Friday, November 25, 2011

Topoľa, Slovakia

This church is found on a small hill in the village of Topoľa in the north-east corner of Slovakia at the edge of Poloniny National Park. The name of the village means 'Poplar tree' in the Slovak language, and the first record of the settlement dates from 1337. The church is thought to have been built around the year 1700 and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The structure has an enormous shingled roof which is disrupted only by a small tower above the entrance topped by a simple pyrimidal steeple.
The eaves are supported by horizontal wooden pillars which support the weight of the oversize roof. The interior of the church contains a well-restored baroque iconostatis from the first half of the 18th century, though not all of its original form has survived. Some of the icons were painted in the 17th century, though the most precious one has been moved to the icon museum in the nearby town of Svidník. The nave has a barrel vault structure and was originally decorated with many icon paintings on canvas.
In the 1960's and 1970's the church underwent renovations which removed the other two towers which originally formed part of the roofline. A small bell tower built in the early 20th century stands in front of the church at the edge of the hill.
Beside the church there is a small cemetery of wooden crosses which act as grave markers for 240 Austro-Hungarian soldiers from the First World War who were killed in action in the region. Regular Greek Catholic services are held in the church for the local congregation; Rusyn identity is strong in the village since it was the birthplace of Alexander Duchnovič, a priest who played a leading role in the 19th-century Rusyn national revival.
Several hiking trails start from Topoľa which continue into Poloniny National Park towards the Polish border, and one trail continues over the hill into the next valley to the west where the village of Ruský Potok contains another Greek Catholic wooden church. A section of forest land near the village is part of the UNESCO heritage listed Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians preserve which stretches across the border into Ukraine.
The keys to the church are kept by a couple who live in the house next door to the church on the northern side. They are friendly and helpful and eager to show the church to visitors for a small donation. No buses run directly to the village itself, but several buses per day travel from Snina to Nová Sedlica and stop at the turnoff for the local road to Topoľa two kilometres south of the village.

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