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
Rīga: DUE, 2005
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