It is enough to test anyone’s faith, or prove to others that there is only man and nature – that there is no God. Churches of all things, rising out of lakes and rivers, submerged in gallons of water – the lovingly carved pews and altars ruined, the places where so many knelt and prayed for help or forgiveness a home to weeds and fishes now.
Image: Markus Bernet
These churches were flooded and drowned by men’s own doing, in their cavalier hurry to change nature’s path for dams and reservoirs.
Image: Juan Tello
7. Church in Potosi, Venezuela
The cross of the church in Potosi, Venezuela, is all that’s left of the town that was deserted by citizens when the government made plans to build the La Honda dam. The president at the time, Carlos Andres Perez, flew in to the village of 1,200 in 1985, but in the words of Josefa Garcia, a former resident: “He said we’d all be expropriated and we had to leave. It took our hope away.”
These drowned churches have a way of re-emerging, though, often as a result of nature’s rather than man’s doing. In 2010, El Niño – an abnormal warming of ocean surfaces – caused a drought, and the church in Potosi appeared. The facade was the only thing left intact.
Image: Imir Kamberi
6. St. Nicholas Church, Macedonia
The church of St. Nicholas in Mavrovo, Macedonia was built in 1850 and stood for a 153 years until it was decided an artificial lake was needed in the village. At one point the church was fully submerged, but it keeps rising again, especially in summer with the droughts of the 21st century. Is nature or fate trying to tell us something with these reappearances? The churches might appear to be rising as if by God’s hand, refusing to stay put in their watery graves.
Image: Bhaskar Dutta
5. Church of the Holy Rosary, India
A surreal and beautiful sight, the Church of the Holy Rosary in Karnataka, India emerges and sinks beneath the waters every year. This is a story that intertwines a church built in the 1860s, near Hassan, with a dam built in the 1960s. The church was left behind when the village was moved to make room for the Hemavathy Reservoir, but it appears after the monsoons. During the rainy season, it then slowly sinks back to wait until it is time to rise again and show its charm and grace – not to mention its excellent masonry!
Image: Andre Estima
4. Church of Old Petrolandia, Brazil
Petrolandia is a town in Brazil near the river of Sao Francisco, which was moved – or at least part of it was – when a dam was built. The only thing left standing is the church, which is a crazy but beautiful sight, like a predatory fish opening its maw to eat.
3. Church of Krokhino, Russia
The Church of Krokhino, in the former village of Vologda Oblast, Russia, was built between the border of the Sheksna River and Lake Onega, according to photographer, Sharon. It is very old, having been built in the 15th century, but was flooded in the 1980s when the Soviets constructed a hydroelectric plant nearby. It is still standing, though, after all these years, with enough left for us to imagine what it would have looked like new.
Now in ruins, the church is a haunting sight. The architecture you can see was beautiful in its prime but has a different sort of beauty now. The building has become a popular tourist attraction.
2. Church of Lake Reschen, Italy
The Reschensee is an artificial lake near the Austrian border that completely submerged the village of Graun and its church in 1950, except for the 14th-century bell tower. The lake is 72-feet deep, and the church was mostly demolished the week before the area was flooded, yet the tower still stood and still stands today, peeking out above the surface of the water. Legend has it that you can still hear the church bells ringing during winter when the lake freezes over.
Image: Petr Drápalík
The people of Graun tried hard to save their village, but to no avail, and 163 homes and 1,290 acres of farmland were drowned because of an electrical company’s wish to build a dam. The spire is all that remains of the dreams and aspirations of those who once lived there.
Image: Michael Clarke
1. Kalyazin Bell Tower, Russia
The Kalyazin bell tower is all that’s left of the monastery of St. Nicholas, built between 1796 and 1800. According to Wikipedia: “It is considered a symbol of old Russia which disappeared after the revolution.” In 1939, Stalin decided to flood the town to make a reservoir in the Volga River. The abbey itself was dismantled. However, when tourists became interested in seeing this unlikely sight, the government shored up the bell tower and made a little islet for it where boats can dock. It is a beautiful and imposing site, especially when thinking of all those who toiled on its construction, only for it to be drowned due to the will of other men.
These sunken churches speak to the ability of man to build wondrous places, as well his capacity to destroy. We flood whole villages for dams and reservoirs, but somehow the churches still stand, unconquerable above the water’s surface. A fact of nature, or a message from God?