This is the controversial church at Săpânţa Peri monastery, still very much under construction. Why is it controversial? Well, it starts with a boast: this is supposedly the tallest wooden structure in Europe, and the townspeople want you to know it. Standing at over 250 feet (!), it’s certainly a giant. But the tallest? In Maramureş, that’s a touchy subject
The church was designed in the traditional style of the region with megalomaniacal plans to be the tallest wooden structure in Europe, which seems like it should make the people of Maramureş proud. It doesn’t. The thing is, they already had the tallest wooden building, and it’s not remotely new.
And, according to one way of thinking, it still is.
What’s endearing about Şurdeşti’s church is how tiny it actually is. The chapel is not much bigger than the base of the steeple, just a small room and porch designed for a few families to worship in. Flower boxes and sprigs of pussywillows decorated the exterior, the carvings were simple and unpretentious. This is a church without pomp. We found ourselves feeling sorry for it, now overtaken by a modern building just miles away.
Maramureş churches aren’t only impressive for their height, though – there’s a wealth of other quirks and beauties among them.
When a village woman - who was probably the priest’s wife, we think she said he was eating lunch - unlocked the door we were astounded. Dusky, darkened, biblical scenes literally covered the rough boards of the walls and ceiling, the beams and altar. The paintings were done in a simple way that suggested a dedicated but untrained hand. Luckily, we were allowed to photograph the door, which should give you some idea of what was inside.