The Slovak Spectator

What happened to the wooden churches in Slovakia

Wooden churches have made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List. This one, from the village of Mikulášová, is now located in the Bardejovské Kúpele open-air museum. (Source: Donald Stoll)

Of more than 300 wooden churches, only 60 remain, mostly in eastern Slovakia. Check the complete list and an interactive map.

This article was prepared for an edition of the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide and was published in the travel guide Slovakia.

​Slovakia is so exotic – castles, Alpine vistas, manor houses, charming villages, rivers, gorges and caves – that happening upon the amazing architecture and intriguing stories of its approximately 60 surviving wooden churches can almost be dismissed as merely ordinary.

But the wooden churches of Slovakia are anything but ordinary, and some are more than 500 years old. Slovakia also has large wooden sculptures designed and crafted by unnamed artists, scattered around the rolling hillsides of the rural northeastern part of the country, begging the question, “How does find enough wood to do this on such a large scale?” Digging just a little into their backstory uncovers diabolical plots and amazing counterplots of the religious wars that plagued Europe from the Reformation onward.

A helping hand in the heart of Europe offers for you Slovakia travel guide.A helping hand in the heart of Europe offers for you Slovakia travel guide.

Roman Catholic wooden churches

Slovakia’s wooden churches fall into several groups, distinguishable by their architecture and purpose. The first is the Roman Catholic Gothic structures. Built as wooden versions of the stone structures of the same period (the 15th and 16th centuries), these churches provided their communities with a grand site for worship and celebration. The builders used wood because it was available and affordable and local craftsmen knew how to work with it. The buildings resemble the architecture of the stone Gothic churches in nearby urban centres but took a year or two to build (compared to the 10-100 years for a stone and masonry building) and cost a fraction of the fortune communities invested in their stone churches.

What is remarkable is that four examples of these 500-year-old structures are still standing. More details about them can be found in our travel guide Slovakia. The oldest (built in the 1490s), named for St Francis of Assisi, is in Hervartov, a small, out-of-the-way village near Bardejov. The building is one of eight wooden churches making up the UNESCO World Heritage site of Carpathian Wooden Churches. The church is quite tall with a stone floor and some remarkable wall paintings that were added in 1665.

A second, also from the 15th century, is in Tvrdošín in Orava. The community served by this church has continued to flourish, and the building has undergone alterations and improvements. The wooden carvings, the stunningly beautiful wall paintings and the ancient cemetery next to the building make this an attractive visitor site. The third, a much simpler building, was rescued from its original site in Zábrež and is now in Zuberec, Orava’s open-air museum. A church from Rudno was also moved and today stands in the Museum of the Slovak Village in Martin.

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