The Wooden Churches of the Slovak Part of the Carpathian Mountain Area UNESCO World Heritage Site was entered in the List of World Heritage in 2008 as the cultural heritage pursuing the criteria (iii) and (iv) for granting the status of a unique and universal asset.
Based on criterion (iii) these wooden churches are singular examples of the synthesis of two great cultures – Eastern and Western, Byzantine and Latin – not mentioning their number of regional or local specific features. According to criterion (iv), the series of wooden churches is an extraordinary example of architectural and technological works of the European wooden sacral architecture, which illustrates an important historical period. The group of these eight churches was built in the 16th to 18th century. The basic construction material was wood. Wooden churches, apart form several common characteristics, exist in several typological variations in accordance with their confessional appurtenance. They constitute a testimony of the development in art and architecture at the time of their origin, adapted to the geographical and cultural context. The Evangelical churches serve as an example of tolerance in the upper portion of the Kingdom of Hungary in the period of counter-Habsburg resistance in the 17th century.
Wooden churches exist in many countries where the natural conditions favoured their construction, including abundance of wood as an accessible material. Their originality, technical and artistic execution and social significance make them cultural gems. They are log structures built with a traditional workmanlike finish. The occurrence of these structures is geographically linked with the Carpathian Arch. In spite of the fact that in different regions the wooden churches acquired different and specific features connected with the particular ethnicity and confession of their creators and users, these structures represent a single building culture of Slavs. Their occurrence is determined by the historic, cultural, social and natural conditions in which the population lived.
Of the former number of about 300 wooden sacral buildings, only 50 now survive due to natural disasters, confessional or socio-political changes or conflicts.
After a long and thorough process of estimation, the following eight wooden churches were chosen which meet the strict criteria of World Heritage:
The Roman-Catholic Churches in Hervartov and Tvrdošín are buildings in the Gothic or Gothicised styles. The Church of Tvrdošín stands in the north of Slovakia in the region of Orava and that of Horvartov is situated in the east of Slovakia not far from the city of Bardejov. They are single-nave churches and consist of two log structures. The first of them is rectangular in shape and the second is the presbytery. On the opposite side of the presbytery is a tall tower. The two log structures are covered by a steep Gothic roof. The walls and interior of the churches are decorated by wall paintings.
The Evangelical Churches in Kežmarok, Hronsek and Leštiny are wooden so-called ‘Articled’ churches. Kežmarok is in the east of Slovakia, Leštiny in the north and Hronsek in the central region. Along with the church of Hronsek, a wooden belfry standing independently opposite the church was entered in the World Heritage List. These churches date from the period after 1681, when Emperor Leopold I confirmed religious freedom for Protestants at the Diet of Sopron, enacted by the Viennese Peace in 1606, and they were simultaneously allowed to build two churches in those counties where they were formerly confiscated. Built in accordance with Articles 25 and 26 of the Imperial Decree, these churches were referred to as ‘Articled’. The regulation was that they had to be built of wood without use of any metal elements, on a low underpinning, without a tower and within an established deadline. The interior of the churches contained separated galleries for singers and an organ.
The group of Eastern Slovakian Greek-Catholic wooden churches are represented by those in Bodružal, Ladomirová and Ruská Bystrá. They date from the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries. The fact that they are divided into three spaces makes them original and typical. They are based on the symbols of the Holy Trinity. Each building consists of an altar room, a main nave and so-called babinets (space for women). Its form is precisely elaborated and stabilised, it is centrally arranged and the typical decoration is lavish. The most important and indispensable part of such buildings is the iconostas, the artistic and functional core of the sacral structure, which comprises a wooden panel separating the altar from the rest of the church, normally a tall and lavishly carved structure consisting of icons and stretching from the floor up to the dome. It generally follows an established pattern with a door connecting the nave with the altar room. The churches in Ladomirová and in Bodružal have three towers while that at Ruská Bystrá has only two.
Slovakia’s wooden sacral architecture represents the symbiosis of Christianity and folk architecture strung together with the professional skill of its creators and the basic cultural and aesthetic postulates. It is an example of the synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures, immortal for its fragile beauty and sensitive location in a natural setting.