Wooden Churches in Eastern Slovakia

This is from a letter written in October 1998:

Eastern Slovakia is an area crossed in trade and fought over by Tartars, Lithuanians, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Russians and Slovaks.  It’s where cultures meet.  Kosice boasts the eastern-most gothic cathedral in Europe, and while it is VERY gothic, the clock tower has a very un-gothic gilded dome.  This region is a borderland, a krajina in Slavic languages.  We drove “along the borderland,” U krajina, the origin of the name Ukraine, which sits just a few kilometers to the east.

More than a dozen wooden churches, built between the fifteen and seventeen hundreds, punctuate the countryside, just outside villages.  We visited four of them.  They represent the four Christian faiths that co-exist here, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant (the reformation took root among German settlers.) and the Uniate church that follows the Orthodox liturgy, with services in Old Slavonic, but recognizes the Pope, a compromise worked out in 1684.  The ruling Poles insisted on the churches obeying Rome but didn’t want to cause trouble by forcing them to change their worship.

The churches are a mix of carpenter gothic and carpenter Byzantine, with tapered bell towers give them a strikingly modern look considering the earliest was built almost 500 years ago.  The oldest church, a Roman church in Hervartov from around 1500, has also served as a protestant church.  It is one of the few buildings carrying the name of St. Francis of  Assisi that I think he may have approved of.  It is simple and elegant, sitting under trees wearing fall yellows that grow along a brook surrounded by farm buildings washed in a blue pigment common to the region.  The planed log walls inside are covered with primitivist paintings of bible scenes.  We arrived at the end of a worship service attended exclusively by middle aged and elderly women.  A woman in purple, a lay reader, stayed to allow us to enjoy the building.


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