Oct 17

St. Jacob’s Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Iacob)

St. Jacob’s Cathedral is a beautiful cathedral which combines elements pertaining to the Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. This edifice, which is located in Riga, is among the oldest of its kind but among the most wonderfully crafted. The detailing of both the exterior and the interior reflect the architectural evolution of the cathedral as several stylistic designs are incorporated within its structure.

The Gothic tower comprises 3 stained glass windows which depict an amalgam of leaf and berry motifs beautifully painted in the Art Nouveau style, a representation meant to symbolize the Eucharist.

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The church, which is dedicated to St. James the Great, dates from the 13th century, having been mentioned for the first time in official documents in 1225. Throughout time, the original edifice was improved. In the 15th century, the Gothic church was remodeled in the sense that a fragment of the edifice was turned into a basilica. More so, in the same period of time, the Holy Cross Chapel was constructed in close vicinity of the church.

Even the scope of the church shifted according to the religious wave that swept over Latvia at particular times. For instance, in the 16th century, when the Protestant Reformation was under way, the cathedral was transformed into a German language Lutheran church. In 1523, it was turned into a Latvian language Lutheran church.

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In the later part of the 16th century, the church underwent a change of hands as it was offered to the Jesuits when the Counter Reformation took shape. However, it was returned to the Lutherans after Gustav II Adolf gained control over Riga. There was a time when the edifice served completely different purposes than the ones it was designed for. In the early 19th century (1812), Napoleon’s army used the building for storage.

In the 20th century, the cathedral returned to the Catholics and has remained under their administration till the present day.

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It is believed that St. Jacob’s Cathedral has been around since the early development of Riga. Bishop Albert, the founder of the city, is thought to have ordered for the cathedral to be erected together with two other churches: the Virgin Mary’s Assumption Church and St. Peter’s Church.

Even if the church is recorded in the annals of Riga from the early 13th century, the construction work extended over a lengthy period, the edifice having been completed in the 1300s. But work on the church was carried on until the later decades of the 15th century.

http://latvianhistory.wordpress.com

St. Jacob’s Cathedral consists of red bricks placed on a limestone fundament. While throughout the passage of time the church underwent several modifications, the original structure has been kept.

The last adjustments conveyed to the edifice were done at the end of the 18th century when a supplementary roof was built in the shape of a pyramid and the tower was plated in cooper.

At present, the cathedral comprises a central hall with a specially arranged space for the choir, the basement and a prayer room which is made up of 2 presbyteries and the altar room. St. Jacobs’s church is an architectural monument, having been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Oct 01

Esztergom Basilica (Basilica Esztergom)

Esztergom Basilica is the tallest construction in Hungary and one of the tallest in the world for that matter. In fact, the edifice positions itself on the 18th place among the tallest constructions in the world. The actual name of the basilica is the Primatial Basilica of the Blassed Virgin Mary Assumed into Heaven and St. Adalbert. With such a lengthy name it is really no surprise that the building is known as the Esztergom Basilica, after the city in which it is found.

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The dimensions of the basilica are definitely impressive: it expands over a surface of 5.600 square meters, with a length of 118 m and a width of 49 m. The dome dominates the central part of the edifice. It comprises 12 windows in its structure and measures 33.5 m in diameter.

One of the main attractions of the basilica is the altarpiece which represents the largest painting in the entire world to have been painted on a single piece of canvas. The master behind this specific work of art was Michelangelo Grigoletti.

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But the entire basilica can be regarded as a work of art due to the beautiful paintings that adorn it. The edifice had been constructed out of red marble by Italian craftsmen and has been decorated by means of canvases which depict Tuscan Renaissance motifs. The value of these representations is enhanced by the fact that so few other examples of Renaissance art of equal importance can be found on Hungarian soil.

Tourists who visit the basilica might be drawn aback by the crypt located within the edifice. This is a colossal tomb built in the 1831 in the Old Egyptian style. The crypt holds the earthly remains of the late archbishops of the basilica.

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The location where the basilica was erected was previously chosen for the construction of several other houses of worship. The initial church was erected in 2nd century by the order of king Stephan I of Hungary and it was actually the first cathedral to have been constructed in Hungary. However, the fate of this edifice was troublesome in the sense that it was prone to several damaging effects in a tumultuous historical timeframe. Initially, the cathedral was burnt down at the turn of the 12th century, only to be rebuilt in the years to come. But the following historical events that occur, such as the Mongol invasion or the bombing of the church due to political reasons, had further devastating impacts on the construction. These “attacks” led to a new series of repairs. With the refurbishing of the edifice came a more elaborated decorative work. But the cathedral was left in ruin once more when the Turks came to power in mid-16th century.

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Only in the 19th century, was the cathedral brought back to life. The chapel which existed previously was disassembled in more than a thousand pieces which were carefully relocated a couple of meters away were they were incorporated into the new basilica that was slowly beginning to take form as the architect Pál Kühnel intended it (the architect hired to design the basilica).

One of the focal points in the basilica is the largest organ which can be found in Hungary. It is true that the organ is not completed, mainly because the administration of the basilica lacks the funds to carry on the work. Within the structure of the organ, one will discover the largest organ pipe in the entire country – it measures 10 meters. The project is quite the undertaking but the results are bound to leave everyone overwhelmed by its grandeur. It is said that when finished, the musical instrument will be the third largest organ to be found on the European continent.

Aug 02

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Petru si Pavel)

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is located in Sankt Petersburg and it is the oldest and tallest cathedral in the city. In fact it is the second highest edifice in St. Petersburg, if you are to take into account the television tower.

But what makes the cathedral an important tourist attraction are the historical events it had been a witness to, some of which are tightly connected to the House of Romanov, the second and last dynasty to rule over Imperial Russia. Furthermore, the cathedral is the resting place of almost all the Russian rulers since Peter the Great.

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The construction work

The cathedral goes back since the period in which Sankt Petersburg was founded. Initially, the house of worship was a wooden construction, erected one month after the city was established. In 1712, the Italian-born architect Domenico Trezzi designed a plan for the cathedral in which stone was used as the primarily material. The construction work was initiated soon afterwards, but the final result was not to be seen for 20 years. The cathedral was sanctified on the 29th of June, 1733.

The architectural design definitely contrasts the traditional style used in constructing Orthodox churches as it is a reflection of the Early Baroque. The architect drew inspiration from the protestant churches located in the western part of the continent and thus came up with the quadrilateral structure, the specific shape of the belfry and the needle-like tower which seems to pierce the sky.

http://en.wikipedia.org

 

Architectural design

The walls of the cathedral consist of ornamental columns, while the windows are artistically adorned with angel heads. In constructing the bell tower, the architect used the multi-layers technique and added the gilded needle atop the construction. This one-of-a-kind development, the needle, was created by Dutchman German von Bolis, who added a further detail on top: a flying angel that holds a cross in its hand. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the representation. The needle is reflexive of the transcending experience one undergoes while embracing religion. The needle pointing upward is a symbol of this uplifting experience.

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A new detail was added to the bell tower in 1720, but this had no religious meaning attached to it. The clock we can see today was purchased from Holland for the price of 45.000 rubles, which was quite a large amount of money for that particular time.

The interior of the cathedral is a true work of art. The iconostasis is really impressive, and how else could it be taking into account that more than 40 architects from Moscow used their artistic creativity to create this unique piece. The first part of the 18th century brought about further improvements. The interior walls were covered with paintings which illustrated different biblical scenes.

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But the past of the cathedral is sprinkled with tragic events. The bell-tower is considered impressive, especially due to the needle which finishes it, but because of this tall structural design, the tower was subjected to the devastating effects of bad weather conditions, more precisely, of lighting. The tower burned to the ground in 1756. But while everything else was turned to ashes, the iconostasis managed to survive the terrible fire, having been removed from the cathedral in due time. The reconstruction work was not initiated until 1766, when Catherine the Great gave order for the edifice to be recreated in the exact same manner. But it took another ten years until the finished tower was revealed to the public.

The bell tower is definitely the main attraction of the cathedral and it is no wonder since it is an architectural emblem. The tower is part of the imperial catacombs – these are located on the ground floor, and it also consists of a platform upon which visitors can ascend and admire the view. These are organized on an hourly basis, beginning at 12:00 and ending at 18:00.

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There is a story concerning the edifice that might catch your attention. In 1997, when the angel atop the needle was being cleaned, the renovators encountered a message in a bottle which had been written back in 1953. The persons in charge of the renovation work from the ‘50s were apologetic for having performed a hasty and a bit of a sloppy work. The explanation is that the Soviet prime minister at that time, Nikita Khrushchev gave order for the angel to the restored quickly so that it would be ready for the city’s 250th anniversary. Allegedly, the renovators from ’97 had continued the tradition, leaving a note for the generations to come. However, the text was not made public.

Aug 01

The Mariazell Basilica (Bazilica Fecioarei Maria)

The Mariazell Basilica, which translates as the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, is located in Mariazell, Austria. The Marian basilica is one of the most is one of the most important temples located in Europe and this is easily determined due to the impressive number of tourists that come from all over the world to visit the Basilica. More so, there are pilgrimages organized, mainly because it is considered that a specific icon located inside the basilica is miraculous.

The initial church which stood on the site where the basilica is situated at present was erected in the 14th century in the Gothic architectural style. However, the edifice was badly damaged by fire in the 15th century and when the renovation work began, the architect in charge of the project, Domenico Sciassia, had a different vision for the construction.

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The basilica was expended and Baroque details were inscribed on the edifice. The modifications which were conducted on the edifice consisted of erecting two baroque towers on each side of the gothic pinnacle located on the church. Another adjustment was conducted to the nave which was enlarged, both lengthwise and widthwise.

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The interior is of immense beauty, consisting of 12 lateral chapels, each comprising a Baroque altar. At the entrance, one can notice two full-sized statuettes made out of lead. These were masterfully created in 1757 by the hands of Balthasar Ferdinand Moll, one of the most famous sculptors in Vienna, during the Baroque age.  The statues represent King Ludwig I of Hungary (the left one) and Heinrich, Margrave of Moravia, a noblemen from the medieval times, on the right.

One of the main attractions in the basilica is a statuette made of brasswood which depicts the Virgin Mary. This wooden icon is said to be miraculous in as much that tourists from different parts of the globe, as well as religious and/or spiritual individuals make their way towards Austria and to the Marian basilica.

http://www.steiermark.com

 

Pilgrims used to come to the basilica as early as the 12th century, but the tradition ceased in the 18th century, more accurately in 1783, when Emperor Joseph II of Austria dissolved the monastery. By 1787, he had completely forbidden pilgrims from setting foot in the basilica.

But when this limitation was lifted, pilgrims returned to this sanctuary. At present, it is estimated that close to 1 million pilgrims come to the Marian basilica on an annual basis.

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The basilica is opened for visitation, but there is a timeframe in which access inside the house of worship is granted:

1st of November – 30th of April: 07:30 – 19:15;

1st of May – 31st of October: 06:00 – 20:00.

These hourly intervals are only meant as a guideline, as there is the possibility for some modifications to be made to the schedule at one moment or another. However, the good part is that the Mariazell Basilica is opened throughout the year and that access within is granted daily.

May 31

Rozhen Monastery (Manastirea Rozhen)

Bulgaria is the home of no less than 120 monasteries which have survived the passage of time and which stand today before whomever decides to take the time and admire them as symbols of the cultural, architectural and historical past of the Bulgarian population.

Rozhen Monastery is one of the oldest and biggest monasteries in this state. The actual date when the edifice was constructed is shrouded in the unknown, but there are official documents which attest the existence of the monastery in the 13th century. Whether or not the construction date is further into the past, we cannot tell, but even so, Rozhen Monastery can be traced back to this century and this alone is a statement of the monastery’s ‘age.’

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This sanctuary is located at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, at a 1 km distance from Rozhen. The site where the edifice was erected is breathtaking, as the monastery is encompassed by marble cliffs and dense forests.

Construction

The document in which the monastery was first mentioned was a Greek manuscript written at a time when the region was ruled by the Despot Slav. This led historians to believe that it was in fact this ruler who constructed the edifice somewhere in the 12th or the 13th century. Another manuscript, in the 1551, makes reference to the monastery, this time the author was one of the abbots of the sanctuary, abbot Cosma.

http://bulgarianmonastery.info

 

Even though it has been mentioned that the edifice was preserved in time, it does not mean that the monastery we can gaze upon today is the original one built in the 13th century. In fact, Rozhen Monastery had suffered considerable damages due to a fire that took hold of the monastic complex, but also due to the pillages it was subjected to. The present-day monastery is actually the result of the restoration work conducted in the 16th century. The main church, the dining room and some of the dwelling rooms are preserved from that time.

Another restoration work took place in the first decades of the 18th century, but the main church was not restored until 1732. Probably the most relevant period in the history of the monastery was the 19th century because, by this time, Rozhen had become a true spiritual center, not to mention that it was quite well off, as many of the surrounding lands were the property of the monastery.

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Structure

The monastery has an irregular form consisting of 6 angles. The complex is formed of residential buildings (towards the exterior), the main church (right in the middle), the dining room, and a beautiful garden.

The interior decoration, mainly the paintings in the nave, narthex and chapel, was done in 1732. The method used in the representations is quite obvious – that of narration, through the impressive number of paintings which adorn the walls of the church (more than 150).

The monastery is well-renowned due to its beautiful frescoes, iconostases and murals (most of which date from the 18th century). But the church has also seen some impressive fresco works in the 16th century, when the narthex was adorned with illustrations representing  various scenes from the life of Christ after the Resurrection.  The 17th century also witnessed valuable paintings. The southern wall was painted to the exterior in this period (1611), as well as the catacomb of John the Baptist, where scenes from its lifetime are depicted.

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Tourists can admire the beautiful woodcarving of the iconostasis found in the altar, mural paintings and the impressive icons which adorn the church, all bearing important artistic value.

To the north-west of the church, one can find the St. Cosma and Damian Chapel, heavy on decorative elements, among which the paintings on the walls stand out.

At present, Rozhen Monastery is opened for visitation all year round. While one cannot find accommodation within the monastic complex, this is available a half kilometer down the road.

May 11

Rila Monastery (Manastirea Rila)

Rila Monastery is situated in Bulgaria and it is considered the spiritual center of the country and one of the most important places for pilgrimages in the entire Balkan Europe, together with the Athos Mountain and Meteora (in Greece).

The founder of the monastery is St. Ivan of Rila (Ivan Rilski, in Bulgarian) who has constructed the edifice back in the 10th century at 1147 m altitude. Due to its impressive architecture, the monastery has become part of the UNESCO patrimony. The monastery is considered one of most beautiful and famous Orthodox monasteries located on the Bulgarian territory and as such it is an important tourist attraction well renowned in all of Eastern Europe.

http://www.sacredland.org

 

The monastery has witnessed an increased number of historical events throughout time and some of them have left deep scars on the edifice. Rila Monastery had been demolished and burnt to the ground by the Turks but it had managed to rise from its own ashes. In fact, in 1999, the image of the monastery was imprinted on the 1 Lev bill, the Bulgarian national currency.

The monastery is situated in close proximity of the mountainous resort Bansko, at a 120 km distance from the Bulgarian capital city, Sofia. Usually, for the orthodox believers the monastery is the final stop of their religious pilgrimage, but for tourists, the monastery is yet another stop in their journey towards a calm and peaceful setting.

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The landscapes and the alpine lakes which are accessible to people on their road to the house of worship are breathtaking. After experiencing nature first-handedly, the monastery comes as a serene retreat. Tourists can find accommodation at the monastery and the monks who are permanently dwelling here will do everything in their powers so as to make sure that your stay is perfect. You will also indulge yourself with exquisite dishes prepared in the kitchen of the monastery by the monks themselves.

At present, there are about 20 monks living inside the monastery. While everyone is received with open arms, you have to keep in mind that this is a religious dwelling nonetheless so your attire should be decent.

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The monastery stretches over 8800 sq. meters. Upon a first gaze, you might be reluctant to step inside the monastery because the exterior of the edifice is not at all attractive. It resembles more of a citadel which has seen up close the destructive face of warfare. But if you get past this first impression and you venture inside the walls of the monastery, you will be pleasantly surprised. Some of the things that will strike you immediately are the beautiful arches, towers, staircases and balconies.

The artistically painted walls are truly priceless, conveying the monastery with an immense value. The vividly highlighted paintings tell a multitude of stories, some related to the lives of the saints, some retracing the history of Constantinople, while others reflect the all too well-known battle between Good and Evil.

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The interior of the monastery is an actual museum as numerous church objects are found within. Probably the most relevant of them all is the Cross of Raphael. This is a crucifix made out of a single piece of wood by the monk Raphael. The maker of the cross had managed to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figurines using only smooth pieces of wood and lenses. The cross took 12 years to be completed, but the monk who artistically crafted this work of art could not enjoy it as he had gone blind in the meantime.

The central altar had been constructed in 3 years’ time by some of the most famous Bulgarian craftsmen of that time. Although it took quite some time to be finished, the result was worth the waiting as the altar is considered unmatched in beauty by any other of the altars found in the Balkan region.

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Another valuable treasure located within the edifice is the impressive collection of ancient manuscripts, icons and documents, the ethnographic exposition of threads, jewelry, and carpets, the huge library which consists of more than 16.000 rare books, as well as the collection of objects made out of cast iron.

If you are interested in finding out more about the founder of the monastery, more precisely about the life that St. Ivan led, then you should definitely check out the cave in which the saint had lived for 10 years. It takes about one hour on foot to reach the cave and you can get directions from any of the monks at the monastery. However, you need to be cautious as you are about to undertake quite the adventure. In order to reach the cave, it is imperative to dispose of climbing equipment, as well as of courage and attentiveness.

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The setting is truly impressive as mountainous peaks which reach as much as 2.900 m in height, quick streams and thick forests surround the monastery on all sides. Even if you are not a religious person by nature, it is still worth visiting Rila Monastery. Not only that you will be treated with the utmost courtesy by the monks, but you will find yourself in a secluded and peaceful place, filled with history and art, where you can distance yourself from all the problems of the modern world.

Apr 26

The Old Court Church (Biserica Domneasca din Curtea Veche)

Construction

The Old Court Church is located in Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, and it is the oldest house of worship located in this town. The church was erected by the ruler Mircea Ciobanul (Mircea the Shepard) and Ms. Chiajna in 1559. After the death of Mircea Ciobanu, the task of looking after the church (meaning undertaking the painting and decoration work) was conducted by his son, Petru the Young.

http://www.miscellanea.ro

 

The dedication day of the church is the Feast of the Annunciation, but a second dedication day was instituted after a fire which occurred in 1847 – the patron of the church was St. Antonie the Great. In fact, this shift can be considered as a way to commemorate St. Anton Church which was destroyed in that fire.

Architecture

The Old Court Church is a true architectural gem from the feudal era as it contains an impressive number of vestiges, of immense value. Some of the most important treasures of the church are the iconographic representation of the Holy Trinity at the Mamvri Oaktree dating from the reign of Stephan Cantacuzino, from 1715, which is part of the church altar, and a vessel meant to hold the Eucharist bread which had been donated by St. Constantin Brancoveanu.

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But other objects dating from the end of the 18th century and from the entire 19th century are contained within the walls of the church. There are also frescos dating from the time of Stephan Cantacuzino, which have been preserved in their original state, with a few exceptions. However, the frescoes which were altered as a result of the passage of time have been renovated.

Additions to the church were conducted in the subsequent years, as follows: the entrance door made out of stone in 1715 and the interior painting between 1847 and 1853. The artists behind the interior decoration were C. Lecca and Misu Popp.

http://www.dipity.com

 

Tourist attractions

The Old Court Church, now declared a national monument, had been constructed so as to serve the religious purposes of the Old Court. This court was the first of its kind on the territory of Bucharest and consisted of a palace, a church, houses with ballrooms, stables and gardens.

Two major calamities, the 1718 fire and the 1787 earthquake, have effectively ruined the royal court. At present the ruins of the palace has been transformed into a protected architectural site.

In its perimeter, there is also a museum, where tourists can admire the remnants of past times. So if you ever visit the Old Court Church, make sure you check the other attractions that are found in close proximity of this edifice.