BALEA LAC, Romania (AP) — High on a remote mountain in Romania, priests have blessed a church made entirely from ice, outstanding both for its architectural style as well as being a place for religious tolerance.
Builders have once again created the Ice Church, which is only reachable by cable car at an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,600 feet). Water from Balea Lake, 300 kilometers (190 miles) northwest of Bucharest, is blessed by priests. Chunks of ice are then cut with a chain saw and cemented together with water and snow to make the church.
The structure — 6 meters (20 feet) tall, 14 meters (46 feet) long and 7 meters (23 feet) wide — is a copy of an old church in Transylvania.
Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant clerics held a service there this week. Among them was Michael Regen, a priest from the Evangelical Church, who compared the consecration of the Ice Church with a baptism.
"(We are) submerged in water now, surrounded by water. Let this be a place for us to pray, let this be a place where people come with pleasure," he said after a service attended by more than a dozen worshippers.
Built and blessed anew every winter for the past few years, priests have performed baptisms and wedding blessings in the Ice Church.
Relations between the different Christian churches in Romania have been strained over the years due to disputes relating to church ownership. The communists seized churches in 1945, which were then given to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Some have not been returned to other denominations.
But Ioan Crisan, an Eastern Rite Catholic priest, said the Ice Church was a place to set aside religious differences.
"For a few moments, people forget what they left down in the valley: the fights, the misunderstandings, the contradictory arguments," he said.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.