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Ancient wooden churches unite Slovakia and Ukraine. Poor material, rich and popular faith

Over 40 places of worship, dating back to the 18th and 19th century, are entirely made of wood. A cross-border project envisages their renovation and conservation. They carry historical and architectonic value, but “we should not forget the reason for which they were built: to praise the Lord and give prominence to the living faith of the local population”

There are more than forty wooden churches, most of which are Christian churches of the eastern rite, preserved with love and respect throughout Slovakia’s national territory. Most of the churches are located in the eastern part of the Country, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, each one of which is original and unique. They share a same precious feature relating to the material used for their construction. In fact they are entirely made of wood, including the nails used for their construction. Eight of these churches, located on the Slovak part of the Carpathian Mountain Area, are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Four churches, located in the small villages of Tročany, Fricka, Prikra and Vysny Komarnik, have been recently rebuilt under the Slovak-Ukrainian cross-border cooperation project. Eleven organizations are involved in the restoration process under the “Common heritage protection and preservation” project.

The work of man and the work of God. “We can view these churches from a historical or architectural perspective and admire them. But we should not forget the true reason for which they were built, that is to pray God and give prominence to the living faith of the local population. Many wooden churches are still used as places of worship”, said the promoters of the project from the Greek-Catholic archdiocese of Presov. One of the recently-restored churches, Saint Lucas church in Tročany, was built in 1739. Mons. Jan Babjak, Greek-Catholic archbishop of Presov, consecrated the church after recent restoration works, focusing his homily on the faith in God and His generosity, “conveyed to us also in the form of a blessing bestowed upon those who created great works of architecture, and upon those who gather there to pray.”

“Churches are places where we receive the gift of the faith, the gift of the faith in God that gives us the strength to do what is good. The most generous God anticipates our works with his mercy”, said Monsignor Babjak.

Human misery, faith in God. All the wooden churches are characterised by an internal division into three fundamental sections: the narthex, the nave and the sanctuary.

The iconostasis is a typical, fundamental feature of these churches

separating the sanctuary from the nave, and representing a symbolical link between the earthly and heavenly realms. “It consists in a wall of icons placed in a specific order, reflecting the liturgical canon”, said museologist Mikulas Jacecko. According to the official website of the NGO Petra, set up by the Greek-Catholic Church in Presov (www.drevenechramy.sk), the wooden churches “accurately reflect man’s fragility and misery, but they also reflect the unwavering, unfailing faith in God, often our only and ultimate hope in life.”

“A beautiful heritage passed down to us by our forefathers.” According to historians, the people inhabiting the villages on the Ukrainian-Slovakian border two-three centuries ago were extremely poor. Nonetheless they yearned to praise the Lord as much as possible. Wood was the only low-cost building material available at the time; the local population couldn’t have imagined that what they saw as a “defect” centuries ago was to become a unique, treasured characteristic today.

“We should be proud that these works of art were created and preserved by our forefathers.”

These “historical, cultural monuments deserve our protection and care, so that we may pass them on as a gift to the next generations, and as a beautiful heritage created by our fathers”, said Mikulas Jacecko. Along with the restoration project of the original wooden churches, another project has been ongoing for the past few years involving the creation of an open-air museum showcasing 1:10 scale miniatures of all timber churches in Slovakia. The museum is located in Lutina, the progress of the work can be followed by logging on www.miniskanzen.sk.

 

 

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