Saturday, June 19, 2010

SLOVAKIA - The Wooden Churches


Map of wooden churches in Slovakia (Autor: Meichs)

Location of Greek Catholic churches

Unique wooden churches are found in Slovakia. Very specific was the way they were built - all parts had to be made of wood and no nails were allowed. According to historical records there were more than 300 wooden churches in Slovakia. Their architecture combined elements of the western, mainly Roman Catholic tradition and of the Byzantine culture. At present, there are around 50 sacred monuments which were built during the 16th - 18th century.

The oldest preserved Roman Catholic wooden churches are inspired by the Gothic style: Trnove (1500) in Zilina district, Tvrdosin (15th cent. ) and the church in Zábrezie (1647), which was transfered to the open-air Museum Orava Village in Zuberec, Orava Region. The only chapel included as a national cultural monument is that of Roman Catholic is Hervartov in the Bardejov district.

The newer Protestant prayer houses are also unique, incorporating a Greek-cross plan. They were built after Emperor Leopold I. had decreed the articles of faith in 1681. The church buildings had to be made of wood only. In Slovakia there are 5 such churches. They are located in Lestiny and Istebne (Orava Region), in Kezmarok (Spis Region), in Hronsek (Horehronie Region) and in Svaty Kriz - Paludza (Liptov Region).

The wooden churches in the Orthodox tradition - Greek Catholic (tserkvas, eastern Byzantine, Orthodox, Ruthenian, Ruthenian Ukrainian, Ukrainian and under.), which were built during the 17th - 19th century, form the largest group. An exception is the late 15th-century church in Trocany, Saris Region. In 1968, a group of 27 wooden churches in Saris and Horny Zemplin were declared national culture monuments. It is worth a special mention, that in most of these churches still conduct services today.

These small wooden churches all maintain a dominant position relative to the village houses. They are usually situated on higher sites, sometimes rather difficult to access, exocentric to the other buildings in the village. Small cemeteries with simple wooden, sandstone and cast-iron crosses are also included. The entire complex is enclosed by a log or stone fence with a shingled gate. In some cases a wooden bell-tower compliments the architectural complex.
The small wooden churches of Eastern Slovakia have the basic construction of a blockhouse. The construction is unique from the point of view of the ground plan design and of the formal shape of the object. This explains why they are interesting polygonal constructions in the region, rather than other than rectangular blockhouses. Originally no metal nails were used to join the logs and other parts of the building.
A characteristic feature of the small wooden church is their three rooms that symbolize the Holy Trinity. The three-room is intensified with three towers that are gradually higher towards the west.
The shingles were an exclusive building material for the roofs of religious buildings. Various geometric ornaments of carpenters or artists of wood-cut may be found on the roof and other architectural details. The decoration resulted from the installation and tapering of the shingles and lathwork. In some cases metal was used as a special decorative or functional element (railing, window and door mounting).
Iron crosses are especially interesting; they represent artistic skills of village blacksmiths.
The most expressive and common component of wooden churches is the wall of icons /iconostas - (from Greek “eikon” - picture, “stasis” – building ; i.e., a wooden wall with pictures separating the altar from the main body of the church)/ that is the creative and functional core of the sacral object. A strict ordering of icons, their predetermined number and composition of topics is characteristic. In the artistic synthesis it combines architecture, fine arts and decorative woodcarving. An exhibition of valuable icons from the 16th - 18th century is displayed in the Dezider Milly Gallery in Svidnik.

The Roman-Catholic Church of St.Francis in the Slovak village of German origin (Heerwarte) has a two-part ground plan, a high tower and other features both in exterior and interior that distinguish it remarkably from Ruthenian-Ukrainian wooden churches and give it the pure Gothic character.
This wooden church is from the 15th century and represents the oldest type of wooden church in Slovakia. It is made from red spruce. The building consists of a polygonal sanctuary, nave, vestry and undertower, which was renovated to include an entry hall. The interior underwent more changes in its decoration, especially during the Reformation, when precious Reformation relics were added, e.g., wall paintings from 1665. In the 18th century some baroque decoration and late baroque painting of J.Mirejovsky from 1803 were added. The main altar, The Virgin Mary altar, St.Catherine of Alaxandria and St.Barbara altar from 1460-1470 were restored to its original form between 1985 and 1990.

The Tserkva of Luke the Evangelist built in 1826. Because of outside planking the three-part spatial temple raises an impression of a one-part building with the oval-shaped polygonal part of its altar room.
The iconostasis is from 18th century and it is filled out with several older icons from 17th century.

The Tserkva of Saint Kosma and Damian is from 1708 - 1709. The three-part log building is set on a high stone base wall flattening the slope especially in the east. The three towers are atypically compounded into the roof because of the remarkably prolonged nave. An architectural specialty is the roofed space extended around the building and set on vertical pillars. This church as the only of its kind in Slovakia has basement.
The interior decoration is mostly.influenced by baroque. The prevailing part of the iconostasis is from 18th century. Last Judgement and several other icons are from 17th century.

The Tserkva of Archangel Michael was built in 18th century. The log building consists of three sections which are indicated on the exterior by a metal cross under the altar part, a small tower under the nave and a dominating tower under the women’s part. A part of the iconostasis is from 1830, some of paintings date from the end of 19th century. The Pokrova icon is from the end of 19th century. The altar dates back to 1716.
Construction repairs were made in 1933 and 1971. The interior was painted in 1933 by Presov painter J.Wagner.

The Tserkva of Saint Luke from 15th - beginning of 16th century. It is the oldest example of three-part wooden Tserkva of the eastern ritual. It is located in the middle of the village among dwellings and buildings. The three-part log building made of yew consists of an altar part, a nave and under tower space. The shingle roof covering the nave is of the pyramidal shape with a conical end reminding of small roofs of earlier dwelling buildings' chimneys.
The iconostasis is from 17th century. Some icons are younger. Alas, the unique collection of ancient woodcuts that were a part of temple's interior was not saved.

The Tserkva of Lord's Meeting with Simeon built in the 2nd half of the 18th century. The three-part building consists of the altar room, the nave and the women part. Because of the outside planking the church evokes an impression of two-part building but three-part design is emphasized by the three towers harmoniously compounded into the exuberantly articulated shingle roof.
The interior is interesting with remains of precious wall paintings with scenes from the Old and New Testaments from years 1793-1797 as well as with hand-made wrought window bars of the Gothic style. The iconostasis is from the beginning of 18th century. A specificity of the iconostasis is that it has got only twoo doors (czaristic one - in the middle and diaconal one - on the north side). The most precious icon is Last Judgment from the end of 18th century (canvas). Visitors are also attracted by a decorative chandelier, wooden cup, candlesticks and other sacral things.

The Tserkva of the Mother of Got was built in 1763. It is a typical so called "Lemko" version of Ruthenian-Ukrainian three-part and three-tower wooden churches. The log building exterior is protected by planking.
The interior decoration dates back to the 2nd half of 18th century. Some icons (St. Michael, Christ the Pantokrator) are from 17th century. Rococo iconostas and Birth of the Virgin Mary altar are from 1780. The interior is completed with precious baroque candlesticks, a cup from the first half of 18th century and liturgical books from 17th century printed in Cyrillic alphabet in Lwow and other Ukrainian towns.

The Tserkva dated to 1919 is new National cultural monument.

UNESCO World Heritage Site :


Date of inscription : 2008

The Wooden Churches of the Slovak part of Carpathian Mountain Area inscribed on the World Heritage List consist of two Roman Catholic, three Protestant and three Greek Orthodox churches built between the 16th and 18th centuries. The property presents good examples of a rich local tradition of religious architecture, marked by the meeting of Latin and Byzantine cultures. The edifices exhibit some typological variations in their floor plans, interior spaces and external appearance due to their respective religious practices. They bear testimony to the development of major architectural and artistic trends during the period of construction and to their interpretation and adaptation to a specific geographical and cultural context. Interiors are decorated with paintings on the walls and ceilings and other works of art that enrich the cultural significance of the properties.


Postcard sent by Antonia, as "matadorka"
Private swap - Reference SK003

The Wooden Churches in Slovakia


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