Spišské Vlachy – St John’s Church


   The original, late Romanesque church was built in Spišské Vlachy after the Mongol invasion in 1241. Its construction certainly began after two years later, the local settlers, apparently of Walloon origin, received a privilege from King Béla IV. The village was recorded in a document from 1258 under the name of Villa Olzy, and in 1262 as Villa Latina. Most likely, the parish church was already completed at that time, because its parish priest was recorded in a document from 1273, in which King Ladislaus renewed older privilege.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the church was damaged during the fights of King Charles Robert with Máté Csák, a Hungarian magnate sovereignly ruling the north-western part of the kingdom. Perhaps the damages sustained at that time influenced the decision to thoroughly rebuild and enlarge the church with side aisles. Construction works, perhaps on the Gothic chancel, were carried out at the end of the fourteenth century, when the church was temporarily not used for sacral purposes, and masses were held in the chapel of St. Elizabeth. The medieval expansion of the church was completed in 1434, with the building of a vault in the central nave.
   During the Reformation, the townspeople quickly adopted a new religion, mainly thanks to an Evangelical, originally a Catholic priest, Jakub Balása, as a result of which the church was taken by Protestants already in 1545. It returned to the hands of the Catholics in 1674, in the atmosphere of conflict between the followers of both religions, who three years earlier clashed after a local funeral, in an armed skirmish. A little earlier, in 1666, the building may have suffered damages during the first recorded great fire of the town. Another fire occurred in 1686. In 1832, the church tower was transformed along with the western façade. Repair work was necessary in the second half of the 19th century, especially after the fire of 1862.


   The church was built on a slight hill, sloping to the east. It was located in the western part of the settlement, to the west of the market square, elongated along the north-south axis. From the south, its orientated body was adjacent to the street leading to Spišská Nová Ves, while from the north, the church cemetery opened onto a free, undeveloped area, and only at the chancel it touched the backs of plots of residential buildings near the market square.
   In the 15th century, the church had the form of a pseudo-basilica building with central nave and two aisles, with a polygonal chancel on the east side and a sacristy on the north side. The central nave was erected using the walls of an older sacral building from the 13th century. From the west, the central nave was to be adjacent to the four-sided tower already in the Gothic period.
The chancel and aisles of the church were reinforced from the outside with numerous buttresses, between which ogival windows were placed, especially high in the eastern part of the church. The central nave was opened with arcades to the side aisles, but it did not receive lighting from its own windows. The interior was covered with a stellar vault in the aisles, a net vault in the central nave and a cross-rib vault in the chancel. In the central nave, the ribs were lowered onto round shafts with capitals decorated with floral motifs, remaining from the older church from the 13th century.

Current state

   Today, the church is the second largest Gothic temple in Spiš region, after the church of St. James in Levoča. Most of it has retained its Gothic character, with the exception of the western façade with the tower, which was transformed in the 19th century. Inside, Gothic vaults have been preserved, in the central nave from the 15th century, but interestingly still supported by late-Romanesque wall-shafts with capitals. The windows have their original forms, but the restored tracery is a copy made in 1875. The 15th-century crucifix of Master Pavol of Levoča, the Gothic pastoforium and the bronze baptismal font from 1497 have been preserved from the original furnishings.

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Mencl V., Stredoveká architektúra na Slovensku, Praha 1937.

Lexikon stredovekých miest na Slovensku, red. Štefánik M., Lukačka J., Bratislava 2010.
Pamiatková zóna mesta Spišské Vlachy, red. R.Kiráľ, Košice 2016.
Slovensko. Ilustrovaná encyklopédia pamiatok, red. P.Kresánek, Bratislava 2020.