Church encyclopedia reflects 13 years of work

Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas

A year ago, after the publication of the first volume of The Lutheran Churches of Latvia (Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas), the literary critic Pēteris Bankovskis wrote, “Only a pure enthusiast has enough energy for such grand works in such an adverse environment.”

Many people have felt the urge to photograph, document and compile Latvia’s cultural and historical heritage, but it is no secret that many of these efforts still lie in the drawers of their authors’ desks because it is nearly impossible to find a publisher. Vitolds Mašnovskis, though, has been lucky—the second volume of his encyclopedia has just been published, and only a year after the publication of the first volume.

Mašnovskis found a willing partner in Inta Bērente-Strenga, the director of the creative design agency DUE, who had the faith to even invest her personal finances in order to publish the encyclopedia. At the recent opening celebration for the second volume she stressed the great efforts of Mašnovskis and explained: “We became involved in this project four years ago, because we viewed this as a one-of-a-kind opportunity to take part in the creation of this voluminous reference material. It is a unique piece of work. I am convinced that another such grand research project about this topic will not be repeated any time soon.”

Mašnovskis spent more than 13 years gathering and compiling information for The Lutheran Churches of Latvia. He drove countless times from one end of Latvia to the other and spent hours and hours of his free time photographing each church and finding and reading historical documents in archives and museums. The encyclopedia is aimed at a wide audience, and it is the first publication that reflects upon the history, architecture and artwork of all 337 former and current Lutheran churches in the country. The first two volumes cover churches beginning with the letters A through L—from Abrene to Lutriņi.

Like the first volume, the second volume also contains beautiful color pictures of every church, highlighting masterpieces such as the elaborate Rococo style furnishings in the Liepāja Sv. Trīsvienības church. The author has painstakingly described the history of each church in great detail, much of which is usually connected to the German barons and their estates. The books therefore also include illustrations of German coats of arms. The encyclopedia contains many interesting, forgotten and little-known facts. For example, the graphic artist Sigismunds Vidbergs (who emigrated to the United States and was later known for the erotic themes in his artwork) drew the sketches for the stained glass windows in the Lielstraupe church.

The encyclopedia describes the harsh treatment of churches during the Soviet occupation of Latvia following World War II. For example, in 1949 local kolkhoz directors, led by visions of collectivization and atheistic propaganda, transformed the Allaži church into a cafeteria for a neurological hospital; later it was used as a warehouse. After the war, the Ādaži church was often vandalized, until in 1972 it finally became a warehouse for empty bottles and containers. The Garkalne church endured a similar fate, although surprisingly the painting “The Last Supper” by Johann Maddaus was spared. Unfortunately, no one knows the fate of the painting “Christ Blesses the Fields” by well-known artist Augusts Annuss, which was dedicated in the Allaži church in 1942.

The Lutheran Churches of Latvia is truly a comprehensive publication, and the English language summaries also allow non-Latvian readers to gain insight into the histories and architecture of Latvia’s many churches. The encyclopedia has become one of the most often requested books in Latvian libraries, and students use it as a source for school projects. Some readers have even begun to use pages copied from the encyclopedia as a tour guide when traveling around the country and familiarizing themselves with their cultural heritage.

Volume 2 of the encyclopedia contains 486 pages, 798 photographs and more than 140 schematic drawings and maps. All four volumes of the encyclopedia will contain a total of 4,000 photographs. At the opening celebration, Minister for Children and Family Affairs Ainārs Baštiks stressed that the encyclopedia’s thoroughness in the field of cultural history will help popularize Latvia’s image in the world. The art historian Ingrīda Burāne expressed her hope that the encyclopedia will become an heirloom for families to pass down from generation to generation.


Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas, 2.sejums

Vitolds Mašnovskis

Rīga:  DUE,  2006

ISBN 9984990699

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Purchase Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas, 2.sejums from BalticShop.

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Encyclopedia catalogs Lutheran churches

Just before Christmas a new publication was unveiled in Rīga: the 472-page first volume of the encyclopedia The Lutheran Churches of Latvia (Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas).

One can only agree with Jānis Vanags, the archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, who at the book’s opening celebration joked that an inventory of Latvia’s churches will now no longer be necessary. That’s because the cultural historian Vitolds Mašnovskis, who often drove 1,000 kilometers a day from church to church, has just completed a full inventory. Mašnovskis has visited, photographed and compiled information on all of the Lutheran churches in Latvia, including those that have been destroyed. He has spent countless hours in archives searching for layouts, historical photographs, coats of arms, sketches and descriptions.

This first volume of the encyclopedia covers the letters A to G—in other words, 92 churches. Have you ever heard of the Borne church? It is located in the far Kaplava parish in Krāslava district of eastern Latvia. In 1937 Kārlis Ulmanis, the president of Latvia, channeled LVL 15,000 of the national budget for the construction of this church. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry donated the church bell, which was transported all the way from the Tosmare factory in Liepāja on the western coast of Latvia. The Borne church has been renovated and is well-cared for.

The churches in Grieze (Saldus district, Ezere parish) and Glūda (Dobele district, Krimūnas parish) present a much different story. The Grieze church was devastated during the Soviet era, while occupying forces sawed off the tower of the Glūda church in 1978 and afterwards used the building as a warehouse for chemical fertilizers. Today both churches are abandoned.

But, as the author states, it is surprising how many congregations have been able to renovate their churches despite minimal resources. A perfect example is the small Augstroze church, which was also used as a warehouse during Soviet times. It is a pleasure to enter the church today, for it is furnished with new wooden pews and a beautiful altar.

In an interview with the newspaper Svētdienas rīts, Mašnovskis, who has visited many churches in Estonia as well, explained that churches in Latvia are more accessible; they are open longer and it is easier to arrange visits to those that are closed. On the other hand, the Estonians have published a guidebook including the addresses of all of their churches and a book titled The 100 Most Beautiful Churches in Estonia.

The Lutheran Churches of Latvia is the first book of such size to be published in the Baltic states. It covers the history, architecture, and artwork of all 337 of the current and former Lutheran churches in Latvia. The first volume alone contains 1,254 pictures and images. The encyclopedia also contains a glossary of foreign terms, a list of the 677 sources consulted for research, and a map with all of the churches marked, so that readers may visit the churches themselves, if they so wish. The book’s main text is in Latvian, but there is a summary of each church in English.

The encyclopedia, published by DUE in Rīga, is printed on specially selected paper and is overall a very high-quality publication. But quality demands a large financial investment, and the publication date of the second volume will depend on the sales of the first volume. The publishers hope that they will be able to publish the second volume this year.

Inta Bērente-Strenga, the director of DUE, explained, “We became involved in this project three years ago, and we view it as an honor to take part in the creation of a reference book of such scale, which required 12 years of arduous work by the author. This encyclopedia really is a unique publication. I’m convinced that there will not be another work of this scale about the churches of Latvia anytime soon. I cannot underestimate the importance of this contribution to the preservation of the cultural heritage of Latvia for coming generations.”

Ainārs Baštiks (minister for children and family affairs), Imants Lancmanis (director of the Rundāle Palace Museum), Ojārs Spārītis (art historian and director of the Blackheads House) and many others expressed their appreciation at the book’s opening celebration. A total of 2,000 copies of the encyclopedia’s first volume were printed. But how many will find their way into the churches themselves? Knowing the small means of most congregations, the publisher hopes that individuals in Latvia and elsewhere will donate the encyclopedia to their local churches, schools and museums.

The Lutheran Churches of Latvia is on sale in Latvia at all Jāņa Rozes bookstores and at the offices of the newspaper Laiks at Doma laukums 1 in Rīga.

(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Latvian in the Jan. 14 issue of Laiks and is republished with the permission of the author. It was translated by Amanda Jātniece.)


Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas

Vitolds Mašnovskis

Rīga:  DUE,  2005

ISBN 9984198294

Where to buy

Purchase Latvijas luterāņu baznīcas from BalticShop.

Note: Latvians Online receives a commission on purchases.