Read, Write, Run, Roam

(Kinda) Church on Sunday: A question about Orthodoxy


I haven’t had much luck photographing churches lately. Most of the churches on our Balkan Bonanza tour didn’t allow photos, and even in London cameras were forbidden in places of worship. Yet there’s one kind of church that I can always photograph, despite the fact that I can’t explain it: the roadside “altars” (shrines?) in the form of a church.

Can anyone explain what these are? Do they mark a site where someone has died? Are they simply a way of expressing religion? Or is there some other explanation? I might write about churches every week, but I must confess my complete ignorance when it comes to these roadside wonders.

They remind me of spirit houses in Thailand, but I’m certain that they don’t play that role in Orthodox Christian nations. I don’t have many photos to show as examples (we’re usually past them before I can whip out my camera) but I do love to look at them. I’ve seen in them in Greece, Macedonia, and occasionally in Serbia. Some have tiny bouquets of flowers or crosses inside. They have a dollhouse quality that I find appealing, though I’m sure they play a more serious role than religious dioramas.

 What do you say, readers? Anyone care to enlighten me on what role these tiny churches play in the Orthodox religion?

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6 responses

  1. VP

    I’d also be really interested to know; I’m not aware of any role they play. They are particularly ubiquitous in Greece, with even two or three at the same place. They are also present in Macedonia, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than a couple in Serbia (where did you see them?).

    Now if you ask me, it’s some sort of Greek thing that’s then spreading to Macedonia. It’s obviously what’s the point of it there – to show that you are Macedonian and not Albanian (see: huge cross in Skopje; I’ve also seen such constructions in Greece and those are definitely NOT in the spirit of orthodoxy).

    September 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm

  2. I think I’ve seen them in Southern Serbia, which would make sense if your assumption is correct–I guess the Macedonian influence crept over the border. I can’t think of exactly where I’ve seen them in Serbia, and I didn’t know if it was a Serbian Orthodox AND Greek Orthodox “thing.”

    September 25, 2011 at 10:28 pm

  3. Anonymous

    I can tell you why Roman Catholics are doing it, so it might be a same or similar reason.
    In ancient time people believed that witches were gathering and having parties on crossroads where meets three roads.
    Crossroad of four roads create a cross itself, and they believed, cross would stop witches to gather there, so by the crossroads of three roads they would build up a cross.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:37 am

  4. Interesting! I’ve never heard of that explanation, even in Roman Catholic culture. I’ve seen the “churches” on straight highways, but I have also definitely seen them at crossroads.

    September 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm

  5. VP

    I just saw there’s a StackExchange site on Christianity, perhaps you could ask your question there:

    http://christianity.stackexchange.com/

    October 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm

  6. Anonymous

    These little churches on the side of the road unfortunately tell sad stories about someone who has died at that very spot. Usually, there is a picture of the deceased in there with a little candle that is lit by a relative. If you pay more attention to it, you will notice more of them at dangerous turns – serving as a warning sign as well….

    November 11, 2011 at 8:38 pm

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