Spain's first Russian Orthodox church opened last month in the small Valencian town of Altea. Around 500 people, including the dozens of Russians who live across the province of Alicante, attended the ceremony. In a gesture of goodwill, the Catholic bishop of the diocese where the new church sits, Rafael Palmero, was also present, along with the mayor of Altea, Andrés Ripoll.
The Church of the Archangel Saint Michael is an exact replica of a 17th-century Orthodox temple in Russia, and building materials were flown in from as far as the Ural mountains to obtain as realistic an imitation as possible - specialists in Russian wood were even drafted in for the actual construction work. Despite early morning temperatures in Altea as low as five degrees, the workers were not complaining. "In Siberia it would be minus 50 right now, and everything would be frozen. That's cold. This is heaven," said one worker.
Besides the temple, there is a christening area where converts to the Orthodox faith can be submerged in baptismal water, as well as a house for the priest, a conference room and a soup kitchen.
The project is being financed by a Russian developer with business interests in Altea and nearby Calpe. Vera Bosco, who has been working in the Costa Blanca area for the last decade, decided that his church would sit near the luxury residential development Altea Hills, on grounds which have been ceded by local authorities.
But first, the authorities were sure to check with the local priest, to make sure it was alright with him.
"To begin with we were kind of shocked by the idea, so we went to talk to the priest, who gave us the green light," explained the municipal spokesperson Jacinto Mulet, of the conservative Popular Party.
In fact, Catholic priests have helped the project along symbolically, with gestures such as placing the first stone into the ground last spring.
It was the Orthodox priest, as a matter of fact, who faced the only real difficulty of the entire project: obtaining legal residency papers. In the end, Yeroslav was granted a construction-worker contract in Alicante.
In a further demonstration of interfaith cooperation, last month’s opening coincided with the inauguration of a Catholic church in the Russian location of Murmansk, inside the Arctic Circle, also devoted to Saint Michael.
There are around 6,600 Russian nationals registered in Alicante, according to the National Statistics Institute, and until now they had prayed in rented spaces.
"This is a sanctuary. Our sanctuary," said Inna Gurishkina, a Ukrainian performer who can be regularly seen at the Benidorm Palace, as construction got underway last March. "For years I watched as my own country forbade me to express my faith in Jesus. Now I can even do so in Spain, where the climate is a gift from God."
Sergi Castillo / Susana Urra / El Pais / Expatica
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