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Wooden churches of Ukraine in the village of Pyrohiv
The Ukrainian orthodox priest Andriy VLASENKO, who is an art and architecture pundit, marvels over the beauty of the two wooden churches to be seen in the open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life in the village of Pirohiv, which is situated in the vicinity of Kyiv.
The Christian church is much more than just a building constructed in a certain architectural style at a certain time. In the church, the faithful can sanctify their life. At the same time, the Christian church reflects the soul of the people that have created it. The Christian church is a sermon in which the eternal truths are rendered in an easily understandable language. The Christian church presents a holistic picture of the Universe.
Ukrainian wooden churches can be compared to songs, not only sermons. The Paraskevy P’yatnytsi Church (the church of St Paraskeva- Friday the Martyr) is a great creation of folk architecture of the early 17th century. The earliest traditional features of wooden churches are superbly enhanced by other features, which were developed in later centuries, and which give those who look at the church from a distance a feeling that the church is about to soar to heaven. The interior of the church with its subdued light inspires the spiritual soaring as well.
The twenty-five meters tall church is entirely made of oak timber so hard that nails could not be hammered into it. The church was transported to the open-air museum from the village of Zarubyntsi, Monastyryshchensky Rayon, Cherkasy Oblast.
Zarubyntsi came into existence in the mid-seventeenth century as a settlement of Cossacks from the Kalnytski Cossack Regiment. A church must have been built in the village at about that time but it was destroyed in the turbulent years of the War of Independence that raged in Ukraine.
Later, in the eighteenth century, Ursula Radzivil (1705–1753), the wife of the Great hetman of Lithuania Mykhailo Kazimir Radzivil (1702–1762), initiated and funded the construction of a new church in Zarubyntsi, the one that has survived to cause our admiration and respect.
Ursula Radzivil was the last scion of the noble Vyshnevetsky family that gave Ukraine one of its first hetmans in the sixteenth century.
The construction of the church, which was dedicated to St Paraskeva the Martyr, began in 1742 but soon after it was erected, the church began to lean to one side. It was taken apart in 1757 and was put together again, and this time there were no construction faults in it.
Originally, it was an Orthodox church but changing political orientations and religious affiliations transferred it to the Uniate Church. However, the former Cossacks, who lived in Zarubyntsi, stood their religious ground and never denied their Orthodox faith. When, at the end of the eighteenth century, Poland was partitioned and ceased to exist as an independent state, the lands in Ukraine that used to belong to it, came into possession of the Russian Empire.
The Paraskeva Church was returned to the Orthodox faith and given the status of “a church of the 5th category” — such category was awarded to churches in villages with up to 700 parishioners. The church functioned the way a church is supposed to until the Bolsheviks came to power in the former Russian Empire, of which Ukraine was a part. The church was closed down, and, neglected, began to deteriorate and decay. As a matter of fact, many Ukrainian wooden churches began to be destroyed as far back as the nineteenth century and were replaced with churches built in the bland and uniform Russian architectural style, which had nothing to do with the Ukrainian spirit.
In the early 1970s, Petro Yurchenko, a Ukrainian wooden architecture historian, happened to see a photograph of the church. He was reported to have exclaimed then, “It’s the last great oak church in that area of Ukraine!” A group of enthusiastic scholars united efforts and had the Paraskeva Church transported from the village of Zarubyntsi to the open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life near Kyiv thus saving it from complete dilapidation. Some restoration was done but the church was used as a storeroom rather than a house of prayer.
It was only in 1993, two years after Ukraine’s independence, that the Paraskeva Church was more properly restored and began to function again as a church proper. The parishioners of the Church of Archangel Michael the Leader of the Heavenly Hosts in Pirohiv and Ukrainian culture enthusiasts were instrumental in returning the church to its proper function. The church was reconsecrated and the religious services began to be held in it in November 1993.
The iconostasis, parts of which were kept in various funds and artists’ studios in Kyiv, was put together again and installed in the church. Professional restorers and lay parishioners did a great job of restoration and it turned out that the iconostasis was a masterpiece.
St Paraskeva the Martyr was born into a family of pious Christians in the town of Ikonia (now Konya, Turkey; at that time it was in the eastern part of the Roman Empire) at the end of the third century AD, Paraskeva came into this world on a Friday, the day of the Christ’s Passion on the Cross, and the girl was named Paraskeva (the Greek word for Friday). Her parents died when she was still young, and the girl took a vow of chastity, gave out her possessions to the poor and devoted herself to converting the pagans to the Christian faith.
In 304, a wave of anti-Christian persecution rolled across the Roman Empire. Christians were required to offer sacrifices to the pagan idols, and pay tribute to the deified emperor Diocletian. Paraskeva, as well as thousands of other Christians, refused to do it. When she was brought before the local official, she confirmed her refusal to take part in pagan sacrifices in spite of temptations and threats of violence. Paraskeva was tied to a tree and beaten with lashes into which nails were fixed. Badly wounded, she was thrown into jail, but her wounds miraculously healed overnight. Paraskeva was subjected to terrible tortures but her spirit could not be broken, and she was beheaded.
The cult of St Paraskeva came to Ukraine in the times of Kyivan Rus in the eleventh century. One of the oldest surviving churches dedicated to Paraskeva P’yatnytsya (“P’yatnytsya” is the Ukrainian word for “Friday”) is to be found in the ancient city of Chernihiv. Ukrainian Christians who have problems with health often turn for help to St Paraskeva who is believed to be a healer. Paraskeva is also a patron saint of marriage and honest trade. The feast of St Paraskeva falls on November 10 (October 28, Old Style).
The Church of Archangel Michael the Leader of the Heavenly Hosts in the open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life in the village of Pirohiv is another wonderful example of wooden architecture of Ukraine that survives from the times of old.
The church, which is made of pine logs, is oriented towards the east, as all the Orthodox churches are. It is like a spiritual ship that sails towards the heavenly Jerusalem.
Architecturally, the church is made of three main parts: the altar part, hexagonal in shape, the nave, and the narthex, both rectangular in shape. Each section is crowned with a tent-like dome. The domes and roof are covered with wooden shingles, and the walls are faced with clapboards. The pig iron crosses top the domes. They symbolize victory over the sinful world.
The Church of Archangel Michael was transported to the open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life from the village of Dorohynka, Fastiv Rayon, Kyiv Oblast. According to historians of Ukrainian wooden church architecture, the Church of Archangel Michael preserves some very ancient features which probably date from the late tenth-early eleventh century, that is the time when Christianity had been brought to Ukraine-Kyivan Rus.
There is no consensus as to the time the Church of Archangel Michael was actually built. There are three dates which are cited as possible time of the church’s construction — 1600, 1700, 1751. These dates are suggested by written evidence discovered in archival documents and chronicles but they are at variance with the results of radiocarbon dating of the timber of which the church is built that was performed at the Institute of Geochemistry of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The radiocarbon dating points to the year 1528. It does not necessarily mean that the church was built as early as that date — it could indicate the time when the timber was cut — but it is hard to imagine that the cut timber would wait for over two hundred years to be used in building a church in 1751. Even the year 1600 stands too far from the year 1528 as far as the waiting period for timber to be used is concerned. Anyway, regardless of the results that further research may produce, we can say with certainty that the Church of Archangel Michael in Pirohiv is the oldest surviving wooden church in central and eastern Ukraine.
The history of Ukraine of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was filled with turbulent events, and the history of the church reflects the religious and political turmoil of those times. Initially, the church belonged to the Orthodox Church; then it was taken over by the Catholics, to be returned to the Orthodox faith some time later.
The church was repaired in the mid-eighteenth century and in the mid-nineteenth century. Unfortunately, during the repairs, the church suffered disfiguring architectural additions to it. Fortunately, the bell tower was built in accordance with Ukrainian architectural traditions.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the church was assigned the “5th category” — that of a church with about 500 parishioners. Miraculously, the iconostasis survived the attempts of Russian church officials to dismantle it as being “outdated and in bad repair”. In fact, the church itself was many times close to being destroyed in wars and the militant Bolshevik atheistic campaigns.
In 1930, the church was closed by the soviet authorities. Neglect and vandalism sooner or later would have turned it into a pile of rotten timber if not for its being transported to the museum in Pirohiv. Photographs of the church taken in the 1960s show that the process of dilapidation had gone rather far. The museum insisted on the church being transported to Pirohiv before it was too late. The church was dismantled, shipped to Pirohiv, and assembled again, minus the additions of the mid-nineteenth century. The iconostasis was restored and after the restoration it became clear that it is an exceptional creation of the art of icon-painting and iconostasis-making of the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century.
As the political changes swept through the country at the end of the 1980s, the authorities released their firm grip on religious matters. The first religious service was held in the Church of Archangel Michael in March 1990 in commemoration of Taras Shevchenko, the nineteenth-century pivotal figure in Ukrainian culture. Since then, religious services have been regularly held in this church. Now it belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate. The parishioners not only attend the services but take part in the religious feasts and traditional folk holidays which are celebrated in Pirohiv. They also take part in maintenance and restoration of the three churches that are situated in the territory of the museum.
Ukraine has lived through many wars and social upheavals and no wonder that Archangel Michael, “great captain,” “the leader of the heavenly hosts,” “the warrior,” who fought a great battle against Satan, is revered in Ukraine particularly high. Archangel Michael is a patron saint of Kyiv. The Great Feast of Archangel Michael is celebrated by the Orthodox Church in Ukraine on November 21 (November 8, Old style).
Photos by Dmytro REDCHUK
Religious and traditional holidays celebrated at the Museum
of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life of Ukraine, Village of Pyrohiv
Traditional and folk song and dance ensembles are invited to take part in celebrations.
The view of the interior of the church
The icon of the Virgin Mary
Icon of St Paraskeva the Martyr.
The village of Dorohynka.
The Church of Archangel Michael. 2005.
The iconostasis of the Church
The icon of Archangel Michael, the Leader