An astute traveler quickly observes that Slovakia is a Catholic country: two-thirds of the population ‘belong’ to the Roman Catholic Church (I was baptized and confirmed in the Reformed Christian Church aka the Calvinists). But it’s not just churches and bell towers that bear the most recognizable ‘logo’ in the world. Crosses in Slovakia also appear around the countryside on pedestals or stuck in the ground like posts—silent testimonies to the Slovaks’ religiosity.
Every Catholic cemetery has a cross. This one is Poráč, my father’s ancestral village.
Colorful carved crosses grace the Symbolic Cemetery in the High Tatra Mountains.
A cross may greet people at the start and see them off at the end of a village. In many such cases, crosses were intended to ward off evil forces (Satan) and thus provide protection to the residents and visitors alike.
Sometimes a person, a family, or a congregation had a cross built to express gratitude for divine intervention, for example in healing an illness. The cross at the bottom end of Vyšný Klátov (left in the photo below) was financed in 1946 “to the glory of God” by Matej István and his wife Mária Mikulová. Brothers Petrík had the below-left cross built in 2008 by the 1912 chapel at Predná Holica (the popular Lajoška Chalet can be seen in the background).
The crosses at the bottom and top end of Vyšný Klátov, near Košice (middle and right), also happen to be placed at intersections of additional roads, leading to the hills and valleys around the village.
Indeed, crosses often stand at crossroads, perhaps to offer travelers vertical reminders of their feet’s experience. This one stands at the intersection of red and yellow hiking paths near the Predná Holica mountain (948 m/3,110 ft).
These crosses in Poráč, Slovakia, mark the intersections of roads within the village: walking paths near the Vysoký vrch (Tall Hill, 824 m/2,703 ft); the main road and the path leading to the church and cemetery; and the main road and the one-lane road to the nearby Poráč Valley. The fenced-in crosses aren’t private: at some point the property boundary shifted but the crosses stayed in their original locations.
The congregation of a nearby church in Košice’s District II had a cross built in the shadow of the so-called White House, a former seat of the local Communist Party headquarters that today houses the city hall (the photo on the left is courtesy of Paul Cooper).
Crosses also mark historic boundaries between village districts (chotáre), often by roadsides and on hillside ridges. Alas, I haven’t ventured out enough on this trip to document these. Finally, crosses also stand on top of many mountains around Slovakia; many take form of the double-barred cross from the country’s coat of arms.