“We’ve always had guests in the chapel. But since we couldn’t receive them because of the coronavirus, we decided to stream our services,” explained Sister Walburga, a Benedictine nun at Minster Abbey in Kent, southern England.
She’s the youngest of 11 nuns, and launched the abbey’s Twitter account almost a year and a half ago. Today, it boasts more than 5,000 followers, and she’s responsible for keeping it up-to-date and making sure the midday office, a daily prayer service, can be followed live on YouTube.
Technically, it’s fairly simple. The images aren’t especially riveting — the camera is fixed on a view of the altar and the high, sun-filled windows — but the singing nuns can be heard loud and clear. Sister Walburga told DW that the viewer numbers ranged from 30 to 50 each day, but said it was important for the nuns to once again share their song and prayers with others. She’ll also send the text of the service by email on request. “All the nuns see this as a positive thing, even our oldest one who is 94!”
Minster Abbey isn’t the only religious establishment to have turned to livestreaming during the coronavirus pandemic. In Germany, several monasteries and convents have also been using digital means to ensure worshippers can take part in their services.
Read more: German churches overcoming coronavirus isolation
“We launched on March 21 after rehearsing for about three days,” said Father Maximilian from Münsterschwarzach Abbey, northwest of Nuremberg. “We had no livestreaming experience.” He told DW that it took “quite a lot of rehearsing and readjusting until the quality was acceptable.”
His abbey’s services have been drawing between 70 and 120 live viewers, with several hundred tuning in later. There has been “plenty of praise and thanks” — but also technical tips, along with donations. Many people have also filled out the abbey’s online form asking for a particular prayer.
The German Conference of Superiors of Religious Orders (DOK), which represents Catholic orders in Germany, has a list of many of the various available streaming sessions on its website. Spokesperson Arnulf Salmen said the pandemic had “forced” congregations to become more familiar with new forms of communication, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Zoom — and the experience had been positive.
“Some of the orders have been extremely professional despite having very simple means,” he said, adding that there was always a community member on hand to help with any technical issues.
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Many of the larger monasteries have expanded their online offering. Apart from Münsterschwarzach, the St. Ottilien Archabbey and the Roggenburg Abbey in Bavaria, as well as the Gerleve Abbey and the Stiepel Priory in North Rhine-Westphalia, also decided to stream their services. In Austria, the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz has been streaming the audio of all five of its daily offices.
Viera Pirker, of the University of Vienna’s theology department, finds the whole development “very interesting,” in part because the traditional offices in these establishments aren’t usually that accessible to the public.
“This should not be seen as advertising,” she insisted. “The monasteries simply want to maintain their spiritual services and allow people to participate.” After all, this is about “solidarity within the church.”
Pirker also thought it was good that establishments hadn’t tailored or perfected their livestreams in any way. To her, it didn’t matter that somebody’s voice might not be perfect, or that the camera wasn’t flattering. “It’s just normal, and the monasteries are daring to show normality.”
The Protestant Stadtkloster Segen is church in a touristy part of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, opposite a Jewish cemetery and not far from one of the city’s biggest organic supermarkets. It began streaming its Sunday evening service on Zoom after Easter, attracting between 35 and 50 viewers every week.
“It was an important experience for us,” said Georg Schubert of the Don Camillo community, which holds the services. “Some Sundays, we couldn’t have a service. But we were able to find a way for people to do the same thing at the same time.”
Read more: Religious celebrations in the time of coronavirus
Schubert also said the live nature of the experience was crucial. One of the regular viewers is a New Yorker who had once stayed at the Stadtkloster, while another is a neighbor who doesn’t dare come to the church because she’s in the high-risk category for COVID-19.
Schubert said he wanted the church to continue with the weekly streaming session. “It’s important for us as the church to go toward people, and not simply expect them always to come to us.”
People hoping for help from the heavens above in difficult times — in particular when they had money problems — would pray to Saint Corona. Treasure hunters and gamblers are said to invoke her name. She is said to have lived in the 2nd century A.D. and was killed for comforting a martyr, becoming one herself, tied between two palm trees bent to the ground that were released to tear her apart.
Here’s a patron saint for “impossible cases,” including abused wives, parents, lonely hearts and widows: Rita of Cascia. The 15th-century Italian woman — who later joined an Augustinian convent — pledged to forgive her abusive husband’s killers and convinced her sons to do so, too. She was called the “peacemaker of Cascia.”
By the end of the 1st century A.D., Christians had begun to honor other Christians who had died, praying for their help. Described in the gospels of Luke and John — and a witness to Jesus’ resurrection of her brother Lazarus — Martha is the patron saint of housewives and domestic workers. Why? She is said to have shown Jesus hospitality at her home in Bethany near Jerusalem.
Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the 4th century, is the patron saint of beekeepers. Legend has it that when he was a baby, a swarm of bees settled on his face and fed him honey while he lay in his cradle — regarded as a sign that he would one day be a great orator. He is often depicted with symbols of wisdom: bees or a beehive.
A martyr killed in the 3rd century, Christopher’s most famous legend has it that he carried a child across a river — and the child later revealed himself as Christ. He is the patron saint of travelers: cab, bus and truck drivers often enough evoke his protection with visor clips, decals and small adhesive figurines.
Astronauts and pilots have their own patron saint as well: Joseph of Cupertino, a 17th-century Italian Franciscan priest prone to ecstatic visions and — legend has it — levitations. Flying was widely believed to be based on witchcraft, so the Inquisition took an interest in Joseph, who was later exonerated.
Sir Thomas More was a 16th-century English philosopher and statesman. He was also counselor to King Henry VIII, but opposed the King’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church and was thus convicted of treason and beheaded. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul declared him the “heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians.”
Born in the 2nd or 3rd century, Cecilia is thought to have been the daughter of a wealthy Roman family forced to marry the pagan Valerian. The martyr — condemned to suffocate, almost decapitated — is regarded as the patroness of music and singers because she heard heavenly music in her heart when she was married.
The Italian, born in the late 12th century to a prosperous merchant family, instead embraced a life of poverty. Legend has it had a great love and a knack for communicating with animals. He is the founder of the Franciscan order and the patron saint of ecologists, animals and veterinarians.
Along with Gambrinus, Florian, Bonifacius, Arnulf and Nicholas of Myra, Augustine of Hippo is only one of many patron saints of beer brewers. Augustine lived in the 4th century, and after initially living a wild and loose life, became a bishop. To this very day, many breweries and beers — people’s standard drink centuries ago — are named after a saint.
The patron saint of firefighters and chimney sweeps was a Roman officer in 3rd-century Austria, responsible for organizing firefighting brigades. Legend has it he was to be burned at the stake for refusing to pray to the Roman Gods but was drowned instead, a millstone around his neck, after threatening to climb to heaven on the flames.