Saturday, November 26, 2011

Broumov, Czech Republic

This church is found at the edge of the town of Broumov in Eastern Bohemia, just a few kilometres from the Polish border. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is the oldest wooden church still standing in the Czech Republic and one of the oldest wooden buildings in Bohemia. The settlement of Broumov was originally founded in 1171 and the first church was constructed on this site a few years later in 1177.
An invasion of the town by Hussite troops in 1421 caused severe damage to the church, and in 1449 it was struck by lightning and burned almost to the ground. The church was completely rebuilt in 1450-1451 in the form that we can see today. A windstorm damaged the tower of the church in 1550, which required extensive repairs. Further alterations to the tower and roof were made in 1811.
The church stands on a stone foundation and follows the plan of an elongated octagon in the Gothic style. Originally there were two entrances, one on the northern side and another on the western side. The roof is dominated by its slender tower which is one of the most striking features of the building's design.
The roofed porch gallery which surrounds the church was originally enclosed with wooden siding, but this was removed in 1779. Wooden planks attached to the walls of the gallery are covered with inscriptions which provide a chronicle of the town's history, recording the years of disasters such as fires, floods, invasions and the plague.
The wooden beams of the ceiling are decorated with stencil decorations of plant and animal themes. These decorations likely date from the time of the reconstruction in 1450, and they have a strong resemblance to those found in wooden churches across the border in Polish Silesia.
The main altar is designed in the rococo style and also features a late-Gothic statue of the Virgin Mary. In 2008 the church was declared a Czech national cultural monument.
The church is open daily for visitors in the summer months, but is kept locked for the rest of the year apart from occasional services and events. Broumov is at the end of a branch railway line with regular local trains running to Starkoč, a station on the main Trutnov - Prague line.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Topoľa, Slovakia

This church is found on a small hill in the village of Topoľa in the north-east corner of Slovakia at the edge of Poloniny National Park. The name of the village means 'Poplar tree' in the Slovak language, and the first record of the settlement dates from 1337. The church is thought to have been built around the year 1700 and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The structure has an enormous shingled roof which is disrupted only by a small tower above the entrance topped by a simple pyrimidal steeple.
The eaves are supported by horizontal wooden pillars which support the weight of the oversize roof. The interior of the church contains a well-restored baroque iconostatis from the first half of the 18th century, though not all of its original form has survived. Some of the icons were painted in the 17th century, though the most precious one has been moved to the icon museum in the nearby town of Svidník. The nave has a barrel vault structure and was originally decorated with many icon paintings on canvas.
In the 1960's and 1970's the church underwent renovations which removed the other two towers which originally formed part of the roofline. A small bell tower built in the early 20th century stands in front of the church at the edge of the hill.
Beside the church there is a small cemetery of wooden crosses which act as grave markers for 240 Austro-Hungarian soldiers from the First World War who were killed in action in the region. Regular Greek Catholic services are held in the church for the local congregation; Rusyn identity is strong in the village since it was the birthplace of Alexander Duchnovič, a priest who played a leading role in the 19th-century Rusyn national revival.
Several hiking trails start from Topoľa which continue into Poloniny National Park towards the Polish border, and one trail continues over the hill into the next valley to the west where the village of Ruský Potok contains another Greek Catholic wooden church. A section of forest land near the village is part of the UNESCO heritage listed Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians preserve which stretches across the border into Ukraine.
The keys to the church are kept by a couple who live in the house next door to the church on the northern side. They are friendly and helpful and eager to show the church to visitors for a small donation. No buses run directly to the village itself, but several buses per day travel from Snina to Nová Sedlica and stop at the turnoff for the local road to Topoľa two kilometres south of the village.

Hoszów, Poland

This formerly Greek Catholic church sits on a hill above the village of Hoszów in Bieszczady county in the south-eastern corner of Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border. Dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the current structure is of 20th century origin, though it includes some of the building materials used in an 18th century wooden church which originally stood on this site.
Construction started in 1939, and it was not yet completed when World War Two began. The structure was used by the Germans as an ammunition storage site, and a major explosion occurred which seriously damaged the building. Construction continued after the war, and the church was completed in 1948.
However, by 1951 the building had been abandoned due to pressure from the new Communist Polish government. For the next decade it was used as a barn for keeping sheep in, but in 1971 it was given to the Roman Catholic church who began renovating it.
In 1977 the decaying wooden shingles on the roofs and the dome were replaced with tin roofs since they would last longer and protect the rest of the structure.
The floor plan of the church is laid out in the shape of a Greek cross. Above the nave the large dome rises above a supporting octagonal base. Unfortunately the interior no longer contains any elements of the original Greek Catholic design and has been fully converted to a modern Roman Catholic style. Behind the church several grave stones from a 19th-century cemetery have been preserved.
The village of Hoszów can be reached by bus from the town of Ustrzyki Dolne (six kilometres away), which has regular bus connections to the north to cities such as Sanok and Rzeszów.

Lukov-Venécia, Slovakia

This unique church dedicated to Saint Kosmos and Saint Damian stands on the top of a hill at the edge of the village of Lukov-Venécia in north-eastern Slovakia, not far from the city of Bardejov. The village was a regional centre for glass production throughout the centuries, first mentioned in records in 1410. Construction of the church started in 1708 and finished the following year.
The structure features a tall bell tower placed above an entrance area with a porch on the front and sides set on vertical pillars. The tower contains several bells cast between 1755 and 1866. The central tent-roof covers the nave which has an unusually elongated shape for a Greek Catholic church. A large stone foundation allows the structure to sit level on the side of the hill, with enough space below that a cellar is included, making it the only wooden church with a cellar in Slovakia.
Most of the interior design is influenced by the baroque style. The iconostasis contains sections painted in different periods, with the upper part dating from 1736 and the lower part from the late 18th century. A number of the icons in the nave are older than this, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The key to the church is kept by the local priest who lives in a house on the opposite side of the village on the road into Lukov. On weekdays a few buses run to the village from the city of Bardejov, but hardly any on Saturdays or Sundays. It is possible to take one of the frequent buses travelling on the main road between Bardejov and Stará Ľubovňa and then get out in the village of Malcov, which is a two-kilometre walk from Lukov-Venécia.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Loučná Hora, Czech Republic

This beautiful Roman Catholic church stands in the centre of the tiny village of Loučná Hora in Eastern Bohemia. It is an unusual example of Late Baroque style built of timber, featuring elements more commonly seen only in stone buildings. Its perfectly symmetrical shape also borrows techniques generally used in the design of palaces and castles.
Construction of the present structure started in 1778 and was completed in 1782, though the church stands on the site of an older wooden church which is mentioned in records of the village.
At the time of its construction wood must have been chosen over stone as the building material for economic reasons, since other churches of this style are typically built of stone.
In front of the church stands a separate bell tower which was completely reconstructed in 1942 based on the plans of the original tower. Long ago the grassy area that surrounds the church was the village cemetery, though it has now been moved to an area at the edge of the village. In the church interior the central room serves as the nave, while the eastern end forms the chancel and the western end contains the choir.

The roof is covered with shingles and features mansard-style edging. The church was originally covered in plaster on both the exterior and interior, though this was later removed to reveal the beauty of the wooden beams beneath. The interior of the church is mostly empty nowadays and is used for occasional church services and other village functions.
The village of Loučná Hora is quite easy to reach by train, arriving at the station called Smidary which is less than one kilometre to the south-west. Smidary station is connected by local trains with the town of Chlumec Nad Cidlinou which is on the main rail line between Prague and the city of Hradec Králové.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Korejovce, Slovakia

This small church dedicated to the Protection of the Mother of God sits on a hill in the centre of the village of Korejovce in north-eastern Slovakia. It was originally built in 1764, though today only some parts of the structure and the interior are still original.
The church has a typical Greek-Catholic style of a tower and two tent roofs rising above a three-room floor plan. The tent roof over the nave and the gabled roof over the sanctuary are topped by shingled onion domes with wrought iron crosses. The highest cross is placed above the entrance door, which must face west according to tradition. The roof is covered with intricate hand-made wooden shingles. In the interior the 18th-century iconostasis is only partly original, but the remaining section has been beautifully restored.
In front of the church near the road is a separate wooden bell tower with a shingle roof. It contains three bells which were cast in 1769, 1771 and 1835, and the bells are decorated with images of the Holy Family, a cross and a pattern of oak leaves. Since 1968 the church has been a protected national cultural monument. The church and bell tower both underwent major repairs in 2002, and new wooden shingles and siding were added in 2008.
The keys to the church are kept by a family who live in a house across the road and a few doors down. They are willing to open the church to let visitors see the interior but they will expect you to leave a donation (about 2 Euros is enough).
Many local buses from the nearby town of Svidník stop in the village of Hunkovce on the main road to the Polish border, and from there it is a walk of about 2 kilometres north on a small sideroad to reach the church in Korejovce.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Potoky, Slovakia

The tiny village of Potoky, near the town of Svidník in the north-eastern part of Slovakia, contains a beautiful example of the Lemko-Rusyn style of architecture. The church, dedicated to Saint Paraskieva, was originally constructed in 1773. A large bell tower was built in front of the church at a later date, and it contains a bell cast in 1839.
The most unique feature of the church is the height of the three narrow steeples, since they are significantly taller than those found on most of the other wooden churches in this region. In keeping with Rusyn building customs, the tallest steeple and the front entrance face towards the west. Unfortunately the original interior of the church, including the wall paintings, icons and the iconostasis, have not survived to the present day. A modern replacement of the iconostasis was added during restoration work conducted in 2010, but the appearance is thoroughly modern and lacks the traditional appearance of Greek-Catholic church interiors.
The exterior wooden shingles and wall panels were also restored in the summer of 2010, with the finished wood being treated with a preserving coat of brown varnish. This remains a controversial point among conservationists who feel that the churches of the region should be restored and left in their traditionally intended form with untreated wood. The original plans for the church site included a low stone wall that surrounded the church and the bell tower, and this feature was also restored during the renovations of 2010.
An electronic device was added to the bell tower which automatically rings the bell twice daily without the need for human involvement. Potoky is off the main road between Svidník and Stropkov, making it rather difficult to reach by public transport directly. A few buses from Svidník head to the village daily, with fewer operating on Saturdays and Sundays. Many more buses follow the Svidník to Stropkov main road, and it is possible to take one of these buses and ask to be dropped off at the turnoff towards Potoky and then walk the remaining two kilometres in along the road to reach the church.
To see the interior of the church you will need to find the key keeper in the village. The family which has it lives in a house on the same side of the road as the church, three houses further along the road from the church when you are coming from the beginning of the village.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ruská Bystrá, Slovakia

This small Greek Catholic wooden church is found in the tiny village of Ruská Bystrá, located in a remote region of eastern Slovakia a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border. The church has been inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list, largely because of its extremely well-preserved iconostasis paintings and icons.
The Baroque iconostasis dates from the 18th century, while the Czar door at the centre of the panel is from the 17th century. The highly decorative door has small round paintings depicting scenes from the lives of four evangelists and an image of the annunciation. An unusual feature is that the side icons are placed on the walls because of the narrow space for the iconostasis panel.
The church is a three-roomed structure with a high sloped roof which is also unusual for this type of Greek Catholic design. The nave is divided from the entrance room by a wall of wooden beams which is decorated with carved columns. The key for the church is kept by the family who live in the house opposite the pub in the centre of the village. When visiting churches like these you should always leave a donation of a few Euros in front of the icons.
Ruská Bystrá is quite difficult to reach by public transport, but there are two or three buses per day from the town of Michalovce, which has frequent train and bus connections to Košice and the rest of the country.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Šemetkovce, Slovakia

This pretty little church is found on a small wooded hill above the village of Šemetkovce in the Svidník region of eastern Slovakia. It is a Greek-Catholic church named for St. Michael the Archangel, and dates from the year 1752. Like most wooden churches in the region, the structure was built without the use of metal nails using an ingenious woodcut pattern with wooden pegs inserted at the end of each log to hold the beams in place.
Another typical feature of Greek-Catholic churches which is found in the Šemetkovce church is the emphasis placed on the number three, symbolising the Holy Trinity. Three domes, three crosses, three rooms in the interior and three doors leading below the iconostasis are all typical features. The three domes rise in height from east to west, with the doorway facing west, also a typical feature of Greek-Catholic design. The iconostasis is of baroque style, designed in the late 18th century, while some of the icons date from the 17th century.
The church was badly damaged in World War Two, and extensive reconstruction work was undertaken in 1969 and 1970, and further renovations were necessary in 2001. Standing next to the church there is a tall wooden belfry with bells that are rung daily. The church and belfry were originally surrounded by a log fence, though today there is a more modern metal fence. The village of Šemetkovce is set in lovely hilly scenery and has a few old-fashioned folk cottages along its laneways.
The village can be reached by bus from Svidník just a few times a day from Monday to Friday, and there are no buses on Saturday or Sunday. Another option if you are without your own vehicle is to take the bus from Svidník to Ladomirová (be sure to stop and see the wooden church in that village as well) and then try to hitch-hike the last seven kilometres to Šemetkovce. That's how I did it when I visited, there were no problems getting a lift from some of the locals since the roads are small and everybody knows everybody else in this region. There are hiking trails which connect together many of the villages with wooden churches in the Svidník region, and it is possible to hike from Šemetkovce across to Kožuchovce village, close to Miroľa village with its wonderful wooden church.