Current Affairs Czech Republic sees highest percentage of dilapidated churches in Central Europe

12-03-2007 15:45 | Lenka Petaková

There are hundreds of churches in the Czech Republic which have turned into ruins over the past few decades. Most of them belong to the Catholic Church, but it seems unable to improve the current situation.

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In Prague and the neighbouring region of Central Bohemia, there are about 600 churches which urgently need to be renovated. Three hundred of them are already almost ruins. Only about one third of all the churches in this region are in a tolerable condition. I asked the person in charge of conserving church property for the Archdiocese of Prague, Vladimir Kellnar, where do funds normally come from for the repair of churches that belong to the Catholic Church.

"That depends, to a large extent, on where a particular church is located. If it's in a town or a city, we can often count on grants funded by the city council. The same is true of villages, but villages are usually not rich enough to be able to financially contribute to the repair of churches. The Catholic Church also draws financial support from grants which are annually offered by the Ministry of Culture. However, all these grants are rather insufficient. They are in fact only a portion of the sum needed, and the owner of the property is expected to financially participate in the renovation. On the part of the Church, the biggest problem is that parishes often fail to gather even such an amount of money which would enable them to apply for a grant."

After the1948 communist putsch, the Church had most of its property confiscated and it was made financially dependent on the state. Mr Kellnar says it was easier before 1948 for the Church to maintain its many historical buildings because it had farms whose earnings covered the costs of maintaining church buildings. Also, it was customary before 1948 that every church had its patron - either a local nobleman or the city council - who saw it as his duty to ensure that the church was in good condition.

The last time any renovation work was done on many churches was in the days of the First Republic, in the 1920s and 30s. Since then a lot of these church buildings have fallen into a state of disrepair. Mr Kellnar says that churches in this country are among the worst maintained in Europe and that there's little chance that this will be rectified unless urgent action is taken.

"There is indeed a huge difference in the state of churches in the Czech Republic and abroad. Nowhere else are churches in such a poor state. There are several factors that contribute to it: a high level of atheism in Czech society, which means that the care of sacral monuments is regarded as something marginal. Then, it is the fact that a large number of churches haven't been maintained for many decades, and so they are in a worse state than churches in Poland, Hungary or even the former Soviet Union. And, last but not least, we still haven't found a solution to the problematic relations of the state and the Church, and so there's little chance that the situation will soon improve."

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