|Crosses outside of an|
Orthodox church in
There are are two things that I'm discovering with the more time I spend overseas. First, despite its (comparatively) small size, Europe is culturally diverse and as such, has a diverse religious heritage meaning churches are every where. And I do mean every where. In many cities it is possible to visit churches of differing faiths all within a block of one another. The second thing I've come to realize is that Europe is old. I mean really old and not the "new" old of the United States. Stepping foot into a church dating back many hundreds, if not thousands, of years is much more common than visiting one built during our lifetime. And these churches speak directly to the times during which they were constructed. Ornate or stark, gilded, stone or wooden, all are important houses of worship for their followers.
|Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral was impressive but I liked the|
neighboring Sainte Chapelle better
|Inside St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow, Poland|
|Frescoes in Voskopoja|
And then you have Albanian churches. During the Communist era, all forms of religion were outlawed and Albania was officially designated as a secular state. Many, but not all, of the churches and religious icons were destroyed and religion of any kind was not practiced publicly. (Fortunately, some of the more historically valuable icons were spared destruction and are now housed in a museum in the city of Korce). Today, Albania is a religiously tolerant country that on paper is predominently Muslim but it has its share of Catholic and Orthodox churches as well. Old churches and monasteries exist in various states of (dis)repair but for the most part they lack the ornate trappings found in so many other churches. In some churches you can see remnants of frescoes and other religious icons but in others you encounter nothing but barren stone walls. The hilltop town of Voskopoja, once a thriving commercial hub in the Balkans but now a small village with numerous churches in various conditions, is undergoing a renaissance of sorts where her ancient churches are being painstakingly restored. Many of them exist as piles of rubble or nothing but shells of their former selves. New religious buildings of all faiths are being erected throughout Albania as well. These contemporary structures may lack the grandness of older churches, but regardless of the trappings, they serve their religious purpose. I've learned that visiting an Albanian church, regardless of its denomination, is a solemn affair but then again, this speaks directly to the history and culture of the country.
But the message I get from visiting an Albanian church is no different than visiting one in nearby Greece or Macedonia or France or Sweden. The religious beliefs practiced inside the walls may differ and some may be more ornate than others but all are symbolic of their people and the times in which they were built. For me, walking into any church is like stepping back into history. And houses of worship are an vital part of Europe's long and storied history.