Before we'd left for the Bahamas, I'd convinced John to go horseback riding with me. It's been something on my bucket list since I was a little girl, and riding on the gorgeous beaches of Nassau is the best way to do it.
He agreed and I booked us the excursion. Surprisingly, this ended up being one of John's favorite parts of our trip. Definitely mine, too!
Anyway, we ended up getting a private ride. The other two riders who were supposed to come with us ended up turning back. We had the guide to ourselves, and since we were riding int he early morning, we had the beaches to ourselves, too. It was amazing!
I hopped on and rode around like a pro. The trainer asked if I had any riding experience. I said that I had not, and he clucked his tongue in approval. He said I should look into getting a horse "at home" to practice my posture on since I shouldn't let equestrian talent go to waste.
Maybe he says that to all the ladies. I don't know. I beamed with pride regardless, because I feel like I've imagined myself doing it for so long, it really WAS natural to me getting into that saddle!
The guide gave us a few brief instructions and we were on our way. I was last in line, so most of my photos look like this:
The trail to get to the beach was beautiful. We took this narrow, worn path through blooming foliage. There were berries and fruits you could pick right off the trees and bushes. Our guide would point things out while John's horse, Buggs, stopped to chomp on some grass.
As we made our way through the trail, we trotted across a miltary complex where Bahemian marines were training. We saw them running down the street with their gear on their backs. I was surprised to see that! I just barely snagged this photo as we made our way across the complex.
When we rounded the corner and began to see beach, I was almost sad to leave the trail through the forest because it was so nice. John voiced the same thing, but we were still excited to ride along the waves.
We passed by fishermen as they prepared their lobster cages for the day. They all waved and greeted us as we passed. Again, all of the people we came across in Nassau were incredibly gracious and welcoming - even the busy fishermen who took a moment to stop and wave to us as we trotted by.
All the while, our wonderful guide, Wayne, entertained us with stories of previous riders he took out. Since his was the only ranch in the Bahamas, they got a lot of traffic from celebrities who vacationed there. It was fun to hear some of the stories he shared!
Soon, though, we were at the beach. The weather was PERFECT and we had a clear view of a few tiny islands dotting the horizon. It was magnificent.
Wayne was nice enough to steal my camera and take a few shots for John and I which was great.
I took my chance, here, to scoot off for a bit and "test drive" Sunny, my horse, without the guide. While he was busy taking shots of John, I trotted Sunny away from the group. I then led her back and actually had her completely encircle John and Buggs. Wayne laughed and told John, "Yeah, you see? You're lady's got control over her horse. She's a real rider!"
Again, I beamed with pride! I felt comfortable and confident in the saddle. They obviously trained these horses really well, but I was still proud of myself for controlling her when I could feel her trying to go off her own way.
Finally, we had to go back. Again, I was in the back. I still had one more thing I wanted to do since it was unlikely I'd ever get the chance again. I wanted to run her. At least get a small gallop going.
So since I was in the back, I sort of pulled back the reigns to slow her down. I allowed a fairly good stretch of distance to pile up between John and myself. John was directly behind the guide, so Wayne didn't realize I was falling back that way. John was so focused on Wayne's story that he didn't notice, either. When I felt like I'd given myself a good distance, I gave Sunny a quick "Giddy-up" heel and boom - we took off galloping towards the boys.
It. Was. AWESOME.
My butt hurt like a sonofagun, but it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. :)
Wayne just looked back to make sure I was there, and I was. No one noticed a thing. Well, maybe John did, but he didn't rat me out. It was so much fun!
We finally rode our way back to the stables. We took the same trail back and hit the streets for the rest of the way.
It was such an unforgettable experience. I highly recommend this place for anyone planning a trip to Nassau. The stables are called "Happy Trails Stables" and is run by a wonderful woman named Sue. Wayne is her adopted son (REALLY!). They have such a sweet relationship. A man named Duke also works there and is phenomenal with the horses. They just know so much and really love their animals. It's great.
So to top off the trip, we tipped Wayne and asked him to take a photo with us. Here was our last impression of this wonderful, incredible experience:
This beautiful little church is the Church of the Annunciation. How could I NOT stop in a church painted "Blessed Mother Blue"? I've always wanted to go to a Greek Orthodox Church, so when I stumbled upon this one, I knew I'd found my chance!
In I went. I was greeted at the door by a very laid back, but super friendly, individual. The vibe in this church was much different than the Cathedral up the street. It felt very quiet and very, very reverent. It's not that those in the Cathedral weren't reverent. It's just the close quarters and extremely ornate architecture / artwork made for a very mystical, awe-inspiring experience.
From there, I silently moved my camera around. The church was very small - seating maybe 50 people. However, what they lacked in size they made up for in beauty. Oh, how wonderful was their artwork! I've always known Greek Orthodox kept their sanctuaries screened, but wow. Seeing one in person was unreal! The screens were magnificent! Edging my way closer, I was taken in by the massive 3-tiered chandelier made entirely of gold.
It reminded me of the many visions of the 3 tiered "Heavenly Jerusalem." The lighted candles and the brilliant light pouring in through their cupola was just... my breath really was taken away. It was so, so beautiful.
Then, of course, was their stained glass windows. These, too, were very beautiful and thoroughly educational in nature.
Since it was early yet, I felt brave enough to snap a few photos of the iconostasis. I mean... just... it was incredible. Those icons were so beautiful. I almost felt it unfair that they were trapped in a tiny church away from public view.
Again, please forgive any blurriness. I was taking these photos without my flash so as not to disturb those who were praying. Lighting in some areas was great, but not so great in others. However, I hope you're able to get even a slight idea of how beautiful everything was.
After going ga-ga for the sanctuary screens, my eye caught the priest's chair. It looked like a bishop's chair! It, too, was beautiful in its own right. Across from his chair was what I believe could've been a credence table. I believe the large, ciborium-looking cup was, in fact, some sort of chalice (those little handles looked like spigots), but given I've never participated in an Orthodox Mass, I really wasn't sure what I was oogling. I snapped a photo anyway because I thought it was beautiful and wanted to share with you fine folks.
Finally, I turned my attention back to that magificent cupola. I wanted to stare at the images all day, but knew I'd miss my bus should I stay for much longer. I peered up to capture a few last images to keep with me. I'm so sorry they aren't as clear as they could be. I almost feel like those old men from the Old Testament who wept upon seeing the new temple. Distraught that the new temple was not nearly as grand or beautiful as their original one, I feel frustrated that these photos do nothing to capture the divine sanctity of that place. I could have happily stayed in there for hours at total peace.
I was invited to stay for their services, but I politely declined. I think I would have had I not had John waiting for me at the hotel. To experience an Orthodox Mass has always been of interest to me. However, that can wait for another day.
I snapped a few photos of their small outside garden (containing the grave of their founding pastor) and made it back to the jitney with about 30 seconds to spare.
All in all, I'd recommend the jaunt for anyone in Nassau. So, so worth it. <3
I really hope you enjoyed all the photos of this church and the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier. Both were splendid little gems of Christ. I'm so happy to have had the blessing of being there!
Sorry it’s taken me so long to write this follow up post. With the start of school, things have been super hectic!
However, I’ve been absolutely itching for this entry, so I’m sneaking a few moments in so I can jot down my thoughts.
For the most part, Mass in the Nassau Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier was exactly what you’d expect to find in a Mass up in the States. There were a few marked differences, though, and I chuckle to myself as I recollect them. Some of you more conservative folks might turn your nose up, but please try to keep in mind that this is an entirely separate culture from what we’re used to.
One of the first things I noticed about the parishioners of this parish was their style of dress. I really felt like I was witnessing Southern Baptists on their way to Easter Sunday Mass. The men were in suits (or really nice slacks and shirts) and all the women wore colorful dresses or dress suits. More than a few had the big, colorful hats (which is probably why I was immediately reminded of Easter).
I, myself, was in a long maxi dress with a shawl, but I felt a bit underdressed given the beautiful outfits of everyone else!
Anyway, at the open of Mass, the cathedral was probably just over half full. People were sorta scattered all throughout the nave. However, as the Mass progressed, more and more people entered the church and found a spot in the pews. They continued coming in long past the homily. It wasn’t until the Sign of Peace that I think everyone had finally gotten to their seats.
It was strange, because I had started out towards the end of one pew and was slowly “pushed” inward as more and more people joined the pews.
The homily was given by the deacon and lasted a good 20+ minutes. I was very surprised by the length of his homily, and I began to wonder if that was why folks tended to push off coming into the church for such long periods of time. I didn’t mind his homily at all. He spoke on virtue and why it is important to know true virtue stems from humility. The way he explained things (and how repetitive he was) at first irritated me. Then I began to get a sense that he was really breaking things down as best he could because he wanted so much to educate everyone. Once I got the stick out of my butt, I softened up and didn’t mind the pains he took explaining the Gospel story.
The next surprising thing to happen was during the Sign of Peace. I kid you not, this particular experience legitimately swept me off my feet.
When the priest asked us to share Christ’s peace, it was as if the entire congregation sprang to life. It was CHAOS. People started swarming the aisles as they got out of their pews to greet parishioners from the other side of the church. Folks were coming downstairs from the 2nd floor (there is seating upstairs, too) to greet folks on the 1st floor. I saw a man make his way from one side of the church to the other to greet a choir member. In the wave of people moving in and out of the pews, I was sorta forced to “go with the flow” which landed me off my feet at one moment. Ha ha.
At first I was put off. I was half expecting a mini-coffee hour to be set up because I saw no end to the loud chatter and movement. Did these people not realize the Sign of Peace is not a time for saying “Hi” to everyone you know?
Then I realized I was witnessing a very Bahemian tradition. These folks obviously all knew one another intimately. I really did feel as though I had stumbled into a family gathering. When they hugged one another, kissed, or otherwise “gave the sign of peace” you could tell that a real light of love existed between them. Who am I to judge their signs of love? Who am I to judge their wishes for peace?
So I refrained and kept to myself beyond the customary handshake I’m familiar with (though a kiss on the cheek is customary for me if I am with family). I simply enjoyed watching this massive spiritual family erupt joy after joy as they blessed one another with a sign of Christian love.
Eventually (about three minutes or so later), the choir took up the Agnus Dei and by the end of the prayer, folks had settled back into their seats.
During the Eucharistic prayer, I noticed a gorgeous little boy of about 10 months waddling up the center aisle. It was obvious he’d just learned to walk, and I was smiling at his cubby little face. His parents saw him leave and did nothing to stop him. I kept my eyes trained on him in case he fell, not sure why his parents would just let him slip away like that.
Finally, the baby made his way back to my area of the cathedral. He sorta looked around, trying to decide who he wanted to go to. He waddled up to an usher and raised his hands, the universal plea for “Pick me up!”
The usher happily obliged without thought. He walked around with the baby for a few minutes, bouncing him and showing him the statues and windows. The baby, for his part, was happy to have such a nice man to play with. Finally, however, the usher brought the child back to his parents.
It made sense, then, why the parents didn’t mind that their son had wandered off like that. They really did see everyone in the parish as family. They trusted all of us implicitly. Given I grew up in Philly where you didn’t trust anyone with anything (parishioner or not), this concept was so different for me. It absolutely threw me, but I relished the idea that a Catholic community existed like this. It was such a “family vibe” that I just can’t put my feelings into words. I was readily accepted into this family because of my faith in Christ.
All Catholic communities are supposed to make you feel as welcome – as united. We’re all family in Christ, after all. But of all the parishes I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot, people), this one takes the cake.
That’s not saying that I feel unwelcome at other parishes. I loved my previous and current parishes. It’s hard to explain, I guess. This parish just had a very vibrant, living movement of the Spirit that unequivocally united everyone present. It was pretty incredible.
During the Intercessions, the priest had all the children present come up for a blessing. He and the deacon handed out marble copybooks (since their school year began the next day). As the children were coming up, the choir sang Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love song.
I seriously almost fell out of my seat.
I love the song. It’s a beautiful song! The cantor did a great job singing it. However, it’s NOT a song for Mass! Plus, the lyrics went directly against everything the readings and homily spoke of!
Ah well. I guess they figured the first few lines were worth the rest of the song negating the message of the deacon. *Sigh* At least the children had a nice blessing that also reaffirmed the importance they should place on education.
During the Eucharistic Procession, a super talented musician played Amazing Grace… on his SAXAPHONE. I could’ve sworn it was Kenny G playing until I spotted the musician breathing out the melody.
Musically, these folks were super, super talented. I just felt that some of it was a little out of place given the circumstances of, ya know… the Mass.
None of these are huge issues, though. Truth be told, their Kyrie was beautiful. I’d never heard one like it. Most of their music reminded me of the Spanish Masses I’d set up for when I worked as a sacristan.
Finally, at the very end of Mass, the pastor called forward those with birthdays or wedding anniversaries in September. I guess they celebrate these as a parish on the 1st Sunday of each month. They had roses to give away to the women which I thought was sweet.
At the end of Mass, many of the parishioners stayed long past the procession to sing or pray. Yes, I said sing or pray. Some folks continued singing after the choir had completed their musical services. Not everyone was singing the same thing, either. Some folks stayed in their pew to pray and others made the usual bee-line for the door. Everyone was talking excitedly, and at the main entrance / exit of the cathedral, there was a gentleman holding up a very large Catholic Charities Appeal sign. I almost snapped a photo to take back to my coworkers (who work on the CCA here in Philly), but thought better of it. Heh.
As I walked down the hill to get back to the bus stop, I saw the Greek Orthodox Church to my right. I couldn’t resist. Stay tuned for my first experience inside a Greek Orthodox Church!
While John and I were in the Bahamas, I got my first chance to attend a Bahemian Mass. I had contacted the Diocese of Nassau before leaving and found out the closest church to my hotel was the Cathedral. How lucky was that?
I decided to attend the early Mass on Sunday (8 AM).
I woke up at about 6:45 to get ready. I was told to hop on the jitney (their local bus system) by 7:15 so I get to the Cathedral on time. I dutifully walked to the bus stop by myself. Normally I'd be a bit nervous to do this in a foreign country all by myself (John was still sleeping), but given the laid back, super friendly nature of Bahemians, I wasn't concerned for my personal safety.
In fact, I was pretty confident that locals would go out of their way to help me out given the high importance of tourism. They don't want bad publicity via rumors of tourist muggings, so they are generally super, super nice to foreigners.
When the jitney came around, I found myself alone on the bus with the driver. I sat directly behind him so I could hear him call out my stop. Silly me, though, he took it upon himself to become my personal taxi-driver!
When I climbed onto the bus by myself, he exclaimed, "By yourself? Where is your partner?"
I laughed and said, "He's still in bed sleeping. I'm going to Mass at St. Francis Cathedral. Are you going there?"
He said, "Yes, baby (all women, to men, are "baby" in the Bahamas). I go by there just fine. Your partner didn't want to come with you?"
I laughed again and said, "Nope. He's not Catholic."
He said, "What is he?"
I said, "He's agnostic, I think. He doesn't really believe in or care about God."
The driver seemed slightly perplexed, but let the comment roll over him. He said, "Well, did you get breakfast yet?"
I said, "No. I'll eat when I get back."
He said, "Are you sure? I can drive to McDonald's or something."
I shook my head and said, "No, it's really okay. Just to the church."
He then chuckled, "Oh yeah. You Catholics don't eat before you pray, right?"
I laughed again and confirmed he was right.
To my surprise, he told me he'd just drop me off at the entrance of the Cathedral. That was about two blocks from his route. Not super far, but it was still out of his way and could have cost him passengers.
He told me not to worry about it because it was early yet on a Sunday. He thought he was lucky to get me let alone other passengers along the route.
What a nice guy!
So he did drop me off directly in front of the Cathedral wall with directions on how to get back to the real bus stop when Mass was over.
Upon exiting the bus, I walked through the archway and immediately saw a statue of Elizabeth Ann Seton.
I wondered why they chose her. The little placard explained that her order, the Sisters of Charity, founded the very first school in the Bahamas and are still active on the island to this day. How wonderful is that?
Anyway, since I was still very early, I snapped a few more shots of the outside grounds. Forgive the blur - coming off the air conditioned bus and into the humidity of Nassau fogged my lens up something fierce!
Once I snapped these, I decided it would be best to get my bearings inside. I couldn't wait to see their artwork!
I entered the Cathedral and, to me, it looked very different from the pictures posted on their website. I was expecting a Protestant looking church, but it was, in fact, very Catholic. Upon entering the Cathedral, I was greeted with the Baptismal font, ambry and the entrance bell (one of the prettiest I've seen!).
I was immediately greeted by an enthusiastic usher who handed me a voting slip for parish council. Ha ha! I thanked him and asked if it would be okay to snap a few more photos before the rest of the congregation began showing up. He gave me the go-ahead, and off I went. I figured it'd be less intrusive to get my photos over with sooner rather than later when more people were trying to focus on prayer.
The first thing that struck me was the tabernacle. It was missing from the sanctuary. In its normal place behind the altar were three chairs (I assume for the bishop, priest and deacon). Every now and again I see a church up here do that, but never with the tabernacle completely gone from the sanctuary.
When I found the tabernacle, I almost couldn't believe I'd missed it!
Without a doubt, their tabernacle is the largest one I've ever seen in person. It was off to the right of the sanctuary, and I wonder if its size was the reason for its placement. This massive, golden tabernacle... it was beautiful, but wow. It was HUGE. The picture below doesn't do it justice. I took the photo from the middle aisle without the zoom. It's just... WHEW. The sheer size blew me away.
From there, a statue of the Blessed Mother caught my eye. She and the Child Jesus were carved from wood and hand painted. St. Joseph was hanging out on the other side of the church also carrying Baby Jesus.
Then, of course, I snapped a few photos of the Stations as well as the stained glass.
Next, as I was getting into the pew, I noticed the beautiful carvings that seemed to alternate between these two patterns:
Finally, here's a shot of the main altar. As you can see, there was a massive floral spray in front of it. Behind were the Nassau crest and symbols of the 4 Gospels. You can see the back of the Bishop's chair poking up.
Stay tuned for Part II where I tackle the surprising differences in liturgy that legitimately knocked me of my feet - TWICE!
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