The Church of St John the Baptist is situated at the foot of Lake Bohinj, beside the bridge which spans the Sava Bohinjka river. Built in the typical Slovenian Alpine style, it is notable for its picturesque location and the striking fresco of St Christopher on its southern exterior wall. I have passed the church many times over the years, but this week I decided to take a closer look.
History of the Church
Though the exact date of its foundation is unknown, the church dates back to the medieval period, possibly even as early as the 11th century. Before the advent of Christianity in the region, the site on which the church was built is likely to have been considered sacred. Coins dating from 0-500 AD have been discovered here, and it is possible that a pagan temple once existed where the church now stands. Taking in the view of the lake from this vantage point, with the crystal clear waters of the river flowing by, it is easy to see why this site has been revered for centuries by Christian and pagan worshippers alike.
The exterior fresco of St Christopher was painted in 1894, though traces of earlier versions of this work have been discovered which date back as far as 1300. The interior of the church is illuminated by late medieval frescoes depicting biblical scenes (including the gruesome beheadings of St John and St Paul). In addition to the frescoes, the church also contains a striking example of medieval woodcarving: the somewhat grizzly head of St John the Baptist, dating from the 14th century.
Visiting the Church
The church is open to visitors daily, with a small charge to enter and climb the bell tower. Admission fees go towards much-needed church restoration work, and the visit is well worth the entrance cost.
The interior of the church is striking in its colour and vivid biblical images. It is fascinating to compare this interior with that of Hrastovlje in Southern Slovenia, whose frescoes date from an earlier period.
The history of the church and further details of its artwork are presented in several short, informative films provided for visitors, with an English soundtrack available. Apparently the head of St John the Baptist used to be prayed to by those suffering head and neck ailments, and also by those who wished for more common sense. I will reserve judgement on this matter.
The Bell Tower
The bell within the tower is mechanised to play the tune Triglav moj Dom ‘Triglav my Home’, a hymn to Slovenia’s highest mountain. The music was composed by priest, mountaineer and musician Jakob Aljaž, who bought the land at the top of Triglav in and built Aljažev Stolp in 1895. This is the famous mountain hut which still stands tall at 2863m. Allegedly you cannot be called a true Slovenian until you have climbed the mountain, entered the hut and been spanked with a paddle put there expressly for the purpose. I will reserve judgement on this matter also!
You can climb to the top of the tower for views of Triglav on a clear day. You can also try your hand at replicating Triglav moj Dom on the church’s pipe organ: lots of fun for kids and grown-up children alike!
I am pleased I finally took the time to stop and visit this fascinating and beautiful medieval church. I highly recommend visiting if you are staying in the Bohinj area. Follow me on Instagram @experimentsinfiction to see more images from the church’s interior. Stay tuned and follow the tag ‘Postcards from Slovenia’ to ensure you don’t miss out on future posts!