Read, Write, Run, Roam

Church on Sunday

Final Churches, Turbes and Monasteries on Sunday

A peek of Crkva Ruzica

Churches, turbes, and monasteries–I’m overpacking today’s post like a family of eight in a Budva-destined Lada. Yet I must. After 52 Sundays of writing about churches, I am officially retiring CoS posts. Next Sunday I will be flying back to the U.S. and it seems fitting to end my Sunday posts where they began: in Belgrade.

I wanted to write about Kalemedgan’s Sveta Petka and Ružica Churches, but could not get  permission to photograph their interiors. These churches are jewels of Belgrade–precious, tiny, and historic–but you’ll have to take my word for it. Alternatively, you can check out this video highlighting Petka church, but beware of bad angles and the need for a tripod.

The doors of Crkve Ružica.

Sveti Petka







Instead, I’ll focus on the former Dervish Monastery in Belgrade. It’s part of the scant evidence of 500 years of Ottoman rule in Belgrade. After Serbian independence, people either destroyed the mosques and buildings of their Ottoman oppressors or left the structures to rot. However, two turbes (Islamic mausoleums) testify to the time of fezzes, carpets, and apple tea.

Just past Studenski Park lies the turbe of Sheik Mustafa. It was built in 1784 in the center of a Dervish Monastery. The monastery is long gone, but the turbe still stands. People still tie twine to the eye-shaped window; perhaps it’s a sign that what is gone is not forgotten.

The second turbe stands in the middle of Kalemegdan on the west side of the Military museum. It’s dedicated to Damad Ali Pasha, the “Great Vizier of Sultan Ahmed III.” (I just love titles from this era.) This turbe appears to have less dedicated visitors, but it’s an impressive sight in an already impressive fortress. I’ve read that turbes often stand near mosques or monasteries, but I don’t have evidence of a monastery here. However, Turks lived in the fortress during their reign, and it would make sense that there was a mosque there at one time.

Belgrade’s long and colorful history is reflected everywhere: buildings, streets, and even first names testify to a history of Slavic/Roman/Austrian/Ottoman/Serbian rule. Balkan churches are no different; they offer as much history as any museum. Many thanks to the priests, imams, rabbis, readers and others who have recommended and explained places of worship over the past year. I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much about this region without you.


Church (signs) on Sunday

Readers, it has been a very busy day, so forgive me for not doing my usual research and posting about a European church. Instead, I’d like to introduce my Balkan readers to an American church phenomenon: bizarre signs. In many towns throughout the southern and middle United States, Christian churches (usually Protestant denominations) have bulletin boards for announcements. Occasionally, churches use the board to grab the attention of passerby. Some are funny;

some are corny;

and some are just…dumb.

I can’t imagine seeing these in front of an Orthodox church. What would the signs say? Possible ideas:

  1. Come for the service, stay for the rakija.
  2. Being 45 minutes late isn’t a sin, but stop doing it anyway.
  3. Is a latex micromini really appropriate to wear to your aunt’s second wedding? (Answer: yes.)

Serbians are funnier than I am, and I’m sure readers can do better in the comments. Until then, you can see more weird American church signs HERE.

I’ll bet people had fun explaining this one to their kids…

Church on Sunday: A rocky afternoon at Sziklatemplom Church, Budapest

On a previous trip to Budapest with friends, someone asked me about the cross on top of a rock near Gellért Baths. A quick peek at the guidebook revealed that it was Sziklatemplom, a church built in a natural cave. While my companions decided to relax in Gellert’s thermal baths, I explored the cave church. Dedicated blogger or poor decision-maker? You decide.

Church admission comes with a free audio guide. The church chapels were created from a natural cave system. The caves were first inhabited by a hermit monk who used the hill’s thermal waters to help cure the sick. (If he was a hermit, how was he meeting and treating people? Just a thought.) The cave turned into an official Paulite church in 1926 and it was later expanded. The Paulite order is the only native Hungarian order. According to random internet sources (only the best for you guys!) it was founded in 1256, ended in 1773, and was re-instated in 1923; the monks of the order were once confessors to Hugarian Kings.

Oddly, the audio guide didn’t detail some of the church’s more interesting–and tragic–history. In 1951, during Hungary’s Communist era, the police sentenced Sziklatemplom’s chief Bishop to treason and death. Other monks were given prison sentences, and the church was sealed. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the Paulite order reopened the church for service.

The audio guide also featured a surprising amount of proselytizing. I skipped over some of this to focus on the discussion of the church, but to be honest, the architecture isn’t that interesting. It’s a simple church but not quite humble and not quite quaint. If you don’t have a lot of time in Budapest, I’d advise you to follow the lead of my friends and check out Gellért instead. Or go to a jewelry store on Vaci Utca and check out the best kind of rocks: sparkly.

To reach the church, go to Gellért hotel, face outside of the doors. Look for the big white cross; the church is below the cross and next to a statue of St. Istvan. 

(Two-fer) Church On Sunday: Subotica’s Synagogue and St. Theresa of Avila Basilica

That’s right folks, this weeks’ CoS is another twofer! Muz and I made a special trip to Subotica, Serbia this weekend. Subotica was already on our Belgrade (er, Serbian) Bucket List, but it was also a chance to meet Lana and Chris, the Americans-in-Serbia bloggers of “Live Life Like a Bestseller.” I think it should be subtitled “Live Life Like a Leapfrog” because they are always posing in a hilarious jumping style. You’ll have to visit the blog to see what I mean. If they have children, I predict an Olympic triple-jumper is born.

We agreed to meet at McDonald’s, aka European Meeting Point Number One. Insert-McDonald’s-hate here, but I can’t deny they’re easy to find and usually in the center of things. In Subotica, McDonald’s is inside the fabulous, art-noveau style Town Hall. Not a bad place to get a Big Mac.

This light and my photo skills stunk, sorry.

As pretty as it was, we didn’t stay for long. Chris and Lana led us to another lovely cafe-lined avenue where we lingered over drinks in true Serbian style. Afterwards, they graciously led us on a tour of the town.

Subotica is a leafier, smaller version of Novi Sad. It has Hungarian/Secessionist architecture, lots of wide avenues, and little parks around every corner. A few miles away is Lake Palic, ringed by a Poconos-ish collection of Hungarian villas. We “oohed” at every street like idiots. Then Lana asked us the money question: “Want to see the synagogue?”

Does the Pope wear a big hat? RHOB could not resist. It may surprise readers that I started writing about churches not out of pious devotion, but sheer laziness. I joined NaBloPoMo last November. That first Sunday, out of desperation for things to write about, I described Belgrade’s Sveti Sava. The next Sunday, when I was struggling for material, I decided to talk about St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest. A habit was born. Now, I need to see a new church every week. This is how addiction starts, kids!

The Synagogue is still beautiful, but in a state of serious disrepair. Windows are broken and the doors are locked to prevent people from wandering in and possibly injuring themselves. The local Jewish population was decimated in World War One, and there are no funds to renovate the building back to its original glory. Still, it was a lovely sight.

After that, we walked to St. Theresa of Avila, Subotica’s Catholic Basilica. St. Theresa is known for being a writer and also appears on Subotica’s coat of arms. Sister was doing doing it for herself, indeed.

The church was built in 1779. It’s been renovated several times but now there are large cracks in the facade. I realize this isn’t good for the building, but it’s awfully cool to look at. The “100” sign above the door celebrates the 100th Duzijanca, or harvest celebration.














The church was designed by a Hungarian architect, which explains the colorful detailed painting pattern along the ceiling. There is a beautiful stained glass window facing the altar, but my camera couldn’t quite capture its beauty.

We left the church and parted ways with our new friends, with promises of a Belgrade tour in the near future. I hope Lana enjoys the White City; certainly Subotica was all it was “cracked up” to be.

(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?

Church on Sunday: Saint Mary Vlahernas, Berat Castle, Albania

After our first excursion to a Berat church ended at a locked gate, we hired a tour guide to see the churches in Berat’s castle district. Berat tour guides help put the castle buildings in perspective. More importantly, they also hold (or more accurately, pass around) the few keys that open Berat’s medieval churches in the castle. The castle district consists of a stone wall surrounding churches, mosques, and medieval buildings that people still live in today. Though we saw cars climbing up the hill, we had to rely on our own two feet to get there. Only residents are allowed to motor past the ancient walls.

Despite Berat’s history of Ottoman/Islamic Rule, the church exteriors in Berat city are well-preserved. We spent most of our time and camera battery life on the oldest church in Berat: Saint Mary Vlahernas. It dates from the 13th Century and was restored at some point in the 16th Century.

Yet what remained preserved was nearly destroyed during Communist rule, when government officials painted lime over frescoes, removed religious symbols and used churches as storage facilities. The frescoes are falling apart, but one can still see the work of Nicola, son of Onufri.

Nicola was quite talented, but never quite lived up to his father, Onufri. Onufri is known for introducing more realism and individuality into facial expressions. His works are on display at Berat’s ethnographic museum, a treasure trove of iconography. One of the most interesting frescoes exemplifies Berat’s proud inclusionary nature: an icon of Mary with mosque minarets in the background.

He also developed “Onufri Red,” a special shade that, some say, was never repeated again. Onufri took the secret of his red shade to the grave, but fortunately his works–and his son’s works–live on, for now.

Church on Sunday: Ostrog “Cave” Monastery

After a hot morning spent hiking around Montenegro, a big lunch behind us and a long drive ahead, Muz and I thought we’d skip the trip to Ostrog cemetery. Sure, we knew it was the biggest pilgramage site in Montenegro. We’d heard it was one of the holiest places in the Balkans. But we were just…tired.

Then, a nagging voice popped into my head: What if you never return to Montenegro? It could be amazing! It could be the best Church on Sunday ever! What if there’s a travel show contest being hosted there RIGHT NOW?

I hate that voice. But I love that it told me to go.

We thought it wouldn’t take a long time to go from Cetinje (West Montenegro) to Ostroška Greda in the center, but we didn’t account for a winding mountainside road with no guardrails. No wonder this was a holy place–drivers are constantly praying that another car won’t come careening around the corner.

Two churches comprise Ostrog: the smaller “lower chuch” and the cave-set upper church. We were running low on energy, so we drove past the smaller church and kept winding up the highway. The upper church monastery remained fairly hidden from the road until the final turn into the parking lot. When we finally saw it up close, I couldn’t believe how large it was.

The monastery fits perfectly in and with the cave; one does not outshine the other. The monastery was first built in the 17th century, but the current building was constructed after a fire in the 1920s. The building houses two small chapels and scores of monks. There’s a strict no-photo policy at Ostrog, but photos probably wouldn’t do the place justice anyway.

The building felt much smaller from the inside. We walked up narrow staircases lined with mosaic images of saints and past heavy brass doors that depicted biblical scenes.  On an upper floor, the tiny chapel of the Holy Cross is built directly in a cave. Beautifully preserved frescos are directly painted onto the rock walls and ceiling. It’s a primitive setting for such lush iconography. The atmosphere is exactly what I would expect from a monastery: quiet and reflective. People speak in hushed tones when they’re not kissing icons or gently shushing children.

The trip was a bit harrowing, but we were glad we battled our fatigue and crazy roads to come to Ostrog. It’s fascinating to see so many people gather in a post-socialist country to worship, to understand their history, and to find peace. We didn’t find a travel show contest while we were there, but we found something much more interesting.

Besides, I probably would have lost any tv show contest to this worshipper:

Balkan girls have all the legs, I mean, luck…