Saint John the Baptist Church is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in polish part of Upper Orava. In 1650, the priest Jan Szczechowicz came to Orawka. He began to build the Catholic Church with donations from Orawka’s inhabitants. The Church was built, part by part, over a period of 6 years until 1656 , but consecration by Bishop Luke Nataly did not take place until 1715. The church and churchyard at Orawka were the burial place for the whole territory of Orawa. Inside the church in front of the main altar is the grave of Jan Szczechowicz, the great defender of the Catholics of Orawa and the first pastor of the church at Orawka. Other parish priests are also buried in the church.
In 1728, the brick chapel was built under the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is located behind the main altar of the church. The altar and organ are from the time of the construction of the chapel. The Altar of Passion is from the Baroque folk period. Angels are depicted holding tools from the Way of the Cross. Pictures of the Way of the Cross were created in 1857.
There are three late Baroque altars in the Church. In the main altar, there is a 17th century Pieta in the center, on either side are statues of Polish patrons, St Stanislaw and St Adalbert. On each side of them are two Hungarian kings, St Stephen and St Ladislaus, who created the country of Hungary. Above the main altar are the figures of St Margaret, St Barbara, St Catherine of Alexandria and St Elizabeth of Hungary.
The Church has two said altars. On the left, the altar of the Virgin Mагу, with an image of Archangel Michael fighting Satan. The altar of “The Passion of Jesus” is on the right side of the church, the founder is unknown. The painting entitled “Crucifixion” is a copy of a Paul Rubens painting. In front of the altar, there is a figure of the Pensive Christ which has real hair as well as an original wooden crown and a cloak. It is the oldest figure in the church, made in about 1490.
Below the Calvary, on the cross-beam there is a date: “A.D. 1711”, which is the date that the polychrome paintings of the Church were completed. The artists are unknown. In the foreground there are pictures representing 14 scenes from St. John the Baptist’s life, the patron saint of the church. On the top of each picture there are quotations from the Holy Scripture. Below there are pictures of Saints who were connected to the Hungarian Kingdom in those days. On the ceiling are beautiful rosettes painted in splendid colours and in a variety of shapes. Paintings on the choir wall depict the Ten Commandments which are shown through the example of the day to day life of Orawian inhabitants. By the said entrance, you can spot a painting that represents Hell. Heaven is in the choir stalls next to the organ. At the pulpit Purgatory completes the set.
On the right of the Calvary are the heraldic arms of George Lippay, the Archbishop of Estergom, Hungary, who took care of the church at Orawka. On the left side you can see the heraldic arms of the Habsburg Emperor. Above the choir, heraldic arms of families of Orawa mayors, Moniak, Wilczek, Bukowinski, have been painted.
The church organ was made about 1670, we do not know where or by whom, and it was a gift of the family of the Habsburg Emperor. The organ continues to be played today.
In 1651, Hungarian King Ferdinand IV donated a bell for the Church. The bell was made in 1641, preserved until today. A year later Emperor Ferdinand III offered two bells. The bells, except for one, were taken by the Hungarian Requisition Committee during the First World War. The biggest and the smallest were taken by soldiers. The third bell is still at the church in the bell tower which is located on the north side of the church where you can now admire it. Three bells are hanging again. Two bells were made in the twentieth century.
Renovation of the church was carried out in the 20th century. Restoration of individual items and paintings is ongoing, and your donations for this work will be most welcome.
Translation: Father Robert Szczechura