These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Spišská Kapitula:At peace in the city centre

By Howard Swains

    Spišská Kapitula’s solitary street is an oasis of spiritual calm.
 Spišská Kapitula’s solitary street is an oasis of spiritual calm.
 Photo by Howard Swains

The "city" of Spišská Kapitula, no more than a 15-minute walk from Spišské Podhradie, feels like a cross between castle, university campus and a churchyard – and in a sense, it is all three. Its single street leads up a gentle hill from one gate in a fortified wall to another and is flanked by the recently-restored cottage residences of canons, monks, nuns and priests as well as dormitory-style accommodation for students studying at a Catholic seminary based in the town.

The seminary was originally established in 1815, along with a teachers' training college four years later. It stands near the site of one of the first schools in Slovakia, established in the 13th century, and a Jesuit grammar school, from 1646. Although both schools are long gone and the seminary and training college were transformed into military and police academies under communist rule, the seminary reopened in 1991 and now continues to thrive.

In addition to this theological institution, the central feature of Spišská Kapitula is the Cathedral of St Martin, dating from the 13th century, which has been the seat of the bishop of the Spiš region since 1776. The original Romanesque part of the cathedral is likely to have been constructed by those responsible for Spiš Castle, and a 15th century rebuilding in Gothic style doubled the height of the church. Its two imposing towers dominate the external view, while the interior is crammed with lavish decorations representing all eras of design.

The oldest artefacts are the relatively plain 13th century white lion sculpture and stone font; plain, that is, in comparison with the four preserved Gothic wing altars, which are typically beautiful and busy with intricate sculptures and paintings, demonstrating again the superior skills both of the medieval Slovak craftsman and those who have restored such valuable pieces over the years.

Also of note are the larger-than-life epitaphs of Imrich and Štefan Zápoľský, fashioned in the 15th century from red marble, and important pieces from the Hungarian Renaissance, with copies on display in the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest.

In summer, tickets for an hourly tour are available from the information office in the neighbouring clocktower; in winter it moves across the street to the seminary building. While it definitely makes sense to take the tour, it's not essential: it is possible simply to amble among the ecclesiasts along Spišská Kapitula's solitary street and square, absorbing a rare dose of spiritual tranquility.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2008, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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