As the week draws to a close, I’m officially confused. Even more so than usual. Back in 2009, I went on a road-trip to Eastern Hungary and saw one of the simplest and most beautiful churches I’ve seen, ever. Since then, when I think of Gothic, that’s what comes to mind. So yesterday, in the Church of St George in Spišská Sobota, I was a little taken aback to read that it was Gothic, too. And the two couldn’t be more different.
Just as we went in, a busload of Austrian tourists descended on the place and we got lost in the crowd. Taking photos was verboten and usually not one to break the rules, I put my camera on silent and shut down the flash. But when I could, I snapped. I made my peace with God figuring that such a beautiful place deserves a wider audience.
It’s a miracle that the five Gothic altars have survived as long as they have (the earliest dates back to the 1400s) and are in such good nick. They’re stunning.
The 1464 Altar of the Blessed Virgin features the four principal virgins (a new one on me, one that leaves me wondering what made them principals?): St Dorothy of Cesarea, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Margaret of Antioch, and St Barbara of Nicodemia. The two on the right look shinier than the others because they’re copies. The real ones were stolen back in 1993. Is nothing sacred any more?
But beautiful and all as the altars (and the Holy Tomb) are, it was the modern-day stained glass windows that mesmerised me. Added over time from 2007 to 2013 they’re quite something. Each has a story. I could’ve looked at them for hours trying to interpret their meanings. I didn’t manage to get photos that did them any sort of justice, but someone else did. They’re worth checking out.
I’ve banged on before about modern architecture and the shortsightedness of urban planners ruining the look of places so I was really glad (and grateful) to see that it is possible for old and new to coexist and harmonise. It’s a matter of taste. When fifteenth-century Gothic can sit quite happily beside twenty-first-century whatever, that’s something to behold.
Higher up the Tatras, in the town of Nový Smokovec, there’s an Evangelical Church with one of the most interesting altar backdrops I’ve seen. One that makes Christ look positively human. That too, I could have looked at for hours, but the church was locked up and standing on the wrong side of locked doors shortchanged the moment.
And not alone am I confused, I’m also a little worried. September is officially over. And October has opened with a bang. Today, Hungary will to the polls in a referendum that asks the question:
Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?
Critics say this is the Hungarian version of Brexit – I hope that’s an overreaction. But for months now, the city has been awash with billboards asking questions like:
- Did you know? More than 300 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Europe since the start of the migrant crisis.
- Did you know? The Paris terrorist attacks were carried out by immigrants.
- Did you know? 1.5 million illegal immigrants arrived to Europe in 2015.
- Did you know? Brussels wants the forced resettling of a city’s worth of illegal immigrants into Hungary.
- Did you know? Almost one million immigrants want to come to Europe from Libya alone?
- Did you know? Since the start of the immigration crisis, sexual harassment of women has increased in Europe?
I worry that the propaganda might have taken hold. I hope not. It remains to be seen whether reason prevails.