By Ambeth Ocampo
PRAGUEâ€”Readers who are growing tired of this series tracing Jose Rizalâ€™s footsteps in foreign lands will be relieved to know that all this comes to an end this week. Seasoned columnists advised me to take a break when traveling, but with handy Internet connection almost anywhere on the globe, there is no excuse to miss a column while abroad.
Prague was not on the agenda of this trip, but being a mere four hours by train from Vienna it was an option one could not resist. Our ambassador to Austria, Linglingay Lacanlale, referred us to our ambassador in Prague, Carmencita Salas, and we were on our way.
Most Filipinos who go to this city head for crystal shops where, depending on the budget, they can buy anything from paper weights to chandeliers. Then, of course, there is the pilgrimage to the Carmelite church whose main crowd drawer is the image of the Infant Jesus in a side chapel. This small, rather worn and unattractive image is the original that spawned an entire industry in the Philippines, where it is known as Santo NiÃ±o de Praga.
The most famous old image of this little bambino from Prague is venerated in the Abbey Church of Our Lady of Montserrat on Mendiola Street (better known as the â€œSan Beda Chapelâ€). The image carved by Maximo Vicente early in the last century is definitely superior to the original.
At the back of the church in Prague is a small museum filled with vestments of the image from all over the world. The Philippines is naturally represented in the display by a beautifully embroidered piÃ±a outfit designed by Ben Farrales. Further into the museum is yet another display of gifts of Santo NiÃ±o images from all over the world, and the Philippines dominates again.
If you visit Catholic supply stores in Manila, you will find a Santo NiÃ±o to fit any size and budget. Then there are Santo NiÃ±os for all kinds of occupations: policeman, doctor, nurse, street sweeper, etc. My favorite is the â€œSanto NiÃ±ong Yagitâ€ who comes in a tattered â€œsandoâ€ undershirt, loose shorts and rubber slippers. One could say that we make the Santo NiÃ±o in our image and likeness.
Writer Jessica Zafra recommends Prague highly and, coming from the Queen of World domination, that should be seen as a compliment, although I think she visited Prague mainly for its association with Franz Kafka or some tennis player. My trip to Prague was mainly to trace the footsteps of Rizal and Ferdinand Blumentritt.
The hotel where Rizal stayed is no more; a bank now stands on the original site and awaits one of those historical markers. In Vienna not one but two plaques mark the site where Rizal once stayed in a hotel that has since been torn down. Unfortunately, the building has bad historical associations having been used by the Nazis or the Gestapo during the war and the Rizal connection cannot erase that.
Ambassador Salas took us to a small town called Litomerice, an hourâ€™s drive from Prague. This obscure place was visited by Rizal in 1887 because his friend Blumentritt was teaching in a high school here.
Litomerice has a sister-city agreement with Calamba, and so Rizal figures prominently in town. There is a small Rizal Park behind the Town Hall, and there are busts of Rizal all over the Town Hall and the Mayorâ€™s Office. There is a bust of Rizal by a local artist in the old Town Hall, but there is no marker in the building that used to be the Hotel Krebs where Rizal and Maximo Viola stayed. We were informed that the original guest book that Rizal signed was not in town but kept in the archives outside town.
What most people do not know is that Blumentritt continued his relationship with the Philippines after Rizalâ€™s execution. He wrote in support of recognition of the Philippine government under Emilio Aguinaldo and continued to write articles on the Philippines in the European press.
Two diplomatic representatives, Juan Luna and Felipe Agoncillo, visited Blumentritt in Litomerice in 1899. Luna made a small watercolor showing the Philippine flag and gave it to Blumentritt; the original is now in the National Library in Manila). The guest book, also signed by Luna and Agoncillo, is also preserved in the Czech archives, which should be worth a future visit because there might be more Filipiniana lying around. We were told that there is a small museum in nearby South Bohemia that has some Blumentritt and Philippine-related material.
Litomerice is a footnote in Philippine history because of the Rizal-Blumentritt friendship, and we are fortunate that the details of this visit were recorded not only by Blumentritt in a letter to a friend published in Manila in La Vanguardia in 1911 but also by Maximo Viola who wrote a memoir, â€œMy travels with Dr. Rizal.â€
One can say that some of our embassies and consulates have an instant link with the host country because our National Hero traveled so much. He has left a trail in the great capitals: London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, Saigon, Hong Kong, Singapore and even obscure places like Litomerice in the Czech Republic.
We often think that everything and anything on Rizal has already been researched and published, yet there are new things that come to light.
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