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Franz Bauer | profile | all galleries >> Travel >> Slovakia >> Wooden Churches in Slovakia tree view | thumbnails | slideshow | map

Cities in Slovakia | Landscape in Slovakia | Slovakia 1993 | Slovakia | Orava Valley - Wooden Architecture in Slovakia | Wooden Churches in Slovakia | Cicmany,Slovakia | Art Nouveau in Slovakia | Autumn in Slovakia | Ruins,Castles and Palaces in Slovakia | Bardejov - World Cultural Heritage in Slovakia | Modern Church Architecture in Slovakia | Vlkolinec,Mountain Village in Slovakia | Europe Place in Komarno,Slovakia | Along the High Tatra Mountains in Slovakia | Bratislava - Capital of Slovakia | Krásna Hôrka Castle destroyed in Fire,Slovakia | Panorama - Slovakia | On the Road in Slovakia

Wooden Churches in Slovakia

         Wooden churches have been built in Europe for hundreds of years. Although the main bulk of wooden churches are found in Slovakia, the Ukraine, and Poland, other wooden churches are also found in Russia as well. All of the wooden churches which are in Russia are still being used for a regular church worship service. Regardless of location, each of these churches represents the religious history of the region. Though they have served as religious centers of worship, today, some are used as museums ,(Hunkovce), and many are seen by tourists.

         The Ukraine is one of the few countries in Europe where the construction of wooden churches used a great deal of art. The development of wooden church construction in Ukraine, is documented back to the 10th century.The material used to build these churches gives a natural warmth to the appearance. The warmth combined with the size of the churches has to be inspirational for all who see them. Three famous examples of wooden churches in the Ukraine are the Church of St. George in Drohobych, the Krivska village church built in 1763, and the Matkiv village church 1846.

         In Poland, there are also beautiful wooden churches. Because they are all old, the trees around are also very old, and this makes the entire scene almost surreal. These scenes are tranquil examples of how architecture and the landscape blend. Most of the wooden churches are in southern Poland, (gallery will com soon) where there are over 270, and in Silesia, where there are over 130. "They are a silent, but graceful testimony to the faith of the local inhabitants, and also to their construction skills and eye for beauty."

         One ethnic group called Lemko live in mountain areas on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. The Lemko people have always been connected to the Eastern Orthodox or Uniate-Greek-Catholic-Church. The Lemkos built their churches out of wood up to the end of the 18th century. In his book Wooden Orthodox Church Architecture of the Lemko People in Poland, Slovakia and Carpathian Rus, Ryszard Brykowski says, "The charm of Lemko churches lies not only in the picturesque of their mass but results from the very substance of the wood material, from moss-grown timbering and shingles covering the roofs, cupolas, roofing, eaves and walls of the church. This picturesque is increased by the harmonious relationship with the landscape." He continues by describing how the "buildings merge with the surrounding landscape." The Lemko wooden churches are usually found in mountain valleys on the banks of rivers and creeks or on nearby hills. These churches are always surrounded by a circle of trees. Around the church were wooden fences. There was a wooden gate even if there was no fence. On the gates and church itself, there were many forms of wrought iron crosses, each with a particular form. In the Lemko regions of Poland, Slovakia and Carpathia, many of the wooden churches were painted on the outside. No particular pattern of color has been found. It seems that the colors were determined only by the person who was actually doing the painting. The purpose of painting these churches was probably to help protect and conserve the building. In other regions, the wooden churches were often smeared with oil or in modern times sprayed with chemicals.

         Many wooden churches are located in Slovakia where they first appeared in the sixteenth century. Tserkvas, which is a term given to wooden churches in Slovakia, became places of services as well as centers of cultural, social and economic life among the Slovakians.

         At some churches, monasteries were started and were eventually found in several places. All of these early churches were Catholic. Currently there are only three of the original sixteenth century churches left in Slovakia.

The oldest of these churches Hervatov which is located near Bardejov (1) Bardejov (2) on a slope in the center of the village near a creek. The Gothic church was built in about 1500 and together with 26 other timber churches in east Slovakia make a unique collection of sacred wooden objects. Hervartov is a Roman Catholic church of St. Francis of Assisi and was built around 1500.

         The interior is richly adorned with beautiful wall paintings. It is the only Roman Catholic wooden church in gothic style of architecture in Slovakia. The church is made of red spruce and the foundation beams are of oak. The roof is covered by wooden shingles. The interior of the church has been completely preserved; however the original wooden paintings were repainted during the 1600s. In 1968 the whole complex was proclaimed a national cultural memorial and during the next five years restored There are 5 timber churches, national cultural memorials, east of Bardejov on an area of less than 20 km in diameter. The other two original wooden churches in Slovakia are Tvrdosin and Orava. Most of the wooden churches left in Slovakia were built in the eighteenth century.

         The architecture of Slovakia’s wooden churches reflects the religious history of that country. The religious history of the region has undergone many changes throughout history. St. Cyril and St. Methodius brought the Orthodox religion to the region in the 800s. Reformation came to Slovakia in the sixteenth century, and the country became Protestant. In the next century Catholicism was brought back to the country. In 1681, a peace offering was made with the Protestant church which allowed them to have two churches in each fiefdom. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, thirty-eight wooden churches were built, but only five of those remain today. The most notable of these churches is Svaty Kriz which could hold up to six thousand people. The other notable church would be the smaller church in Kezmarok. Another one of these churches that stands out is in Hronsek which holds up to one thousand worshipers. The interesting thing about this church is that not a single nail was used for the construction of this church, and it is the only of the wooden churches that has pillars for its design.

         During the eighteenth century Orthodox people colonized Poland, the Ukraine and sub-Carpathian more and more over the years. In the Ukraine and sub-Carpathian regions, a large number of wooden churches were built. Each of these churches kept the heritage of its builders which was mainly Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian.

         During the nineteenth century the people of Slovakia, Ukraine, and Russia converted from the Orthodox faith to the Greek-Catholic faith, but The Orthodox faith remained the primary faith until after the First World War. Another revolution took place in 1989 when the faith was once again changed to Greek Catholic. The people of Slovakia remain Christian, some Catholic and some Orthodox.

         Wooden churches can be divided into two major groups, eastern and western churches. When western Slovakians built their churches, they were influenced by West European patterns and used more secular historical art styles. The churches were built similar to Gothic and Baroque churches of that day. A typical ground plan of West Slovakian wooden churches has one nave which is the biggest room in the church and is usually square shaped. The churches have two other log rooms which are usually on the side of the nave. The first room is rectangular and the second is usually polygonal in shape. A high tower with a beam frame construction is on the opposite side of the presbytery. Both of the log rooms, the tower, and small towers on the roof of the church are covered with a Gothic roof. The churches in a lot of cases have a wooden belfry.

         All of the wooden churches in Slovakia and Ukraine have wooden shingles and have some form of an onion dome on the roof. This symbolizes heaven in the Orthodox tradition.

         The tserkvas, or wooden churches, were seldom placed in the middle of the village as many cathedrals in Western Europe had been,most are placed on a slope or on a hill outside of the village. All wooden churches in East Slovakia have a log frame that allowed a wide area of ground plans and formal shapes of the buildings. Log rims and other constructional parts were joined with no nails. Builders tried to make corner joints, called locks, that resisted the elements of weather. The outside walls of most wooden churches were left natural; however, sometimes the whole building was protected against the weather with shingles or planking.

         One of the more interesting features of East Slovakian tserkvas is their three-part design that symbolized the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The design on the outside had three towers that were directed towards the west. The middle log room, the nave, is the biggest one and is square. The altar and the babinets, which are places designed for women, are on the western side and have a rectangular shape. The three-part three-tower design is one of the best characteristics of the Ukrainian architecture in their churches. These characteristics were also typical for masonry tserkvas from the Kievan-Russia period.

         Metal was also used in various decorative and functional components such as crosses, window bars, and window and door mountings. These crosses are still seen at the wooden churches, having withstood time as the churches have. Their graceful beauty adds to the sacredness of the peaceful landscape around the wooden churches.

         The interiors of the wooden tserkvas in Ruthenian-Ukrainian parts of East Slovakia were originally decorated with wall and ceiling paintings based on stories and topics from the Gospels. The painters who had painted the walls and ceilings of the wooden churches used simple means to teach the people about the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Using icons was a very important part of the wooden churches. It is an art and functional center of the buildings and is proof of its East Ukrainian origin. The icons, which are beautiful religious pictures on buildings, are sometimes on a wooden wall dividing the altar from the other part of the temple.

         All the wooden churches located in Slovakia and Ukraine were built according to the people’s beliefs and traditions in the faith that was predominate at the time of the construction of the church. Even though the main faith of the church has changed back and forth between Orthodox, Protestant and Greek Catholic, the meaning of the church has stayed the same. It was and is still a place of worship.

         It is amazing that these churches have survived over such a long period of time taking into consideration the many disasters such as wars, fires, and floods that occurred over the centuries. These incredibly strong and well built wooden churches still hopefully stand for hundreds of years to come as a monument to God built by His people.

Paper by:Doug Summers and Evan Gardner, Brandon High School 1999

Photos and links by Franz Bauer,Slovakia 1993 and Slovakia 2005

Slovakia,Jedlinka
Slovakia,Jedlinka
Slovakia,Korejovce
Slovakia,Korejovce
Nižný Komárnik
Nižný Komárnik
Miro`la
Miro`la
Miro`la
Miro`la
Wooden Church,Slovakia
Wooden Church,Slovakia
Nižny Komarnik
Nižny Komarnik
Prikra
Prikra
Prikra
Prikra
Bodružal
Bodružal
Hervatov
Hervatov
Bodružal
Bodružal
Hunkovce
Hunkovce
Jedlinka
Jedlinka
Ladomirova
Ladomirova
Hunkovce
Hunkovce
Ladomirova
Ladomirova
Slovakia,Hunkovce
Slovakia,Hunkovce
Ladomirova
Ladomirova
Jedlinka
Jedlinka
Korejovce
Korejovce
Nižny Komarnik
Nižny Komarnik
Hranicne
Hranicne
Hranicne
Hranicne
Javorina
Javorina
Orthodox church
Orthodox church
Hunkovce
Hunkovce
Jedlinka
Jedlinka
Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church
Hranicne
Hranicne
Javorina
Javorina
Javorina
Javorina
Museum Hunkovce
Museum Hunkovce