The Vršič pass is reached from Kranjska Gora in the Julian Alps via the Russian Road, so called because it was built by Russian Prisoners of War under Austro-Hungarian command during the First World War.
About halfway up the pass, there is a chapel, built in wood. It is set back a little way from the road and well worth a visit. Today I want to share the story behind the building of the chapel.
The Story of the Russian Chapel
The Russian prisoners had to work in gruelling and perilous conditions to complete the road over the 1611m pass, which would provide access to the front at Isonzo. Once finished, they had to work to keep the pass free of snow during the winter. In March 1916, an avalanche swept through the POW camp about halfway up the pass, killing over 100 prisoners and at least 7 guards. The surviving prisoners built the chapel in the traditional Russian style as an act of remembrance of their lost comrades.
There is a strange sadness in the atmosphere of the chapel and its surroundings: candles and floral wreaths are still laid at the memorial pyramid which stands beside the church and bears the inscription (in Cyrillic) ‘To the Sons of Russia.’ The site perhaps draws pilgrims descended from those who died on the pass over 100 years ago. Certainly it remains of special interest and significance to Russian visitors to the site.
A place of remembrance
When visiting this chapel I was reminded unexpectedly of a trip to a place called Laupahoehoe on the Big Island of Hawaii. At this spot in 1946, a tsunami rushed in to the narrow inlet, destroying the local school and killing 20 schoolchildren and 4 of their teachers. A memorial stone is erected there, and when visiting I was touched by a feeling of deep sadness, but also by the immense power of love and remembrance which led to the building of the memorial. It is that same power which connects human beings through decades and centuries, who never knew one another, but pause at such places to remember just how fragile and valuable is our time on this earth.
Russia is connected to Slovenia through a site dedicated to lives lost in tragic circumstances. Hawaii is connected to Russia in the act of remembrance of loved ones taken away without warning. We are all connected in love through our humanity.
Wishing love and peace to all my fellow humans today and everyday.