More Churches

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Slovakia  , Zilina,
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Today was another day of wooden churches. My guidebook talked about wooden churches as something you saw only in the easternmost part of Slovakia. While it was true that the bulk of the remaining wooden churches were Greek Catholic churches in the east, there were a handful of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches made of wood in the central part of the country.

I felt like I'd gotten a good picture of the Greek Catholic churches, so I wanted to go looking for more of the other two types. I'd driven by most of them earlier in the trip, seeing only the impressive Articular church at Kežmarok because I happened to spend the night a couple of blocks from it. The only Roman Catholic church in the east was the one I'd seen at Hervartov on my way to Bardejov. This meant I'd have to to backtrack by a couple of hours, but I really wanted to see more of them, and I'd given up on the thought of going to Poland once I found out it required a new currency, so I had the time.

The first one I went to was in the Orava Village Open Air Museum (skanzen) near Zuberec. It wasn't at the top of my list, but it was on the way to one of the UNESCO-listed churches. The Zuberec church didn't have a lot of decoration, just a row of apostles around the walls and a single picture of the patron saint, St. Elizabeth, on the altar. I had to buy a ticket to the entire skanzen, of course, and I don't think I really got my money's worth. It was a really pretty setting, though. There was a large stream running through the fake village, which was on a hill surrounded by mostly-pine forests. If I were into skanzens, it probably would have been a good one to visit.

But, I was interested in wooden churches, so I continued on to the church in Tvrdošín. The Tvrdošín church was also Roman Catholic. It was setup as a museum, so there was someone waiting at the door to sell tickets. It was much better than the first church of the day. There was a large Baroque altar carved out of wood (of course). Unlike at Kežmarok, this altar was unpainted, merely stained, and the wood gave it an unusual texture.

The church was also decorated with paintings. The most memorable was the painting in the center of the altar. It was the Church of All-Saints, and it looked as if the artist had attempted to literally squeeze every single Roman Catholic saint onto the same canvas.

After the two Roman Catholic churches, my next targets were Protestant. The first church I came to, Istebné, was locked with no key-holder information, so I drove on to Leštiny. I arrived shortly after a Spanish family in a large camper. The father had called a cell phone number left on the door and, after I informed them I was not the key-holder but a fellow tourist, told me he thought it would be about a 15 minute wait.

I had an entertaining chat with them while we waited since pretty much the entire family spoke English. They were from Barcelona and visiting Slovakia on a two-week trip. I told them I'd been to Spain, but only to Madrid and points south. Apparently this was blasphemy, and I had to scramble to clarify that I personally wanted to go to Barcelona someday to see Gaudí's architecture among other things, but I was on a school trip when I went and didn't have a say in the matter.

I told them I didn't speak much Spanish and they jested that they didn't either, only Catalan. I suspect this was somewhat of a stock joke in Catalonia as my brother got the same response when he visited Barcelona. I could be wrong, but I expect most of them understood Spanish much better than I did. I should probably go to area on a later trip to investigate. In the future, though, I won't mention anything about Spanish to someone from Barcelona.

As time passed, I began to wonder if the phone call would actually work. The father said he didn't speak any Slovakian, and this was the first wooden church they'd been to in Slovakia. (They'd seen some in Romania, and recommended I go. I'm not sure if they wanted me to visit there or Barcelona first.) I waited patiently with them, and eventually we saw a village woman moving slowly towards the church.

It was nice having the family there. The woman looked pretty tired, but she perked-up as the children looked interested in the church. I was interested in it too. The stone Protestant churches I had been in were relatively plain, but the Leštiny church, like the one in Kežmarok, was colorfully painted. This one had paint on just about every surface, although much of it had faded. This may have been an attempt to show the Catholics they could make fancy churches too, even if they were only allowed to build them out of wood.

The key-holder attempted to give us a few explanations of items in the church. There was a copy of Da Vinci's Last Supper done in needlework. There were separate pews at the front of the church for children and a section for women. There was a crypt below the church with members of the family of one of the early church benefactors (at least I assume some money was exchanged, but maybe it was an early pastor). She was very proud of the fact that their current minister was a woman.

Saying goodbye to the Spaniards, or should I say Catalans, I set out for the most distant church of the day, about an hour to the south near Banská Bystrica. The church was actually in the village of Hronsek, but I started seeing prominent tourist-attraction signs for it on the southern edge of the larger city. With plenty of signs so far out, I was expecting the church would probably be another in the museum mold, and therefore no problem to get into. I was so wrong.

When I got to the church, all of the parking was full, and there were some well-dressed men standing around outside. At that point, I knew there was some sort of service going on at the church. At 3pm, it was too early for mass, and the church was Protestant anyway, so my guess was wedding or more likely funeral since it was a weekday. I went back to the main street to wait unobtrusively and try to decide what to do. I wasn't about to do anything rude, but it wasn't easy for me to give up since I'd driven so far to get to the church.

I apparently arrived at the tail-end of the ceremony because while I was sitting on a bench near my car wondering what to do, the church bells started ringing, and a dirge started playing on the village loud-speakers. I'd seen loud-speakers along the main road of just about every Slovakian town I'd been in, but wasn't sure what they were for. I imagined they may have originally been placed there to warn of a capitalist invasion, but apparently at least this town put them to other uses.

I waited while the procession left the church and turned down the main road, thankfully in the opposite direction from where I was so I didn't have any awkward moments. After they were out of view, I went towards the church and saw a few people still milling around in the yard. I knew there'd be no chance of a tour, and I didn't even want to take pictures of the outside while funeral attendees were still in the area, so I went back to my car and reluctantly left.

I think that's what I liked about visiting these wooden churches. I never knew what I was going to find or how things were going to work out. Usually it would be good, like talking with tourists from around the world while waiting, or seeing a particularlly elaborate interior on a church with a plain looking exterior. Occasionally it wouldn't work out, like a locked church with no key-holder info, or in the worst case a funeral, but it was a new adventure every time.

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