The evening sun lights up the red tower of the St Jan’s church, giving the red stone an unearthly glow. A red of flames and fire. The street sign pointing toward the square says “Vagevuur”, Dutch for purgatory.
The music coming from the square on the other side of the church, tells that the summer food and drink festival in this historic town is in full swing. An orgy before entering the gates of heaven? What about purgatory? I am no Catholic, but I don’t hear much about this in-between state any more. Is the world secularized enough that no one believes in a period of atonement, a Bardo state of choosing which life to continue?
The crowd swings to the music, alcohol flows liberally. Young women straighten their short, skin tight, stretchy skirts as they expose their form. Young men strut in skinny jeans, fresh starched shirts, starched hair standing upright. What else is hair mousse than a sticky flour product? A group of business men in blue, fashionable, almost too tight blazers, hang at a bar table, at the ready. I let my eyes roam over them as they return the look. There was a time, just a few decades ago, when for me a party like this was the portal to finding a companion, a mate, at least for the evening. Purgatory then was the hung over feeling after the party, and if you were lucky you were with somebody who wanted to create heaven with you. For many tonight it will be the same. The world over, people, young and not so young, like to lose themselves in the flames of an enchanted crowd to forget their daily world, to enter an altered state. According to the research laughing while in a crowd, creates a greater sense of pleasure than when alone.
This church taught the fearful that you could get stuck in purgatory and never end up in heaven. If you wanted a way out, you had to pay your dues, literally. The party-goers on the church square pay hard earned coin to forget themselves for a few hours, a whole night.
I don’t believe that there is a purgatory in the here after. Bardo is now. I visit a summer party, and I let myself be immersed in a world of strangers, a world of mind and stomach altering products, foreign tongues, uncertain outcomes and new possibilities. For a brief moment, a click of the camera eye, the setting sun on a historic building shines a new light on this evening.