Cathedrals and churches in Slovakia represent all the periods of European ecclesiastical architecture: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, even Art Nouveau.
Most unusual are the wooden churches – the majority of which were built in accordance with laws that discriminated against non-Catholics. No other European country has as high a density and great a diversity of wooden churches as Slovakia.
Overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but with significant Protestant, Greek Catholic and Jewish populations, Slovakia was often the scene of struggles between religions. The centuries-long battle between the Catholics and Protestants left many scars – often visible in the secular structures we see today.
Slovakia has the highest density of wooden churches anywhere in Europe. In 1681, the Roman Catholic Austro-Hungarian Emperor dictated that only Roman Catholic churches could use hard materials (stone, metal). Protestant and Ruthenian/Rusyn Greek Catholic churches could only be made of wood and were not allowed to use nails in their construction. They had to be erected within one year, start to finish, and were not permitted in the center of town.
Builders used ingenious carpentry techniques for joining together pieces of wood to create these lovely churches. Weathered, dark wooden shingles seem to ripple and flow, like snakeskin, over these organic-looking structures.
Most of the surviving wooden churches are Ruthenian/Rusyn Greek Catholic from the 18th and 19th centuries. With characteristic onion domes and gleaming icons (on an iconostasis separating aisle from alter), these churches are visible reminders of the tenacity of Slovakia’s Ruthenian minority, concentrated in the northeast corner of the country.
Dating from the 16th c., the Greek Catholic religion combines the mysticism of Greek Orthodox rites, a liturgy written in Slavonic (Cyrillic alphabet) together with recognition of the Pope’s authority. Some of the finest Ruthenian churches:
- Ladomirova (northeast of Svidník)
- Jedlinka (north of Bardejov)
- Mirol’a (east of Svidník)
Two Ruthenian churches are in the open-air museum at Bardejovske Kupele (spa town of Bardejov).
Five Protestant wooden churches remain in Slovakia. The largest and most impressive one is in the village of Svaty Kriz, near Liptovsky Mikulas. Originally built in 1693 and enlarged in 1774, this magnificent church seats over 2,000 and is remarkably well preserved.
In Hronsek, outside of Banska Bystrica, stands another enchanting wooden church. Originally Catholic, then Protestant and finally Catholic once more, this church seats more than 1,000 people in amphitheater style. It was built in 1725.
The oldest wooden churches in Slovakia are Roman Catholic: Tvrdosin from the 15th c., Trnove from 1500 (in Zilina district) and the church originally in Zabrezie (1647) which is now in the open-air museum of Orava Village in Zuberec. Oldest of all is in Hervartov, near Bardejov, built in the 1490s. Note the wonderful 17th c. murals.
Church of the Holy Trinity in Bratislava
The full name is the Church of the Order of the Holy Trinity and was intended to copy St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vienna. Near Bratislava’s Old Town square, the church is considered the most beautiful baroque building in the city. It is famous for its magnificent trompe l’oeil frescoes, which create the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface.
St. James Church in Levoča
One of the largest Gothic churches in Slovakia, St. James’ is most famous for the 55 ft. tall wooden altarpiece carved by the most original artist of the 15th century, Master Pavol of Levoca. It is the tallest wooden Gothic winged altar in the world. The realism and animation of the figures – particularly in the Last Supper scene – are remarkable for the period. Pavol and his assistant are even depicted, behind St. James/Jacob. The church is now a museum of ecclesiastical art. Enamelled and precious-stone-encrusted creations of 18th c. Goldsmith Jan Szilassy are national art treasures.
Church in Spišská Kapitula
Just west of Spis Castle is the walled, one-street village of Spisska Kapitula, sharing UNESCO World Heritage Site designation with Spis Castle. Built just after the Tartar invasions of the 13th century, the town’s late Romanesque church with two towers was the seat of the Bishop of Spis in the 18th century. Many photos of Spis castle show St. Martin’s in the foreground. Frescoes from the 14th century were whitewashed by Protestants after the Reformation but have now been restored. The altarpiece of the Gothic-style Zapolsky Chapel is also noteworthy.
Church in Spišská Sobota
The main attraction of this late Romanesque church (originally from 1273) with Gothic elements is the main altar carved in 1516 by Master Pavol of Levoca, renowned for his altarpiece in Levoca. However, the vaulting, fonts and several chapels are also unusually sophisticated.
Church in Žehra
The outsized dark onion dome and interior walls completely covered with frescoes painted around 1400 make this small 13th century church a picturesque Gothic gem. Go there on the way to Spis Castle, the largest castle in Central Europe. This church shares Spis Castle’s UNESCO World Heritage site designation.
Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Šaštín-Stráž
Národná bazilika Panny Márie Sedembolestnej (Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows) in Šaštín-Stráž is one of the most important basilicas in Slovakia. Its building began in 1736. The church was named after the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows which was sculpted in 1564. It is a late gothic work, the author is unknown.
Basilica of St. Emeram in Nitra
Bazilika svätého Emeráma (Basilica of St. Emeram) is the cathedral in Nitra, which was originally built in Gothic style. The entire cathedral is located in the area of Nitra castle, like the cathedral at Prague Castle. The upper church dates back to the years 1333-1355. Later, the whole cathedral was rebuilt in Baroque style.
Three small churches on Castle Hill in Nitra, often called the “mother of Slovak towns”, constitute the Cathedral. The 12th century Romanesque rotunda, a horseshoe-shaped apse, may be part of a 9th century church, thought to have been the very first in the territory that is now Slovakia and possibly in the whole of Central Europe. One antechamber is late Gothic, and upstairs is the main church, a lavish Baroque creation filled with marble, frescos and modern stained glass.
Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Mariánska hora in Levoča
Bazilika Navštívenia Panny Márie na Mariánskej hore (Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Mariánska hora) in Levoča belongs to the oldest pilgrimage places in eastern Slovakia. The saint’s-days are held annually on 2nd of July.
Origins of the cult of Mary dates back to the 13th century. In 1247 the first chapel was built. Mary’s feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary is associated with the arrival of Franciscan-minority to Levoča in 1311.
The importance of this pilgrimage places didn’t stay unheeded even in Rome. Pope John Paul II. consecrated the Virgin Mary Church of the Visitation on 26th of January 1984 at the basilica. About eleven years later on 3rd of July 1995 the largest pilgrimage was held with his presence, which attended over 650,000 people.
Up to 250,000 people flock to this neo-Gothic church for the Marianske Pilgrimage the first weekend of July. In the 13th century, a small fort on the hill protected the townspeople from Tatar raids. To give thanks for being spared, they built a chapel (later a church) with a statue of the Virgin Mary. This statue is now the main symbol of the Marianske Pilgrimage, which during the Soviet era became a powerful form of protest. Pope John Paul II participated in the pilgrimage several times before (and once since) becoming pope. The full name is Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.
Basilica of st. Egidius in Bardejov
Bazilika svätého Egídia (Basilica of St. Egidius) in Bardejov is the Gothic sacral building, which is situated in the northern part of the Town Hall squire. The beginnings of the temple dates back to the 13th century. Church suffered many great disasters over the centuries: fires in the years 1550, 1577, 1640, 1774 and 1878, earthquakes in 1725, in which the tower fell down, and year 1836, when the church walls cracked in three places, eventually bombing in 1944. After the great fire in 1774 the temple was until 1898 without towers. After a catastrophic fire on Easter Monday in 1878, which burned almost the whole city, an extensive repair and reconstruction of the church began. The reparation lasted twenty years and the temple was brought to a condition in which we know it today.
Other building interventions were carried out in the 20th century. In 2001, on the occasion of the declaration of the basilica to basilica minor, the temple bell has been replaced by a new Bell – John weighing 700 kg.
The sheer size of this austere Gothic church in the perfectly preserved Old Town of Bardejov (UNESCO World Heritage site) reflects the wealth and power of the city in medieval times. Eleven wooden side altars date from the 15th century. The original main altar was carved by the famed Master Pavol of Levoca, but a fire destroyed all but two sculptures and one painting from that masterpiece. Check out the grinning half-dog, half-monkey figures carved at the ends of the pews.
Basilica of St. Nicholas in Trnava
The first mention of the romanesque parish Bazilika svätého Mikuláša (Basilica of St. Nicholas) in Trnava is from the second half of the 11th century. As the name indicates, the church was dedicated to St. Nicholas, patron of traders.
The oldest written reports in Trnava are exactly about this Romanesque church. The church is 60 m long, 31 m wide; the main ship is 18 m high. The main frontage is dual towered. One of the largest bells in Europe – Sv. Mikuláš (St. Nicholas Bell) is in the north tower. House of St. Nicholas was on 9th of November 2008 consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI to basilica minor. Basilica in Trnava is the tenth basilica in Slovakia.
St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava
Katedrála sv. Martina (St. Martin’s Cathedral) (until 2008 Co cathedral of St. Martin) is the largest and the most important church in Bratislava. From 8th of March 2008 it is the residency of the archbishop of Bratislava. Cathedral was built in the 14th century on the place of the original Romanesque church and cemetery.
On top of its steeple sits not a cross, but rather a gold pillow with a copy of the Hungarian crown to indicate that coronation ceremonies for Hungarian kings and queens were held here. After the Turks occupied Buda in 1526, Bratislava became the capital of Hungary. Built in the 14th-15th centuries in Gothic style on the site of an earlier Romanesque church, St. Martin’s most interesting features are 18th c. Baroque additions, including the equestrian statue of St. Martin and the chapel of St. John Mendicant (sv. Jan Almuznik).
St. Elizabeth Cathedral in Košice
Dóm sv. Alžbety (St. Elizabeth Cathedral) is the Archbishop’s Gothic cathedral, located on the Main Street in Košice. It is the largest church in Slovakia, and even the Eastmost gothic cathedral in Europe. The outer length of the church is 60 m, width 36 m, height of the north tower 60 m, height of the nave 23 m and height of the lateral vessels 12 m. The inner height of the nave is 24 m and the church covers an area of 1200 m2.
The church was built in three stages. Wealthy burghers decided to build a new grand dome of the corresponding importance of medieval Košice with the blessing of the ruler Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1380. The first phase of construction work lasted until 1462. The second phase started in 1462 with the construction of the south tower, which received the name (Matejová Tower) after the then governor, and contributor to the dome Matthias Corvinus. The constructions were finished by Nikolaus Krompholz in 1508.
Europe’s easternmost Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral is also Slovakia’s loveliest. It has patterned roof tiles similar to Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a breathtaking gilded main altar with 48 panels (one of the largest Gothic winged altars in Central Europe), and intricate carvings, particularly over the north and west doors. Begun in 1378 and originally modeled on St. Viktor’s church in Xanten-on-Rhein , the cathedral took 100 years to build. Rebuilt several times, this beautiful structure is rather confused in terms of architectural style. Take a tour of the crypt of Ferenc Rakoczi, a Transylvanian Protestant who led an uprising from Kosice against the Catholic Hapsburg empire in the 18th c. And then climb up the clocktower to get a great view over Kosice’s restored old town.
St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Banská Bystrica
Katedrála svätého Františka Xaverského (St. Francis Xavier Cathedral) is situated at Slovak National Uprising Square in Banská Bystrica.
The first known owner of the house was Michael Königsberger who lived here until his death in 1505. After several changes of owners, the so-called Upper House was burned by miners in the uprising in 1526. The cathedral was re-built by the Jesuits in 1695–1715 as a copy of the Church of the Gesu in Rome. The cathedral has been a seat of the Diocese of Banská Bystrica since 1776. The two towers were added in 1844.
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Žilina
Katedrála Najsvätejšej Trojice (Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) is a Roman Catholic parish church in the historical center of Žilina. It is an important historical monument on the border of the reservation. The church was built around the 1400.
Lutheran Church in Bardejov
Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession is the classical church in Bardejov. It was built around 1798-1808 under the name Long Row. The Church is equipped with a neo-gothic interior of 19th century.
Lutheran Church in Trnava
Lutheran church located at the Slovak National Uprising Square in close contact with the urban walls.
Lutheran Church in Východná
Lutheran Church in Východná was designed and implemented in the first half of the 20th century. The church is the remarkable symbiosis of modernism and romanticism.
Greek Orthodox Churches
Tserkva of the Protection of the Holy Birthgiver of God in Miroľa and Nižný Komárnik
Kostol Ochrany Presvätej Bohorodičky (Tserkva of the Protection of the Birthgiver of God) in Miroľa and in Nižný Komárnik are national cultural monuments since 1968.
Tserkva of St. Basil the Great in Krajný Čierny
Tripartite rustic church – Kostol svätého Bazila Veľkého (Tserkva of St. Basil the Great) in Krajný Čierný was built in 18th century. Tserkva, with its architecture, belongs to the Byzantine church buildings.
Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Príkra
Chrám svätého Michala Archanjela (Church of St. Michael the Archangel) also called Wooden Church or Greek Tserkva is a wooden church in the village Príkra. It is a national cultural monument since 1968. The temple was built under dating on portal in 1777.
Slovak synagogues are mainly from the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century in the following cities/towns:
- Synagogue in Huncovce
- Synagogue in Svätý Júr
- Synagogue in Liptovský Mikuláš
- Synagogue in Stupava
- Synagogue in Bardejov
- Synagogue in Nitra
- Synagogue in Trenčín
- Synagogue in Bratislava
- Synagogue in Žilina
- Synagogue in Košice
- Synagogue in Prešov
Košice holds valuable Jewish heritage. This city of Eastern Slovakia was the center of several parallel-functioning Jewish communities before the Holocaust, representing a broad spectrum of Jewish religious streams. Synagogical objects of former Hasidic and Orthodox congregation survived to recent days, some even with the original inventory.
Capital Mosque in Bratislava
- Adress: Karlova Ves, Staré Grunty 64, Bratislava
- Phone: 00421903936801