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The Divided Church

If you attend a service in the small Roman Catholic church Sankt Maria in Carinthia, Austria, you might find that the pastor has to pause the sermon for an unusual reason: A road runs through the middle of the church. While the pastor preaches his sermon in the sanctuary on the east side of a one-lane road, the churchgoers sit in a building on the opposite side of the road.

As early as 1443, a Marterl (a wayside shrine erected on roads and paths to encourage prayer) was built at this point on the former Roman road. At the time, the road was an important trade route from Venice to Salzburg, and the Marterl gave travelers a place to pray.

In 1754 the roadside shrine was replaced by a chapel. Since there was not much space between the road and the slope, a chapel was built with the sanctuary about six feet above the road, and worshipers gathered on the street in front of the church.

Eventually, a pastor felt sorry for the pilgrims who often stood in front of him in the rain, and had a two-story structure built on the opposite side of the road about 15 feet from the chapel. In this building, there are two rooms with chairs and benches. This building is also open on the side facing the road and the chapel, and the open side of both buildings have wrought-iron safety fences.

Services now took place in two buildings: the priest stood in one, and congregants in the other. If a vehicle came by, he had to interrupt his sermon. This happened more often up until 1905, because up until then the road had been a federal road. Then the bypass road, which still exists today, was built. Even today, local traffic still passes through the church.

You can see a picture of this unusual chapel here.

Possible Preaching Angle:

This church in Austria is unique because it is divided physically, but the sad fact is that many churches are divided spiritually. Even in the first century Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that he had heard “that there are divisions among you” (1 Cor. 11:18). Christ prayed “that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

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