RIGA - While going "churching" 's visiting famous cathedrals in order to see their famous art, beautiful architecture, and sacred relics - is a favorite pastime for tourists in Europe. Many may not realize that Latvia, too, has its fair share of remarkable cathedrals.
Latgale, Latvia's most Catholic province, in chock full of attractive and interesting churches, which are really worth visiting.
The most famous church in all of Latgale 's and perhaps in the entire country 's is the Aglona Basilica. Situated in the romantic and sleepy little village of Aglona, in the district of Preili, its towering spires stand out against dark blue skies.
The basilica is cool white and stately on the exterior 's almost like a giant fairytale castle made of snow and ice. From my first impression, I would not have expected the cheerfulness and warmth which emanates from the interior of the church. Buttery yellow dominates the color scheme, giving a pleasing and delicate effect.
The Aglona church was first built with wood in the late 17th century by Dominican monks who had settled in Latgale to spread Catholicism among the locals. At that time, paganism was still very common in the region. On April 8, 1700, the basilica was formally ratified by Pope Innocent XII. In 1766 the wooden church burned down and a new one, made of stone, was soon built in its place. The modern basilica, which still stands today, was completed in 1780.
Devout spirituality is still very much alive in Aglona. Every year, on Aug. 15th, thousands of pilgrims visit Aglona for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. It is certainly the biggest Catholic celebration in Latvia, and it attracts not only the devout, but also non-Catholic Latvians interested in attending for the cultural experience. Many families return every year to participate in the festival.
The star prize of the Aglona Basilica is certainly the Miraculous Blessed Virgin of Aglona. This beautiful icon lies hidden beneath a beautifully painted mechanized wall, adorned with cherubs and a painting of the Assumption of Mary that rises at the touch of a button to reveal the glittering Madonna.
The wall is typically raised only at special occasions to reveal the treasure within. With her dazzling gold crown and robes, and a sparkling gold baby Jesus on her lap, she is truly a sight to behold 's especially set against a gold plated background. This is truly the blinged-out Mother of God, and yet she keeps a serene expression despite all the piles of gold around her.
For our visit to the Aglona Basilica, we took a guided tour, which was given in the Latvian language. The guide had some interesting facts to tell us about the church and its history 's with particular attention given to the six altars, and other religious artwork adorning the church walls.
Her delivery was a bit rushed, however, and I got the sense that she did not particularly enjoy her work as a tour guide. I would recommend slowly visiting the church at your own pace, after having read up a bit on its history and most famous art works. However, taking a guided tour guarantees the chance to see the Miraculous Virgin icon.
One wonderful final stop at the Aglona Basilica is the small gift shop 's filled with homemade beeswax candles in various shapes (including angels), colorful charm bracelets of the saints, and of course, replicas of the Blessed Virgin of Aglona and other icons. It was a wonderful place to shop for beautiful and memorable souvenirs and gifts.