Church of Saint Naum of Ohrid
|Type of building:
|Approximately 280 m2 (building) - 4639 m2 (land)
|Approximately CHF 3-4 million
|Yes (parking spaces)
|Marjan Cvetkovic (conception) / Rudolf Bucher (realisation)
|Start of construction:
|22nd September 2007
|26th September 2010
|Conception through to inauguration:
|approximately 18 years
In the heart of Switzerland is the small community of Triengen, with about 4400 inhabitants. Alongside its natural beauty, Triengen has recently gained an architectural landmark: the only Macedonian-Orthodox church in Switzerland.
The traditional-style building with its free-standing bell tower is located at the juncture of a commercial zone, a residential area and the meadows of the picturesque Suren valley. Walkers who approach on the path from the north find an unusual little church which fits unobtrusively into the landscape, even from afar. It is also accessible for congregation members from all over Switzerland, with easy access from a nearby motorway or public transport.
Since the 1980s, the number of Macedonian-Orthodox people in Switzerland has grown steadily, and also, therefore, the desire for a church of their own. Venko Stoicov, the secretary of the Triengen parish says: «We estimate that there are 10-15 thousand, who live in Switzerland and need a church.» A Macedonian-Orthodox parish had already been established in 1992, named after Saint Naum of Ohrid. The common desire grew for a church in which the community could come together and practice their faith. It was seven years, however, until the idea for a separate church building was realised.
In a community meeting in 1999 the parish council presented the idea for a project for a church building. The idea was supported by the entire congregation. The parish already found land to view in 1999, and acquired it the following year.
Construction of the church, however, would have to wait another seven years. Part of this was due to the search for a project supported by a clear majority of the parish. In 2003 the architect Ljupco Gjorgjiev completed the first complete project. Gjiorgjiev was inspired the church-building tradition in his home country of Macedonia, but reinterpreted the style to be in keeping with modern Swiss architecture. He therefore kept the cruciform floor plan and the cupola, but introduced cubic shapes to the rest of the building. Triengen council welcomed this design, says village clerk Armin Wyss. With time, however, came more and more critical voices from the Macedonian community.
The parish council then asked the architect to prepare a new draft based on a more classical model, along with Todor Paskali, architect and government advisor in Macedonia. Having been approved by the planning authorities, the final details were worked out by the architects Marjan Cvetkovic in Wald, ZH, and Rudolf Bucher in Schenkon, LU. In order for the church to fit into the local surroundings, it was not built in natural stone as would be Macedonian tradition, but in white plastered concrete. Village clerk Wyss finds the traditional appearance unproblematic: «It looks good, receives compliments, and did not receive any resistance from the local population.» The Macedonian community is also satisfied. Their secretary Venko Stoicov says proudly: «It has all the features of our religion, such as the cruciform layout and the cupola, which are symbolic for our Church.»
The building project also repeatedly received support from private indiviudals, such as Father Jean-Pierre Vuilleumier from Spreitenbach, where the Macedonian congregation formerly gathered. The community members now see the protestant priest as a friend. In addition, the building project received support from private households, as well as a significant donation from the Roman-Catholic Church of Canton Lucerne. Architect Marjan Cvetkovic, himself a member of the congregation, worked for free. The whole congregation contributes to the maintenance of the church: «We ensure that we do everything ourselves, which saves us a lot of money. Someone simply has to say that he will do something, and then many others come to help him», says Stoicov.
Venko Stoicov is secretary of the Macedonian-orthodox parish and lives in Horw, LU. He has lived in Switzerland since 1993, and alongside his commitment to the parish, works at an electronics company in Lucerne. To Stoicov is was important that through the church building project the Macedonian faithful also had access to a kind of emotional support. «Initially, there was just the idea and desire to build a church. The project was actually taken in hand very spontenaously.»
Bogdan Kocev is the president of the parish and lives in Reiden, LU. He has lived in Switzerland since 1984 and works as a production worker in a laminate factory. «I involved myself in the Church as it is my religion, and it is the means through which people meet and the next generation can be motivated in their religion.»
As the Macedonian-Orthodox parish engaged in talks with the building authorities from the planning stage, there were no conflicts in this regard. The project was supported by the Triengen community. Experiences with disorderly parking by churchgoers led to complaints from residents of the access road, and objection from neighbours against the planning application. The parish had to buy a 211 m2 strip of land from the council to use for additional parking spaces, and submit a plan for parking during major events.
In early May 2010, while the church was under construction, unknown perpetrators drew swastikas on the church – so far the only event of its kind.
The population and neighbours of the area are positively impressed by the beautiful building. During the construction phase, the parish repeatedly received compliments on the building.
About 150-170 million believers belong to the Orthodox Church worldwide. Although there are now 16 different Orthodox denominations, it is theologically understood to be an indivisible Church. Their common doctrinal basis is the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils (up to and including Nicea II, 787AD). They thus also share the resolutions of thee Councils with the Roman-Catholic Church. Nevertheless, long standing rivalry and antagonism between the «Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople» and the Roman Empire came to a head in 1054 in the «Oriental schism».
A characteristic of the Orthodox Churches are that they are «autocephalous», in that they choose their own Patriarch, Catholicos or Archbishop. This is in order to resist the demands of the Roman Catholic Papacy on primacy of jurisdiction (direct power of control), and the «infallibility» of the Pope in doctrinal decisions. For the Orthodox Church, infallibility lies in the whole Church, and can only be decided by a council of the whole Church. Other differences to the Reformed Churches concern the sacraments and the doctrine of justification (the understanding of original sin and the grace of God).
The Orthodox Church sees its task as the representation of «the authentic tradition of the Church of the Apostles.» The central tenets of the Orthodox faith are the work of the Holy Spirit, the «deification» of man (theosis) and the understanding of the «sanctification of the entire cosmos» (metamorphosis). The pastoral priests are usually married, but widowers cannot marry again. The bishops, however, remain unmarried, and are usually chosen from the monkhood. Monasteries have had an important role since earliest times, and are considered central to the preservation of religious and cultural identity.
Orthodoxy does not see itself primarily as instructive, rather as a eulogistic community of God, whose theology has an experiential character. The Liturgy has a central position in the Orthodox faith, and is intended to appeal to all the senses. The Orthodox mass, known as the Divine Liturgy, can last for several hours, during which the congregation are mostly standing. Chanted prayers play a large part of the service, and are often sung by trained choirs. Musical instruments are not permitted. An iconostasis (screen painted with icons) separates the nave, filled with the congregation, from the altar, in which are the priests, deacons and acolytes. The nave symbolises the earthly human world, while the altar symbolises of the «Kingdom of God.» During the Liturgy, the priest enters through the opened «Holy Doors», the central gate of the iconostasis, as a representative of the congregation. Candles and incense, the «scent of heaven», are central to the Liturgy as a sensual experience.
About two thirds of Macedonians are members of the Macedonian-Orthodox Church. Macedonian Orthodoxy is based on the medieval tradition of the Archbishop of Ohrid. It belongs to the autonomous Churches of Orthodoxy, which are administratively independent. In 1967, the Church declared its independence from the Serbian Patriarchate. In addition to the national Church there is an Australian, an American, and a European Eparchy. The current head of the Macedonian-Orthodox Church is His Beautitude Archbishop Stefan (born Stojan Veljanovski), Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, who has been in office since 1999 and lives in Skopje. The Serbian-Orthodox Church continues to claim leadership as Archbishop of Ohrid, in the person of Jovan of Veles and Povardie, from the Skopje Metropolitan. This claim is only recognised by a minority of Orthodox Macedonians. The priest Goran Mantaroski holds services in Triengen in the liturgical language of Church Slavonic.
We thank Eliane Räber for her supporting research concerning this building
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Center for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 10th November 2015
© 2012-2015 Department for the Study of Religion, University of Lucerne
Text : Janosch Hain,
Photos : Janosch Hain