Parishioners’ ghosts help bring an abandoned church back to life

Photo: Jana Kosová, Czech Radio

More than a century ago, the church of Sv. Jiří (St. George) in western Bohemia served a thriving community of around 500 Czechs and Germans. With time and the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the war, the number of parishioners gradually decreased. The communist regime also had a negative impact on the parish. The final blow came in 1968 when, due to lack of repairs, part of the ceiling collapsed during a funeral service. No one was hurt but people took it as a bad omen, some said the church was haunted and eventually locals started gathering outside for mass rather than having to go inside in the unfortunate building.

By the turn of the century, the church was totally abandoned and bare – everything of value, such as the painting, statues and even the church bell, had been stolen.

Church of St. George in Luková |  Photo: Zdeňka Bušková, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Photo: Kateřina Dobrovolná, Czech Radio

Then in 2012, art student Jakub Hadrava chose the church for his bachelor’s thesis and reversed his fate. His vision was to recreate the time when the church was the center of community life, filled with parishioners. With the help of fellow students and volunteers, he filled the church with thirty-two white silhouettes of the ghosts of former believers, made of sheets and curtains dipped in plaster. He explained the process in an interview for Czech Radio:

Photo: Juandev, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

“I used living people as models. I covered them with sheets and curtains, then poured plaster over them. When it set, they could work their way out of the mold. “

The project appeared online and immediately went viral. It made international headlines and soon Czechs and foreigners began to flock to the church to savor its spooky atmosphere.

Goalkeeper Petr Koukl, who looks after the interior, says it’s so realistic and evocative that some people are too scared to enter.

“Each figurine is original. Some are seated, others standing, there is a mother with a baby in her arms and a family with young children. Fat and skinny, young and old. Just like it used to be. Some are sitting upright, others are bent over with their heads bowed and seem immersed in prayer.

Photo: Kateřina Dobrovolná, Czech Radio

The huge interest in the church not only raised funds for the reconstruction of the building, but also contributed to the fact that it was included in the program of the Ministry of Culture for the preservation of architectural heritage and receives now annual contributions for maintenance and repairs.

With only five permanent inhabitants in the village, it no longer serves the parish, but it remains open to tourists from May to October on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m..

Berta D. Wells