Trip Report: Banská Štiavnica Calvary Complex, Slovakia

It hardly felt like the first day of spring when I arrived in Banská Štiavnica, the sleepy little former mining hill-town in central Slovakia. The well-preserved Renaissance town center is nestled in the basin of an ancient volcano, and as I ascended from the outer rim of the crater, I could immediately see the red painted churches and chapels of the Calvary site amidst the snow-covered fields across the valley.

The Calvary complex was constructed by the Jesuits between 1744 and 1751. The complex is a remarkably intact ensemble of Baroque structures all connected with a purpose of higher calling.Calvary consists of 22 buildings (19 small chapels and 3 churches) that are linked by switch-back trails that climb a hill (the former “neck” of the volcano) and collectively present the 14 stations of the “Way of the Cross,” scenes of the last days of the life of Jesus Christ.

The complex was abandoned during Communist rule in the 1950s. It deteriorated over the next few decades and its furnishings were plundered. Thanks to the efforts of the Calvary Fund, a local community group who successfully nominated Calvary to the 2008 World Monuments Watch, the site has been saved and awareness of its value heightened.

The WMF project involves the restoration of the Lower Church and includes foundation work, roof repair, and restoration of the chapel's façade, interior architectural elements, and wall paintings. The interior work is addressing the Chapel of the Divine Heart and the Chapel of the Sorrowful Heart. The work in Sorrowful Heart is expected to be completed in June 2009, while the completion of Divine Heart and all exterior work is scheduled for fall 2009.

The work completed to date looks excellent, the professional capacity of the multidisciplinary team is impressive, and their progress throughout the winter has been steady given the challenges of the site and cold temperatures. Summer is fast approaching and the team of wall paintings conservators will no longer need heaters to keep themselves and the wall paintings at a comfortable room temperature.