Podgorica isn’t necessarily blessed with an abundance of landmarks. Reduced to rubble during World War II, the old town perished under relentless shelling by Allied bombers and reconstruction of the city, then called Titograd, went slowly. However, beyond the train tracks a peculiar building demands attention: the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus.
Surrounded by dark conifers, bleak concrete walls rise towards drab skies, an equally unadorned bell tower looms above dilapidated apartment blocks and single-family homes.
A lone bronze statue of a priest holding two children (a boy and a girl) adorns the area in front of an unembellished wooden door, an unpretentious shooting star above it the only decoration.
Though not necessarily out of place, it is quite a strange sight.
However, despite its unremarkable appearance, the structure is inimitable.
I am standing in front of the “Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus”, not only Podgorica’s sole Catholic temple but designed in the Communist brutalist style. Constructed in 1969 at the height of the Yugoslavian state, the church is an absolute rarity given the strong areligious stance of the ideology.
Behind the door, the austerity continues.
Evermore concrete, forbidding and cold. Solitary beams of light fall through a single skylight onto the altar. A massive cross, glowing, hangs menacingly behind.
And yet, rather than oppressive the atmosphere is strangly soothing. Although the building bares resemblance to a dystopian sci-fi bunker rather than a house of worship, its simplicity carries an unsuspected serenity. Calmness reigns within these walls.
Nothing distracts within these halls.
Even as an atheist, I must admit, there resides an odd spiritual sensation amidst the concrete.
A church unlike any I have seen before.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the city centre follow the V Proleterske brigade (Podgorica’s main street) towards the train tracks (to the east). After around 10min, you should spot an underpass. Walk through and continue until you reach the roundabout on the other side.
Turn left. After roughly 300 metres, the church will be on your left-hand side.