five or six days, I don’t know. I press my mouth on the door fissure to get some fresh air. The food is constantly corn, sometimes cracked, bran, salted fish, suchar, that is, rock hard dried bread. Dysentery is spreading, First me, then Lieutenant Sárközi became commanders of the toalet. We let the people come three times a day, but it did not work. Many people had to come at night. Finally, there was no half hour without someone suffering. Two of the four windows of the wagon are nailed. A stench that puts to shame a ferret farm. I start my last notebook page, but only if we stand. I mostly think about my poor son, little Jancsika. Outside, the hottest summer heat. Some are fainting. Several weeks without a bath; beards, and distant, deranged glances, skinny, half-nude bodies. My God, at least we should not look at each other! I think my friend Bandi got crazy. Crying, loud praying. Some are talking in their sleep and are at home. The border! The thousand-year-old Hungarian border! We start writing tiny letters, and we throw them out when we see civilians. Some frightening news. We are not going home, but to Focșani, Romania! Then good bye, civilian life! First Romania, then Russia – slow death. They do not accept us at the frontier. Are we so vile villains? Had I not gone out because it was ordered? In our wagon, some 30-35 persons suffer from dysentery, including me. One is almost dying. We have already traveled some 20 days. Szolnok, Szajol, Mezőtúr. Oh, familiar countryside! I feel that I have no force any more. We are constantly lying. There is no more place.

And finally this was the last note of my Mother, Mrs. András Osztatní, née Mária Jadviga Palkovits: Yesterday, on August 10, 1945 I received the news, of which no more terrible can be received by a mother. My beloved son Marci died. And on the train, when he was the nearest to me! My God, how could you allow it? And how could I allow him to go to the war? I should have had to forbid it, I should have had to hide him or bring him out of the hell on my two arms. I was not where I should have been, I did not do what I should have done. We immediately run with Misu to see him. And I saw him. But I cannot describe it. I should have perished instead of him!”

Mrs. Pál Karasz preserved until her death the letters of her husband thrown out of the cattle car, along with the cover letters of the goodwill senders. From her estate they got to the collector János Fellner, who recently presented them in the Facebook group “Collectors of camp post cards”. Here we publish them with his permission.