Friday, February 24, 2012

Hronsek, Slovakia

This beautiful church is located in the village of Hronsek, halfway between the cities of Zvolen and Banská Bystrica in the central region of Slovakia. The most unique feature in the building's design is the clear influence of Scandinavian architectural styles, making it the only church in the country to exhibit such characteristics.

As a protestant church built in the pro-Catholic Austro-Hungarian empire in the early 18th century, it had to be built according to very specific guidelines. In 1681 the Assembly of Sopron had declared that protestant churches had to be constructed according to these strict criteria:
1. The church had to be built in less than one year's time
2. The entire church had to be constructed only of wood, without a single iron nail
3. The church could not have a bell tower (to ensure Catholic churches were more prominent)
4. Entrances to the church could not be made directly from a street
5. The church must be built outside of town and village boundaries.

At this time the Habsburg authorities were doing everything they could to reduce the durability and permanence of Protestant churches, and local officials often tightened the Sopron regulations even further. Hronsek was chosen as the site of a church for the protestant congregations in the northern part of the city of Zvolen and in the surrounding villages. Since just two protestant churches could be built in each region, the churches had to be very large to accommodate many worshippers who would travel long distances to attend services.

Construction of the Hronsek church began in October 1725 on an island in the middle of the river Hron, and the project was completed the following autumn. The architect who created the design is unknown, hence there is much speculation about how the Norwegian and Swedish design elements came to be incorporated into the structure. The connection technique for joining the wooden beams and the arrangement of the interior columns are regarded as examples of this northern style influence.

The church was built to seat 1100 worshippers, both on ground floor pews and on four upper balconies. The seats are angled so that every person in attendance can see the altar clearly. Five different doors allow the building to be filled and emptied more quickly. The interior contains six altar pieces from 1771 which are changed according to the feasts of the ecclesiastical year. The ornate organ was built in 1764 by a local master tradesman from Banská Bystrica.

A 19th-century wooden chandelier hangs from the ceiling in the centre, and the main altar uses wood to recreate the look of marble stone. The interior is illuminated by 30 blown-glass windows in the shape of hexagons which provide plenty of natural light. The central dome of the ceiling has the appearance of the keel of an old sailing ship. The walls were built of red spruce and oak wood with beeswax coating added for durability, and the same wood has survived without replacement until modern times.

The church is also surrounded by huge Linden trees which were planted at the same as its construction. The separate bell tower which stands in front of the church was also constructed at the same time as the church in 1725-1726. The church was inscribed on UNSESCO's World Heritage List in 2008 along with seven other Slovak wooden churches.

The church is used for occasional services, concerts and weddings, but if you arrive and find that it is locked the key is available from the family who live in the house next door. The village of Hronsek is on the local train line between Zvolen and Banská Bystrica, and is also connected by bus with both cities.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hradec Králové, Czech Republic

This church is found among the trees in Jirásek park in the centre of the city of Hradec Králové, though it has only been located there for a short part of its eventful history. Originally constructed around 1510 in the small village of Habura in north-eastern Slovakia, the structure was first dedicated to Saint Michael the Archanagel as an Orthodox church. In the year 1740 it was dismantled and moved to the neighbouring village of Malá Poľana where it was rebuilt and dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Miracle-worker.
The village was predominantly Greek-Catholic, and the church served the local parish until the early 20th century. During the First World War the region surrounding Malá Poľana was heavily fought over and the church was severely damaged in the fighting. It was fully reconstructed by 1920, but by 1930 the church had been abandoned and was again in poor condition since it had been replaced by a new church in the village which was built of stone.
In 1934 the villagers were preparing to knock the church down and use its timber for other purposes, but an unexpected offer was made to save the structure. The Czech city of Hradec Králové offered to buy the church for 12000 Czechoslovak crowns, an enormous sum for the villagers at that time. During the summer of 1935 the church was again dismantled and packed onto railway cars for its journey to Hradec Králové. Following reconstruction and extensive renovations in its new location in Jirásek park, the church was inaugurated in the autumn of 1935 as a memorial to Czechoslovak soldiers who had died fighting in World War One. The temple has remained in the park ever since, and today it serves the local Orthodox parish with occasional masses still being held there.
The design of the church is in the typical Greek-Catholic Lemko style, with the tallest of the three onion-dome towers rising above the entrance area. The interior decorations have been carefully preserved, and the original iconostasis can still be seen. The church is also surrounded by a small wooden fence as it was in its former location in Malá Poľana.
Jirásek park is just a few hundred metres from the old town square in Hradec Králové, and the city is well-connected by fast train and bus links to Prague and all other cities of the Czech Republic.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nižný Komárnik, Slovakia

This beautiful church stands at the top of a tall hill overlooking the village of Nižný Komárnik, just a few kilometres from the Polish border in north-east Slovakia. Dedicated to the Protection of the Mother of God, the structure has a unique design among churches in Slovakia, since it is the only one in the country which is of the 'Boyko' style of design, more commonly seen further east in Ukrainian Galicia. The Boyko style typically has three domed towers with the highest tower placed in the centre above the nave, distinguishing it from the 'Lemko' style commonly seen in this region where the highest tower is placed above the entrance area.

Another unique aspect to this church is that its designer is well-known, the Ukrainian architect and explorer Vladimír Sičynský. All other wooden churches in Slovakia were constructed by local builders whose names have been lost to history due to the lack of official records. Sičynský oversaw the construction of the church in 1938, meaning the temple is much younger than most others in the surrounding region. The new church replaced an older baroque wooden church which was pulled down after the modern one was completed.

Another interesting feature of this temple is that it has two entrances, one on the south side leading into the sanctuary and one of the western side. The interior of the church is lit by high windows in both the sanctuary and the nave.

The iconostasis dates from the early 19th century, and it is thought that some of the icons come from the original iconostasis of the first wooden church in the village from the start of the 18th century. The iconostasis has an unusual three-row style since it was not designed for this church and had to be modified by placing the apostles and prophets higher up in the dome. To the north of the church is a large wooden bell tower with a domed roof. The bell tower was partially restored in 2003.

This is one of the most atmospheric churches in the region due to its magnificent hilltop setting above the village. Looking across the valley from the hill you can see a Russian Red Army World War Two aircraft, preserved as a monument to the intense battle for the Dukla pass which took place just north of here. The village is on the main road from Svidník to the Polish border, so buses run to the village quite frequently from Svidník. The key for the church is kept by the family who live in the house directly below the church at the beginning of the path that climbs the hill.