31 May 2013
An icon of the Virgin and Child hangs inside St. Michael the Archangel in Ladomirová. (photo: Andrej Bán)
With May drawing to a close, today marks the end of the month traditionally devoted to Mary. But devotion to the Mother of God isn’t confined to just one month. For many of the faithful, it goes on all year. In Slovakia, for example, we found the depiction of Mary shown above when we visited a village with a strong Greek Catholic presence and learned about historic churches:
On a cold and wet November day, a group of carpenters hammered away at the roof of St. Michael the Archangel Greek Catholic Church in the village of Ladomirová in northeastern Slovakia. Built in 1742, St. Michael’s stands out as perhaps Slovakia’s most beautiful and celebrated historic wooden church. Surveying the men’s work, the church’s pastor, Father Peter Jakub, explained that after 40 years, it was time to replace the worn hand-cut spruce shingles.
Only some 50 wooden churches, most dating back two centuries, survive in the modern central European republic of Slovakia; historians estimate more than 300 may have been built between the 16th and 18th centuries. Approximately 30 belong to the Slovak Greek Catholic Church. A handful have been closed and restored as museums, while the remaining churches are used by Evangelical Protestant or Latin (Roman) Catholic congregations. In recent decades, the Slovak government has designated 27 of these tserkvi (Slavonic for wooden churches) as national cultural monuments.
These wooden structures are inexorably fragile, vulnerable to decay and fire. But as architectural achievements constructed during a tumultuous and religiously volatile era, they now galvanize significant interest in and support for their restoration and preservation.
The lion’s share of Slovakia’s wooden churches clusters in the eastern region of Prešov, a mountainous and heavily forested area bordering Poland and Ukraine. Rusyn Greek Catholics — who inhabited tiny hamlets scattered throughout the Carpathian Mountains — constructed most of these churches.
For more on Slovakia’s Greek Catholic heritage, and the country’s remarkable churches, read Rooted in Wood from the May 2008 issue of ONE.
Tags: Cultural Identity Icons Greek Catholic Church Slovakia Slovak Catholic Church