Greek-Catholic Wooden Churches

Twenty-eight wooden churches scattered across the eastern part of the Slovak Republic in the Carpathian Region are an irreplaceable national treasure, and have been declared a National Cultural Monument. Eight have also been added to UNESCO’s World Culture and Natural Heritage list. According to UNESCO, “They all represent good examples of a rich local tradition of religious architecture, marked by the meeting of Latin and Byzantine cultures." The churches also represent a significant and endangered cultural heritage for Slovak–Americans, many who are descended from individuals who immigrated from Slovakia in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The churches were built during the 16th and 17th centuries in small villages with materials that were available in the area and which were most familiar to the builders. Each church of log construction was unique to its master builder but incorporated the same basic design features consisting of three interior spaces and three towers, each with a cross. The roofs are of hand-made shingles. The altar in the sanctuary is separated from the nave with an iconostasis, a wall on which icons are placed. The churches were set in a natural landscape away from houses, and represented the dominant feature of the village.

Overtime, the churches and iconostasis were damaged by weather and micro organisms. Approximately 300 churches were originally built. Of the 28 remaining, seven were in dire need of reconstruction and preservation. The churches are owned by Slovakia’s Greek Catholic Church, which was unable to preserve the buildings without help.

Thanks to grants from the World Monument Fund (WMF) and Samuel H. Kress Foundation in New York, a preliminary survey was done in 2002 to document the status and condition of all 28 churches and to form a basis for future restoration. In 2003, a grant from the WMF/Kress Foundation funded a conference to develop a master plan for the repair and maintenance of the 28 in Slovakia and four churches in Poland.

Later, the church in Budruzal devoted to St. Nicolas, shown in the picture, was reconstructed. A large plaque on the inside wall of the entrance credits the donors of the restoration: U.S. Steel, s r.o., Kosice; First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association, Cleveland, Ohio; the State Cultural Fund Pro Slovakia as well as the Commission. Vincent Obsitnik, later U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic, directed the wooden church restoration project while he was a Member of the Commission.