Articles tagged:

Religion

Magazine article

The Luther factor: discovering Wittenberg

by Nicky Gardner

Yadegar Asisi’s panorama in Lutherstadt Wittenberg is a very modern take on the traditional installation; it’s a very immersive experience. There is the extraordinary contrast between the business of Wittenberg streets, pictured in fine detail, and an almost meditative calm experienced by visitors to the panorama.

Magazine article

Free thinking: the appeal of Friedrichstadt

by Nicky Gardner

Friedrichstadt, a small town in northern Germany close to the Eider River, has a remarkable cultural history. It has been a haven for those seeking to escape religious persecution. Remonstrants and Mennonites settled here in the 1620s. There is still today in Friedrichstadt a sense of being somewhere very special.

Magazine article

There in spirit

by hidden europe

Isn’t intelligent voice radio something special? We recall a moment when it really seemed that Martin Luther might open the door and ask if he might drop in for a cuppa.

Magazine article

Return to Eriskay: A Hebridean community

by Nicky Gardner

Living on a small island demands a willingness to make compromises. Yet islands still have a special appeal. We make time for one of our favourite islands. Nothing much ever happens on Eriskay, and to be honest there’s not really much to see. But this outpost in the Outer Hebrides has a very special magic.

Magazine article

Blessings from Heaven: The journey to Scalan

by Nicky Gardner

We venture south, following Livet Water up into the Braes of Glenlivet. This area survived as an outpost of Catholicism in post-Reformation Scotland. At Scalan, on the lower flank of the Ladder Hills, a secret seminary trained priests in the 18th century until the time when a more permissive attitude to Catholicism meant that the Church could function more openly.

Magazine article

Changing places: Adaptive architecture

by Nicky Gardner

Would you sleep in a former abattoir that had been converted into a hotel? Or a prison? Or an asylum? We look at how hotels cope with history, drawing mainly on a lovely example of a Dutch monastery which has been transformed into a striking hotel.

Magazine article

City of the Golden Fleece: Batumi, Georgia

by Laurence Mitchell

Glitzy casinos and gilded statues tell of Batumi's ambitions to become the Dubai of the Black Sea. But the Georgian city curates an important cultural legacy as the supposed home of the Golden Fleece. Guest contributor Laurence Mitchell slips over the border from Turkey into Georgia to explore Batumi.

Magazine article

Ukrainians on the move

by hidden europe

Not far from Lockerbie, in the hills of southern Scotland, a corrugated iron hut was converted into a simple chapel in summer 1947. It is a remote, rural outpost of Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church.

Magazine article

Follow the dove

by hidden europe

Look for the tell-tale Pentecostal dove that marks out the small chapels dedicated to the Holy Spirit. They are found across the Azores, each chapel the hub of a social network that underpins Azorean Catholicism.

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Fate shall smile once more

There are no silver linings in the clouds of war. These are dark times. So our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people. That prompts us to reflect on one of Ukraine's most interesting cities: the Black Sea port of Odesa.

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Faith and identity in the Slovakian hills

Next week, the Pope is visiting Slovakia and the world’s media will surely show images of His Holiness taking a leading role in what looks like an Orthodox liturgy. It prompts us to look at faith and identity in the Carpathians - the area where the Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland converge.

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The waiting game

hidden europe 63 is now available, featuring articles about Bulgaria, Alsace, rural Galicia and northern Italy. We also look at the prospects for slow travel in the post-COVID world. Single issues and subscriptions are available in the hidden europe online shop.

Magazine article

A Silesian Jerusalem: visiting the calvary at Krzeszów

by Nicky Gardner

Not far from the Czech border, in the southernmost part of Polish Silesia, lies the monastery of Krzeszów (formerly known by its German name of Grüssau). It was to this quiet spot that manuscripts and books from Berlin were sent for safe keeping in the Second World War. These days, pilgrims make their way to the monastery as a place of prayer.

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Breaking the Ice

This weekend sees the annual ritual of the opening of the ice in anticipation of the Orthodox Feast of the Theophany on Tuesday. Often this is done by creating a hole in the shape of a cross, allowing the faithful to totally immerse themselves in icy waters.

Magazine article

The home of Esperanto

by hidden europe

Who was Dr Esperanto (Dr Hope)? He was an ophthalmologist by profession, but he is most remembered for his love of languages. The good doctor’s real name was Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof and he is best remembered as the creator of Esperanto. He came from one of Europe’s most multilingual communities: Białystok in north-east Poland.

Magazine article

Beyond the Small Homeland

by hidden europe

Mishar Tatars and Lipka Tatars have been quick to assimilate into the communities to which they migrated. We discover how they moved through the Baltic region, settling in Lithuania and Finland, with some moving on to Sweden and the United States of America.

Magazine article

Eastern Crescent: Islam in the Baltic region

by Nicky Gardner

Lipka Tatars settled in the rural region south of Vilnius in the 14th century, and their descendants still reside in villages in north-east Poland, western Belarus and southern Lithuania. They are a Muslim minority in a region of Europe which is often incorrectly perceived as being homogeneously Christian. We report on Baltic Islam.

Magazine article

Beating the border: the Catholic dioceses of the island of Ireland

by Nicky Gardner

The boundaries of ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes often show scant regard for secular administrative boundaries. We discover a French Roman Catholic diocese where the bishop’s pastoral responsibilities extend to parishes on both sides of the Atlantic. And in Ireland we see how, since the UK left the European Union in early 2020, there are now Catholic parishes which are bisected by the outer edge of the EU.

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The papal states

The emergence in the eighth century of the papal states in parts of Italy and beyond heralded a geopolitical oddity which survived for over 1000 years, and of which there is the faintest echo in the current status of Vatican City - the world's smallest country.

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Inishmurray

Inishmurray lies squat and low half a dozen kilometers off Streedagh Point in County Sligo. No one sleeps on Inishmurray these days. The island’s entire population, then numbering just a few dozen, left in 1948. Since then the buildings have crumbled and now there’s an air of quiet dereliction around Inishmurray.

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From Norway to Silesia

There are only about two dozen surviving Norwegian stave churches. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are in Norway. But curiously there's a fine example of a Norwegian stave church on the northern slopes of the Giant Mountains in south-west Poland. The church was purchased by the German Kaiser and transported from Vang in Norway to the Silesian hills in the early 1840s.

Note

Liturgical adventures during Coronavirus times

Across much of Europe, church services and other faith gatherings were very limited or non-existent at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In many countries, churches remained open for private prayer, but there were some countries where churches were locked. For me, as perhaps for many others in these difficult times, the online services streamed by various congregations have been an unexpected blessing.

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Travels with Saint Paul

Even if you don’t have a thread of religious fibre in your body, try reading the Acts of the Apostles, and see what you make of it as a travel narrative. You may want to have a good atlas of the ancient world to hand as you follow Paul on his meandering itinerary through Lystra and Phrygia to Mysia and beyond.

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A Taste of Heaven

Christianity is not especially sweet-toothed, though the Old Testament psalms do drip generously with honey. Shift to the New Testament and there are loaves, fishes, but not much by way of dessert. Yet by the 16th century, convents in Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula were very much into the business of producing sweets for sale to those living beyond the convent walls.

Magazine article

Moladh Uibhist: In Praise of Uist

by Nicky Gardner

Driving the spinal road which runs the length of South Uist can be a melancholic or an uplifting experience. Few Hebridean islands evoke such mixed responses. In this article, we explore South Uist and find an island of delicate beauty.

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Storm Brendan

Brendan’s arrival had been much touted. He didn’t come as a surprise. Days prior to his arrival there was talk of Brendan. There was a run on lettuces and toilet rolls here on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. People like to stock up on the essentials when there’s a big storm coming.

Magazine article

The Spirit of the Vosges

by Nicky Gardner
Join us as we discover the Vosges hills in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of eastern France. It's a region which has always been a wellspring of fine ideas, cutting a dash in the world of culture and industry. We visit a valley once settled by the Amish, learn about an illustrious tradition of printed textiles and roam through the montane heathland above the tree line.
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New issue: hidden europe 57

We have this year visited the Baltic twice already. It's a region of Europe that's at its best in winter, we find, and sedate Binz was the perfect place to pen the editorial for issue 57 of hidden europe which is published tomorrow. Let's take a look at this new issue of the magazine.

Magazine article

In Search of the Old Believers Today

by hidden europe
The Old Believers fled from the tsarist heartland into the remotest corners of the Russian Empire. Some went to Manchuria, moving on to South America and then to Oregon and Alaska. Others found refuge back in Moscow, practising their faith in the city's cemeteries. We go in search of the Old Believers.
Magazine article

Editorial hidden europe 57

by hidden europe

Our abiding interest in hidden europe is in places and landscapes, and in the manner in which they shape the human experience. And issue no. 57 brings a hefty dose of these themes. Enjoy the read!

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The City of Music

Even at this time of the year there is a lush richness in the citrus groves and chestnut woods which tumble down to the sea. We make our way through cypresses and limes towards the Villa Rufolo, the gardens of which inspired Richard Wagner.

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Letter from India

We were and still are Indian novices. The subcontinent pivots around a different Heaven from Europe. So we were a little nervous when we recently visited the country. Wouldn't you be? And we were rarely in the right place at the right time. Enjoy our regular travel 'letter' which most unusually comes not from Europe but from southern India.

Magazine article

Return to Marienbad: The Ghosts of Mariánské Lázne

by Nicky Gardner
Few place names resonate in the way that Marienbad does. The celebrated spa town tucked away in the hills of Bohemia is, like many of the traditional spas of central Europe, a place apart. Today the town is known by the Czech name of Mariánské Lázne and hints of a Habsburg past are draped with a soft veneer of Soviet-style central planning and the sharp edge of modern capitalism.
Magazine article

The Tender Touch of an Angel

by Patricia Stoughton
Tucked away in the country lanes of Brittany (in the north-west corner of France) are a number of shrines and sculptures which feature an angel tenderly holding back Christ's hair on the crucifix. Patricia Stoughton goes in search of a peculiarly Breton touch in religious art.
Magazine article

Between East and West: The Ukrainian City of Lviv

by Nicky Gardner
The city of Lviv, located in the western reaches of Ukraine, is in many respects a classic central European city, a place which has more in common with Wien, Trieste and Budapest than with other cities in the former Soviet Union – of which Lviv was of course a part. We report from a city which has a complex and layered history, something which makes Lviv all the more interesting.
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Barra connections

Islands breed patience – among both the living and the dead. Especially in mid-winter in Barra, when the storms can be relentless. For us, however, there is a rare pleasure in being at the mercy of the elements. One feels connected with nature in a way which is harder to discern in Berlin.

Magazine article

The City by the Elbe: Torgau and the Reformation

by Nicky Gardner
This is at one level the story of a renegade monk and a runaway nun. But it's also the wider story of the Reformation in Saxony. Join us as we explore Torgau, a town on the banks of the River Elbe in eastern Germany which played second fiddle to Wittenberg in the Reformation. It is 500 years since Martin Luther kicked off a movement which was to divide the Catholic Church.
Magazine article

Lutherstadt Torgau

by hidden europe
The renaming of towns to honour an individual is commonplace. Nizhny Novgorod became Gorky, in honour of the Russian writer Maxim Gorki who was born there. The town later switched back to its original name. In eastern Germany, towns have been prefixed in honour of a notable citizen. We have Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Why not Lutherstadt Torgau?
Magazine article

Islands on the Edge: Exploring Barra and Vatersay

by Nicky Gardner

The islands of Barra and Vatersay are remarkable places. They are the southernmost inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. These two Scottish islands have remained Catholic outposts in a country known for its generally Protestant ways. That's not the only unusual aspect of Barra and Vatersay, as we discover in this feature for hidden europe.

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Hints of the East in Frantiskovy Lázne

Relaxation is compulsory in Frantiskovy Lázne, a small spa town in the far north-west corner of the Czech Republic. There are two outstanding churches, one a very fine Catholic church executed in graceful Empire style and the other a rather uplifting Orthodox church dedicated to St Olga. That second church is a reminder that the Czech spa tradition has always thrived on links with the east.

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Thoughts for the 8th of March

Today is International Women's Day (IWD). In the ecclesiastical calendar, Rome assigns 8 March to St John of God, who died on this day in 1550. He was, as it happens, a thoroughly decent guy who in the latter years of his life worked in Granada (Spain) as a printer, publisher and bookseller.

Magazine article

Out of the Shadows

by hidden europe
Władysław Szpilman’s remarkable book The Pianist (made into a film by Roman Polanski) reveals the devastation of Jewish life in Warsaw in 1945. To accompany our feature on Jewish Warsaw we look at the city's Jewish community in the immeditate post-war years.
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From Burton to Berlin

Berlin is not normally a place for liturgical theatre, at least not of the Catholic variety. But St Afra is a place apart. And the musical flourishes in this service are remarkable for their provenance. One of the great English organs of the Victorian era does daily service in Berlin.

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Christmas 1816

One day, a learned and able writer will surely pen a spiritual geography of England, looking at the relationship between faith and landscape in that country. It is a book that just waits to be written. The story of John Henry Newman should figure centrally in that volume, for his extraordinary biography captures something of the English spirit.

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Buying a Scottish island

Would you ever consider buying an entire island? This autumn has seen a couple of Scottish islands on the market. For a mere two million pounds, you might consider Tanera Mòr, the largest of the Summer Isles just off the coast of north-west Scotland.

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The Maastricht factor

Do you not find that some towns have instant appeal? That's how we feel about Maastricht, a medium-size city tucked away in the southernmost part of the Netherlands - a region called Limburg. It's forty years since the last of the Limburg coal mines ceased production, after a long period of decline.

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Stumbling through history

As I walked deeper into the complex, surrounded on all sides by the chunky columns, I heard the animated chatter of two kids from time to time - two young English voices in a forest of memories in the very middle of Berlin. I met some Spanish children playing hide-and-seek. Soon I was alone, quite alone, in the dark heart of the memorial.

Magazine article

Catholic Oxford

by hidden europe
December 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of John Henry Newman's admittance to Trinity College, Oxford. Almost 30 years later (in 1845), Newman was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church. We take a look at Catholic Oxford.
Magazine article

Editorial hidden europe 50

by hidden europe

Welcome to hidden europe 50. We live and work in a city where foreign nationals make an immense contribution to the local economy, to society and to the arts. Berlin is in that respect very typical of many places in Europe. In hidden europe, we celebrate the diversity of our home continent.

Magazine article

Only Fit For Wild Ducks

by Nicky Gardner
Catch the spirit of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides with Gaelic psalm singing at a country church in Lewis or Marian devotions on the Isle of Eriskay. We explore an island archipelago that has a complex mix of landscapes, of which the most distinctive is the machair - the rich grasslands on fragile dunes.
Magazine article

Albania: A Tale of Two Valleys

by Laurence Mitchell
It is unlikely that great streams of tourists will be arriving in the mountains of northern Albania anytime soon. But this part of the southern Balkans now benefits from better access roads. Guest contributor Laurence Mitchell reports from two valleys in the hills often known as the Albanian Alps.
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Home truths

Many municipal authorities around Europe are very tolerant of the improvised structures which popped up over the last ten days here and there around towns and cities. Those in the know realised at once that it was time for Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles which starts on the fifteenth day of Tishrei.

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Walking with friends

Summer is slipping into autumn and the leaves in forests around Berlin are already falling. We walked through mixed woodland pondering the sounds and smells of beech, oak, hazel and pine. Before long, we came to Chorin where the remarkable red-brick ruins of a 13th-century monastery are a reminder that there is more than just nature in this sparsely populated region of rural Brandenburg.

Magazine article

The Hills of Western Serbia

by Laurence Mitchell
There are many visions of Yugoslavia's past. Laurence Mitchell visits the hills of western Serbia to learn how heritage and history fuel the imagination. It's a journey that starts and ends in Uzice and takes in the famous Sargan Eight narrow-gauge railway.
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After the referendum

For millions of Brits of my generation, the EU gave an exit route, a chance to escape. It gave me a chance to feel truly European, to be truly European. It has given me the opportunity to explore other languages, other faiths, other freedoms, that would simply never have come my way.

Magazine article

Finistère: land of a thousand chapels

by Patricia Stoughton

In the north-west corner of Brittany, an area known as Finistère, dozens of ancient chapels attest to the erstwhile importance of faith in the region. Celtic myth and Catholic belief underpin life and community in this remote part of France. Patricia Stoughton introduces us to the astounding richness and variety of chapels on or close to the coasts of Finistère.

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A Kosovo tale

There's a touch of the wild west about Ferizaj. It has a frontier feel. When the English traveller Edith Durham travelled through Kosovo in 1908, she stopped just briefly in Ferizaj, remarking that this was a community created by the railway.

Magazine article

More than just Calvin: the Geneva story

by Nicky Gardner

We take a look at a European city which has often styled itself as a place of refuge. Geneva has long taken a stand on human rights. So join us as we explore the many sides of Geneva, the Swiss city that turns out to have impeccable radical credentials.

Magazine article

Mennonite migrants

by hidden europe

Over 100,000 migrants left Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s, a good number moving to Germany. Many of them were descended from Mennonites who over a century earlier had walked from the steppes of southern Russia to Kyrgyzstan.

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Radical assets Geneva-style

All who make their way to Geneva are struck by the sheer beauty of the city's setting. It is also a place that has always made space for radicals of all persuasions. Three hundred years after Calvin's death in 1564, the city emerged as a hotspot in the development of anarchist and socialist ideas which were to make waves across Europe.

Magazine article

Heart and soul: the spirit of Altötting

by Nicky Gardner

Join us as we visit the town of Altötting in Bavaria. The remarkable success of Altötting lies in its appeal to all-comers, be they devout Catholics, loyal Bavarians or merely casual sightseers. The town, which hosts one of the leading Marian shrines in Europe, lies in glorious countryside just north of the Alps.

Magazine article

The borders of reality: panoramas

by Nicky Gardner

Panoramas, often displayed in purpose-built circular galleries, offered virtual travel experiences long before cinema and the internet. Like all immersive technologies, panoramas raised important questions about the boundaries between subject and object.

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The Seven Sleepers

In some parts of Europe, 27 June is marked as the day of the Seven Sleepers. In Germany, the weather on Siebenschläfer is seen as indicative of what sort of summer we can expect. Stable weather on 27 June bodes well for the weeks ahead. But wild weather on that day indicates that rain rather than sun is in store for July and August. But folk wisdom across Europe varies from country to country, culture to culture.

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Pentecost in the heart of Bavaria

It rained last night on the hills above the Inn Valley in Bavaria. Lucky were those pilgrims who had the luxury of a bed in one of the many small inns and guest houses which are to be found along the route of Saint James. Nourished in body if not yet completely in soul, the small groups of pilgrims wander south towards Altötting, a small town in Bavaria which is less than a day's walk from the border with Austria.

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The Great Synagogue of Plzen

You might expect the most striking building in Plzen to be a brewery. But there's more to Plzen than beer. In fact the most impressive building in the Czech city is the Great Synagogue on Plzen's main thoroughfare.

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A season of shadows

It is the season for shadows. No other week in the ecclesiastical calendar comes with such a hefty dose of liturgical theatre as that which concludes with Easter. It is a week which has its highs and lows, its exuberant periods of light balanced by dark interludes.

Magazine article

Brittany’s Easter Island

by Patricia Stoughton

Patricia Stoughton leads us through the soft landscapes of Brittany to discover a local initiative that showcases local saints. La Vallée des Saints (Traonienn ar Sant in Breton) is a bold statement about the enduring importance of regional culture and identity.

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Edwardtide

Today is an ordinary working day, though if history had taken a different turn, October 13 could so easily have become a national holiday in England. Many of the men and women who have occupied the English throne in the last 1000 years have aspired to sainthood. But only one of them has ever actually been canonised, namely Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is celebrated in both the Catholic and Anglican Church today.

Magazine article

Simply wood: a journey into the hills

by Nicky Gardner

The humblest homes in many villages in the Carpathians are built of wood. So, too, are the grandest buildings - almost invariably the church. Wood has its own benign beauty, and it is the carrier of tradition. We explore the wooden architecture of that part of the Carpathian region which lies to the east of the High Tatras.

Magazine article

The three pillars of Rusyn life

by Nicky Gardner

The fragile flame of Rusyn consciousness is flickering back to life. There is renewed interest in Rusyn art and literature. A group that endured "fifty years of Soviet silence" (Norman Davies' words) is reasserting its right to be heard. We look at a minority which has as its cultural heartland the hill country where the territories of Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland converge.

Magazine article

Russian Orthodox churches on the Riviera

by hidden europe

Visitors to the Riviera are often surprised to find the striking Orthodox churches along the coast. From the red headlands of the Esterel Massif to Sanremo in Liguria, there is a hint of the east in the ecclesiastical landscape - a legacy of the history of Russian visitors to the region.

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Gozo threads

The island of Gozo, Malta's kid sister, is indeed a sanctuary, a place apart. All the more so during these last days of June when a sequence of Catholic feast days are the cue for village festivities.

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Much ado about the Ascension

There was often much ado around San Marco on Ascension Day. At least if Canaletto's celebrated paintings of Venice on the Feast of the Ascension are to be believed. The particular ceremony that caught Canaletto's attention was the annual dedication of the Venetian Republic to the Adriatic.

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The Carpathian spirit

From villages in the Ukrainian hills above Uzhhorod west through the Bieszczady Mountains to remote communities in south-east Poland, there is a Paschal theme this Sunday morning: "Christos voskrese," it runs in Church Slavonic. "Christ has risen." In the rural valleys on the south side of the Bieszczady Mountains, territory which is part of Slovakia, you might catch this Sunday's special greeting uttered in Rusyn.

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Sárospatak: a small town in Hungary

Travelling through north-east Hungary earlier this month, we could so easily have missed Sárospatak. It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon and we turned off the main road merely on a whim. Sárospatak was to us little more than a name on a map. Of course we knew something of the Calvinist traditions of eastern Hungary - a part of the Habsburg realm where the ripples of the Reformation captured the local imagination.

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Music for 25 March

March 1714 was a good month for Johann Sebastian Bach. On the second of the month, he was promoted to the plum job of Konzertmeister at the Weimar court. This was quite an achievement for a man who was only 28 years old. The terms of the new appointment required that each month Bach should present a new cantata in the Schlosskirche (Palace Church) at Weimar, and the first of those performances was scheduled for 25 March - 300 years ago today.

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Into the desert

The monastery on the Isola di San Francesco del Deserto is a place apart, an island retreat in the shallow recesses of the northern lagoon well away from the hustle and bustle of Venice. It is an island where blessed solitude is punctuated by the Liturgy of the Hours. Franciscan monks have prayed on San Francesco del Deserto for eight centuries, their chants shaping a soundscape that otherwise is dominated by bird song, the breeze running through avenues of cypresses and the ripple of water.

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An Advent meditation

The sky takes on a different quality in the run-up to Christmas. The grey cloud-folds of Advent have rolled back, and suddenly the air is brighter, drier and clearer. The trees have been flayed by autumn. Only bare skeletons remain, their outlines haunting the December landscape. Winter is creeping over Europe, its progress marked by the candles on our Advent wreath. First one candle, then two, last Sunday a third, and today as dusk falls a full flush of four candles burning bright.

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Winter comes to Kroscienko

The winter snows have come to higher parts of the Carpathians, and already the beech woods and forests of fir are clad in white. Kroscienko, a little village in the Polish hills, is very quiet this time of year. Were it not for the fact that the road through Kroscienko leads to a border crossing with neighbouring Ukraine, there would be scarcely anyone passing through Kroscienko.

Magazine article

Of cats and creeds: an Exeter essay

by Nicky Gardner

In Exeter, the great Gothic cathedral certainly helps define the Devon city. But Exeter is also characterised by the threads of faith that criss-cross the city. We follow the call to prayer and make a pilgrimage through Exeter, along the way meeting the city's Imam, visiting the mosque, and also discovering Exeter’s Orthodox Christian community.

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Falling apples

The second of the spas - the Apple Spas - is marked today over much of central and eastern Europe. It coincides, as every year, with the Feast of the Transfiguration - a milestone in the ecclesiastical calendar. The Apple Spas is a day when great baskets of apples are taken to the morning celebration of the Divine Liturgy in village churches. It is a day that reminds us that a change in the seasons is not far hence.

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A season of grace

It is Good Friday again, a day that jolts much of Europe out of its regular routine. It is a day for pilgrimages - some avowedly secular, others more religious in character. Large crowds from the Saarland region of Germany will flock over the border to the French town of Bouzonville which today hosts its celebrated Good Friday market. So popular is this event that an otherwise abandoned cross-border rail route is reopened for just one day each year to allow special trains from Germany to Bouzonville and back.

Magazine article

The route to Zakopane: a journey of the spirit

by Nicky Gardner

The slow train journey from Kraków to Zakopane seems to last an eternity. The names of the forty-one stations along the way – and our train pauses at every one of them – make a wonderful litany of Polish toponyms. The route takes in a remarkable religious landscape (one that is inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List) and the valley where Lenin and other early Bolsheviks helped shape their revolutionary code. It concludes at Poland's premier mountain resort.

Magazine article

Parisian prayers: a litany of liturgies

by Duncan JD Smith

Paris is a city that has always embraced migrants, with each new wave of arrivals bringing their own faith. Walk the streets of the French capital and you'll find faith comes in many flavours, from varying shades of Orthodox Christianity to Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Duncan JD Smith, author of the guide Only in Paris (published March 2013), takes us on a pilgrimage through Parisian prayer traditions.

Magazine article

Papal exits

by Nicky Gardner

The Holy See and the Italian Republic tussled for years over which country owned one contested section of the Passetto di Borgo. That's the name given to the elevated footpath that links the papal apartments in the Vatican with the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. That path has been for centuries the exit of last resort for popes in trouble. Now the passetto is to be opened to the public.

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Small is beautiful: the view from the Vatican

Rarely has the Vatican been so much in the spotlight as over the last week or two. The dog days of a papacy have never in recent times been quite so clearly defined as they were in February 2013. Benedict’s announcement on 12 February ushered in 16 days of preparations for that moment last Thursday evening when the Pope stepped back from office. Important ecclesiastic business was immediately shelved. We find it interesting what business was still transacted in the second half of February.

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A time for blessings

Today is Candlemas Eve, definitively marking the end of the Christmas season in western Europe. Modern custom in secular Europe is often to dismantle Christmas decorations well before the Epiphany, but in many churches across the continent cribs and Christmas trees remain in place until just before Candlemas, the feast which falls tomorrow (2 February).

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Crimea connections

Foros is a place for holidays and for history. During the Soviet era, this resort at the southern tip of the Crimea was much favoured by Kremlin leaders looking for a little summer relaxation. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was at his dacha in Foros in August 1991 when the old guard in Moscow attempted to seize power. The coup failed, but it nudged the Soviet Union over the brink. Within a week, the Union was unravelling as constituent republics edged towards independence.

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Retreating into Advent

Have we lost the ability to wait, to keep vigil, to be patient? This weekend, much of Europe marks the start of Advent. In many countries this is still a season defined by quiet reflection in anticipation of Christmas. For some, these weeks in the run-up to Christmas are intimately associated with a modest level of asceticism - not as harsh as Lent, but inclining that way.

Magazine article

Russia’s wooden churches

Many books cross our desks. This year, one particular volume has struck us more than any other. Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North is a remarkable volume. Superb photography by Richard Davies complemented by evocative prose by Matilda Moreton make for a winning combination. The book is truly an object to treasure, just as the churches it describes are aspects of Europe's heritage that should be treasured.

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Transfiguration

Last Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Orthodox calendar, was the Apple Spas. Across much of Orthodox Europe, the spoils of the new harvest were offered up at church services. No matter that the combine harvesters are still hard at work in the fields. No matter that the apples still hang heavy in the orchards. Change is in the air.

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Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb

by hidden europe

Nicely multi-ethnic, assertively multi-confessional, the cemetery at Maragoj is a fine spot to fire the imagination of the living. The cemetery in Zagreb's northern suburbs is one of Europe's most evocative burial grounds.

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The naming of sons

You probably don't chart your progress through the year with an ecclesiastical calendar. We do, but in truth we cannot really recommend it as a sensible way of confronting modernity. Today, in that part of Europe which favours Rome over Constantinople, is St John's Day - more precisely, the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist. The Orthodox communions will wait another 13 days before giving a little festive cheer for St John.

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Musings for May Day

Across much of Europe, May is ushered in by a night of bonfires and revelry. "All a matter of keeping the witches at bay," says our friend Milena who lives in a small village in Bohemia. Across the Czech Republic, the vigil of May Day is the cue for pálení carodejnic (the witch burning). There are bonfires and broomsticks aplenty and folk stay up till dawn. The shift from April to May is a liminal moment in the calendrical affairs of the European continent - one of those edgy, dangerous temporal boundaries that deserve to be taken seriously.

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Across the Channel

The stretch of coast north from Boulogne (in the direction of Calais) is a good place to reflect on England. We took a local bus along the coastal road last month, and it made for a fine ride on a perfectly clear, crisp winter day. Beach communities like Wimereux and Wissant were once popular holiday spots, much favoured by English visitors.

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The mystery of Los Picaos

by Diego Vivanco

Guest contributor Diego Vivanco visits the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in Spain's Rioja region to see how its inhabitants mark Holy Week. He witnesses a Lenten spectacle that is both theatrical and intimate at the same time.

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Rites of penance

by hidden europe

Prompted by Diego Vivanco's report from San Vicente de la Sonsierra, hidden europe sets out to detect the origins of the religious practice of self-flagellation in Europe.

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Church etiquette

Over the recent holidays, a friend and fellow-traveller popped the 'church question'. Is it okay to slip into Mass or Evensong to enjoy the splendours of Venice's Basilica di San Marco or York's magnificent Minster when the principal intent is not worship but a wish to see the buildings' interiors? Or should the visitor more properly attend at times designated for tourists, queue as necessary and pay an admission fee if requested?

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Less bratwurst, more Brussels

This Advent we have caught a dash of Christmas spirit in several different countries across Europe. Mulled wine comes with a variety of accents, sometimes with hints of cinnamon and citrus, elsewhere more honey and black pepper. It has been fun to wander through Christmas markets from Strasbourg to Southwark, from Brussels to Berlin, and it is also an instructive lesson in globalisation.

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Botany in Paradise

by Iain Bamforth

Iain Bamforth, a first-time contributor to hidden europe, wanders through the fruit markets of his home town of Strasbourg and reflects on apples and apricots, persimmons and pomegranates. Join us on a botanical tourof Paradise.

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Remember, remember

Many English readers will know the rhyme that recalls the failed terrorist action in 1605, when Guy Fawkes and a group of Catholic conspirators tried to blow up the English Parliament. But the majority of those who gather at bonfires across England this evening probably will not have the details of Guy Fawkes' peculiar act of treason uppermost in their minds as they gaze at crossettes, spiders, horsetails and multi-break shells exploding in the night skies.

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Reformation Day

Europe's Protestant reformers were not, on the whole, men who took kindly to statues. Indeed, thousands of statues in Catholic churches across Europe were smashed to pieces during the Reformation. So it's hard to fathom what Martin Luther would have made of the rather ostentatious statue of himself that stands in the middle of the Rhineland city of Worms.

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Report from Kalmykia

The steppes on the drive east from the capital are parched and dry. Vehicles are few and far between. They are in the main old Soviet-era jeeps and trucks, the progress of each one marked by a trail of dust that hangs heavy in the afternoon air.This is the land of the saiga, an endangered antelope with a beautiful bulbous nose that lives on the feather grass steppes of Kalmykia.

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Ramadan in the Far North

Ramadan, the annual month of prayer and fasting for the world's Muslim population, is just starting, so it is worth sparing a thought for Muslims who live in Europe's northern regions. To refrain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset is a tough challenge, though one doubtless made easier when underpinned by a firm faith. But with Ramadan moving forward towards mid-summer each year, the issue of an appropriate fasting regime for Muslims in Europe's polar regions is a very real one.

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Songlands: a Karelian journey

by Nicky Gardner

Karelia is the land of the Kalevala, the great epic poem that so powerfully influenced the development of the Finnish national movement in the nineteenth century. We travel through the songlands of the Kalevala and look in particular at the role of Orthodox religion in Karelia and more widely in Finland.

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Sharing sacred space

by hidden europe

The clean lines that we think divide religions often become very blurred in the Balkan region. Thus shrines may be claimed as sacred by adherents of more than one religion. We look at the phenomenon of syncretic shrines.

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Temple of All Religions

by hidden europe

Ildar Khanov lives in a temple of his own creation. It boasts a splendid array of minarets and domes that recall many of the world’s principal religions. Not quite what you might expect to find in the suburb of a city in the Russian Federation. But this is Russia with a twist, for Ildar Khanov lives in Tatarstan.

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The spiritual geography of Karelia

Are not some landscapes genuinely therapeutic? We crested wave after wave of rolling forests as we drove through Karelia last week. Writers looking to plot the spiritual geography of Europe might do well to start here, for Finnish Karelia is a landscape full of longing and nostalgia, a region that has a very distinctive sanctity. We did not start our journey as pilgrims, yet Karelia wove its spell around us and turned us into pilgrims.

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Russian life on the Riviera

Come on, grab your camera and join us as we explore one or two spots along the coast this Easter morning. It is a stunning spring day, the blue waters of the Mediterranean seem an even deeper blue than yesterday, and the air is so clear that we'll be able to see right along the coast to Cap Ferrat and beyond. "Christos voskres." Yes, that's a phrase we shall certainly hear a lot today, especially as the Orthodox and Western celebrations of Easter coincide this year.

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Travels through Macedonia

We journeyed through Macedonia last week. We stayed at the country's only World Heritage Site at Ohrid and then hugged the Albanian border as we travelled north through Debar to Tetovo. This is territory that has long fascinated travel writers and our journey picked up elements of itineraries followed by Edith Durham and Rebecca West.

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Close encounters: Brittany

by Patricia Stoughton

The church enclosures of Finistère are spectacular pieces of architecture, marking progress from the material world (the village beyond the church) to a more spiritual realm. Patricia Stoughton has been exploring the far end of Brittany to unravel the symbolism and stories of the enclos paroissiaux (parish closes).

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Birmingham silences

Head out along the Bristol Road and you get an eyeful of Birmingham's suburbs. Leaky ipods and restive mobiles mix with discarded newspapers and chip wrappers on the upper deck of Bus 61 that runs all the way out to Frankley. An empty Red Bull can dances beneath the seats, rolling back and forth as the bus brakes and accelerates.

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Slow England

Cut off the main highway to Norwich, dive into the countryside through meadows full of deep green grass and you will reach Quidenham - a cluster of cottages and uneven lanes that were never meant for fast cars. Across England there are a thousand Quidenhams, each one a byway in the maze of English history.

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Painted churches

by hidden europe

The UNESCO World Heritage List features many ornately decorated churches across Europe. The List includes the painted monasteries of southern Bukovina (described elsewhere in this issue), as well as murals on churches in Switzerland, Bulgaria and Germany - not to mention the fabulous painted churches of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus.

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Romania: Polish communities of the Suceava region

by Nicky Gardner

Romania is one of several countries in Europe that give guaranteed access to parliamentary seats to national minorities. One of the ethnic minorities in Romania that benefits from this scheme is the Polish community. We take a look some Polish villages in Suceava County in north-east Romania.

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Keeping faith: York's Quaker community

by Nicky Gardner

The city in northern England is well known for its important role in Anglican affairs, and many visitors also recall York's association with Catholic martyrs. But York has long been home to many dissenting traditions, and the spirit of the dissenters is today embodied in the Quaker life and spirit that plays so important a role in modern York.

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Heavenly visions: the painted monasteries of southern Bukovina

by Laurence Mitchell

The remote Bukovina area of north-east Romania boasts some of Europe's most beautifully painted churches. Not only are the interiors decorated, but also the outside walls. They blast out their spiritual messages in intensely coloured, almost psychedelic images of Heaven and Hell. Laurence Mitchell explores the painted monasteries of Suceava County.

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Celebrating the Epiphany: 20 C+M+B 10

If you have ever travelled extensively through continental Europe, you will surely have noticed chalk inscriptions on door lintels. These chalk marks are intimately associated with the Feast of the Epiphany, which is celebrated today (6 January).

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The feast of St Nicholas

St Nicholas is the ultimate all-purpose saint. His patronage extends to virgins, sailors, children and pawnbrokers. And he is patron saint of Bari in Italy, where the local fishing community makes much of the feast.

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Italy: Thomas Hanbury's Garden

by Nicky Gardner

The Quaker businessman and philanthropist Thomas Hanbury was a latter-day Marco Polo. His legacy includes a remarkable garden on the Riviera coast of the Mediterranean. We visit the Hanbury Gardens at La Mortola.

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Crossing the border at Boris Gleb

Boris and Gleb are as saintly a duo as Peter and Paul or Cyril and Methodius. Travel round Russia and you will come across no end of churches dedicated to Boris and Gleb. The two were in fact brothers and evidently their tender humility marked the Russian soul. That very Orthodox quality of patient forbearance of suffering is often said to be inspired by Boris and Gleb.

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Protected by the peacock angel

by Nicky Gardner

hidden europe explores one of Europe's most remarkable diaspora communities, the Yezidis who live in the northern German town of Celle. And from Celle we travel to the Yezidi homeland in Armeniafull article available in pdf format

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Spain: la vía de la plata

by Laurence Mitchell

The Via de la Plata is one of Spain's ancient trading routes. It served Roman interests and then developed into one of the most important pilgrim trails to Santiago de Compostela. Laurence Mitchell heads north from Seville along the old camino.

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Jewish legacies in southeast France

by Peter Wortsman

The vestiges of Jewish life and culture are waiting to be discovered in southeast France. From hill towns in the Dauphiné to old synagogues in Cavaillon and Carpentras, there are remnants of Les Juifs du Pape (the Pope's Jews).

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A Polish work of art: Zamosc

by Nicky Gardner

Zamosc is no ordinary Polish town. Tucked away in the country's eastern marchlands, Zamosc is picture perfect. Its central plaza gets our vote for Europe's finest town square. And the entire place turns out to have an intriguing history.

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The Via Sacra

by Nicky Gardner

The Via Sacra is an inspired initiative that foregrounds the religious heritage of a particularly beautiful part of central Europe - the area where Bohemia (Czech Republic), Polish Silesia and the German State of Saxony converge.

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Istanbul's western districts

by Laurence Mitchell

Europe's largest city is a place where western and oriental influences collide. Laurence Mitchell, a regular contributor to the magazine, takes us on a tour of the western suburbs of Istanbul.

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Tomb of the roses

by Nicky Gardner

Gül Baba presides over Budapest with the serenity and repose of one who rests in Allah. We forsake the streets of Castle Hill in Buda, forever full of tourists, and go in search of hidden Budapest.

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Palm Sunday

Major liturgical feasts like Palm Sunday are reminders of the calendrical divide that still splits Europe in two. The Iron Curtain may have gone (twenty years ago this autumn, according to those commentators who see the breaching of the Berlin Wall as the defining moment), and yet still there are considerable differences between the two halves of Europe. Yes, in the west it is Palm Sunday today, and Easter Sunday next week.

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Serbian Orthodox Christmas

Bitterly cold temperatures over central and eastern Europe last evening and this morning do nothing to diminish enthusiasm for the celebration of the Orthodox Christmas. While Orthodox Christmas is underway, daily demonstrations in Belgrade dilute the peaceful spirit.

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Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia is patron saint of Siracusa, the island fortress city on the Sicilian coast, where Lucia was born in the late third century. The story tells of her being martyred in her home city at the tender age of twenty. Of course, Santa Lucia's feast is marked in Siracusa, but it is to northern Europe that we must look for the most demonstrative expression of the cult of light associated with Santa Lucia.

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Rusyn aspirations in Ukraine

Father Dymytrij Sydor is a determined man. No-one quite believed him when he asserted that he could raise the funds to build a massive new cathedral at Uzhgorod. This southwesternmost province of Ukraine is hill country, and it is home to the Rusyns - an ethnic and cultural minority who emphasise their distinct identity.

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South Jutland (Denmark)

Visit Jutland in Denmark and listen out for the local dialect, Sønderjysk or South Jutlandic, which some in the region feel should have the status of a minority language. In some schools in this part of Denmark, Sønderjysk is part of the regular curriculum, though always playing second fiddle to Rigsdansk (ie. standard Danish).

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Tykocin (Poland) - Belmonte (Portugal)

Tykocin is a gem, a town that graciously captures the awful history of a thousand former Jewish shtetls across central Europe. This was a community, like so many in the region, that was Jewish to the core. Tykocin had its heart ripped out in August 1941, when the town's Jewish population was ordered to assemble in the main square. Most were marched into the forests just south-west of Tykocin where they were murdered.

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Gracanica (Kosovo)

When the celebrated English travel writer Edith Durham arrived at the monastery at Gracanica one hundred years ago, she came to a place that had virtually no experience of the twentieth century. It is an episode that Durham recalls in her book High Albania. The incumbents, evidently horribly worried by Durham's unmarried condition, interrogated their visitor about the keystones of modernity.

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The soul of Switzerland

To cross the threshold of the Wilmersdorf church today is truly to enter another world. For today, in the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, it is Christmas Day. The twin virtues of ardent faith and a strong sense of attachment to a diaspora community create magnificent theatre at this Berlin outpost on the high days and holy days of the Orthodox year.

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Strangers churches

In the heart of the City of London, there used to be all manner of Strangers Churches (as churches for foreigners are commonly termed). There was a Spanish church, a Scots church and a Lutheran church from Hamburg. The Dutch community at Austin Friars, established in the mid-sixteenth century, is still very active today, albeit not in their original church which was destroyed in 1940.

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Remote mosques: Norway and Wales

Tromsø¸ has many charms, though they may not be quite evident at this time of the year when deep winter darkness still shrouds the town in Arctic Norway. The island town can pop a few surprises, however, for it turns out that Tromsø¸ has a small Islamic community. Ramadan is edging ever closer to the longer summer days.

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Val Müstair

From Zürich it was just three hours on happily empty trains via Landquart and Klosters to Zernez in the Inn valley. There is something rather nice about entering the long tunnel at Klosters, knowing that, in a matter of minutes, one will be transported across one of Europe's great hydrological divides.

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Celebrating Christmas

Christmas generates its own extraordinary traditions across Europe - but they differ greatly from country to country. Even the date on which the celebrations reach their apotheosis varies across the continent. In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, children get a foretaste of Christmas on the eve of St Nicholas (5 December), or on the feast day itself (6 December).

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The road to Petsamo

Early European travel was hugely driven by Christian virtue. Those of the truly devout who had the resources would try to visit Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela. The fifteenth century English mystic, Margery Kempe, managed all three, and then topped off the grand trio of shrines by travelling to Bad Wilsnack near Berlin, which was then one of the premier pilgrimage sites in northern Europe.

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Old Believers on the Ukraine-Romania border

Bila Krynytsya? It turns out that this small village in southwest Ukraine, just a stone's throw from the Romanian border, is a household name among many Russian Old Believers. From Alaska to the Danube Delta the name evokes important religious images and associations. For Bila Krynytsya, a community of no more than a couple of hundred people, most of them very elderly, is where the most widely accepted religious hierarchy of the Old Believers is nominally based.

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Orthodox Christmas in Cetinje - Christmastide till Candlemas - That Christmas Quiz

Cetinje, a little town that sits on a plain high in the mountains of the Republic of Crna Gora (Montenegro), is the onetime capital and still the spiritual centre of the Balkan republic that finds itself nowadays ambiguously attached to Serbia. Last evening, as on every Christmas Eve in Cetinje, people gathered at dusk for the traditional burning of Yule logs.

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Saltholm, Denmark - Corsica - Moldova Wine Festival

The upcoming days see a couple of quirky festivals in Corsica, each marking the Catholic feast of the Nativity of Mary on 8 September. At Lavasina, in Corsica's north-east corner, locals gather on the beach for midnight Mass in honour of the gifted Madonna who allegedly regularly intervenes in village affairs for the general good of the community.

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Harvest festivals in eastern Europe - Lammastide - hidden europe 4: preview

Today, 19 August, is a sight to behold in Orthodox communities from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. For everywhere in this region, it is the moment to give thanks for the year's harvest, and the churches are packed for the ritual blessing of honey and apples. As always, it coincides with one of the great feasts of the Orthodox calendar, that of the Transfiguration.

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Ukrainian comforts - Kraków style - Guinness in the Faroes

Stopping off in Kraków on our way back from Ukraine, we headed as often before for the Hotel Saski, a mid range place just off the square. There we were distraught to find that one of the hotel's two principal attractions has retired. The splendidly whiskered Mr Jósef Pietruska, an old style concierge with gold embroidered uniforms and a manner to match always looked as though he had graced the foyer of the Saski since it was called the Hotel de Saxe back in the 1920s.

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The train to Siberia - a Kraków curiosity

Walk the royal road south from Kraków's magnificent central square and you cannot miss the great hill of Wawel with its palace and cathedral overlooking the Wisla river. Walk up to the cathedral in the quiet of night, or at dawn on a summer morning, and chances are that you may find one or two people sitting in silent meditation that may last some hours.

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Corpus Christi - Karelian babushkas

Across much of Europe, today is a public holiday on account of the Catholic solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is a feast that comes with a heavy helping of curious cultural customs. Wander through many small towns in central Europe this afternoon, and you'll see why today is often called 'Wreath Day' (Kranzltag in German).