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SPIEGEL ONLINE

10/24/2007 05:37 PM

A Holy Journey

Church Moved to Make Way for Coal Mine

Engineers are transporting a 660-ton German church 12 kilometers by truck to save it from destruction: Its home village is set to be swallowed up by an expanding coal pit.

Jesus once told his disciples that if they had faith and did not doubt, they could tell a mountain to be "taken up and cast into the sea" and it would happen. Now an entire church in eastern Germany is being taken up and moved -- thanks to a little faith and a lot of modern technology.

Earlier this week, people in Heuersdorf, a village in Saxony near Leipzig, saw the 750-year-old Emmaus Church lifted onto a truck ahead of its journey to the town of Borna, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) down the road, which begins on Thursday. The church will reach its destination on Oct. 31 if all goes according to plan.

To achieve this feat, the 14.5-meter-high, 8.9-meter-wide and 19.6-meter-high chapel underwent an extensive preparation phase, which began started shortly after Easter 2007 -- the last time a service was held in the church.

First , a steel and concrete platform was constructed underneath the structure and thousands of cracks in the walls were plugged with concrete. Then, the church was wrapped in four steel corsets. Once ready, the structure, which weighs 660 tons, was raised 1.6 meters by hydraulic lifts so that an enormous, multi-wheeled red transport bed could be slid in beneath it.

The move is necessary because the village of Heuersdorf is set to disappear, swallowed up by a massive coal mine. The town sits upon an estimated 52 million tons of lignite, or brown coal, which will be taken for use at the nearby power plant in Lippendorf. The town had originally won a court battle to keep its land, but a 2005 decision by a higher court overturned that ruling.

The church's journey to Borna will not be cheap. The move will cost an estimated €3 million ($4.3 million), with the costs being borne by the Mitteldeutsche Braunkohlengesellschaft (MIBRAG), which supplies the area's power plants with coal. To make way for the trucks, roads have had to be re-engineered, small rivers have been diverted, and power, phone and traffic lines have been taken down.

The church's journey will be carried out at a slow walking pace. Sensors will continually check the condition of the roughly building as it moves, and structural engineers will accompany it to make sure that the building never tilts more than two degrees. "The job is really all about millimeters," Uwe Wenzel, head of the heavy transportation firm Mammoet which is in charge of the job, told the German news agency DPA.

For Thomas Krieger, the pastor who oversees this and five other Protestant churches in the area, the move is bittersweet. He has already lost one church to the coal mines, and he had a difficult time finding a new home for this one. At one point he even considering turning it into a roadside church for travellers.

Krieger finally found a home for it in Borna's marketplace, where it will sit right next to one of the town's own churches. "It's not the ideal location, for sure, but it's the best we've got," Krieger told the newspaper Die Welt.

For the Heuersdorf's roughly 50 inhabitants who will have to find alternative living arrangements before Dec. 31, 2008, the church's move might at least have a purpose. "We want to keep using the church," church official Matthias Weismann told DPA. "It can be a spiritual center of remembrance for Heuersdorf and the other towns in this region which have been forced to make way for the strip mines."

The first service to take place in the transposed church is scheduled for Easter Monday 2008, the one-year anniversary of its last service.

At least this church made it: Heuersdorf's second, larger church will meet the wrecking ball next year.

jtw/dpa

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