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Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia

Calvary of Banska Stiavnica

Slovakia's finest hilltop chapel complex is in danger of falling apart, but beautiful nonetheless.  

The most important calvary in Slovakia and the former Kingdom of Hungary — possibly even the world — and still an important pilgrimage site today, Calvary Banska Stiavnica in Slovakia is one of the town’s must-see monuments, even if it has fallen into disrepair.

Like the majority of Banska Stiavnica, the calvary is situated on a hill, what with the town being built in the middle of a caldera formed by the collapse of an ancient volcano. A town of great historical significance and a UNESCO World Heritage Site itself, its calvary of three churches, 19 chapels, and statuary of the Virgin Mary is the main draw for tourists.

Constructed in the mid-1700s by local Jesuits, it was an epicenter of religious life for 200 years. Through a mixture of architecture, sculpture, wooden reliefs, and painting, it depicts the Passion of the Christ. Despite being built in the middle of the Baroque era, it is not overly grandiose, meaning its worshippers can focus on the spiritual aspects of the Passion. Another unique feature is its arrangement: rather than the standard 14 stations, it has 17, beginning in Nazareth rather than the condemnation of Christ. It is also claimed that several people have been physically healed on the site.

Recent years have not been kind to the calvary, however. It suffered major damage during World War II and has also been the victim of neglect, vandalism, and time itself. There is hope for its restoration though. In 2007 it was added onto the list of the World Monument’s 100 most endangered monuments in the world. Restoration and preservation began in 2008 through the Calvary Fund, and some original features are gradually being moved to the Slovak Mining Museum in the Old Castle for safekeeping.

Although restoration is still ongoing, religious events still take place. Throughout the year there are three important feasts: the Feast of the Cross (May 3rd), the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus (August 6th) and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th). The latter festival is also known as the Pilgrimage of Calvary, when hundreds of people come to mark the anniversary of the completion and consecration of the site. Other masses are also held here, along with an increasing amount of weddings.

And if the religious and cultural aspects do not grab you, it is still worth the climb to view the panorama of rolling hills extending out around the historic site.