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Ancient wooden churches in the Land of Lvivshchyna
This time Olena Krushynska takes the readers along to Derniv, Kam'yanka-Buz'ka, Batyatychi, Tadani and Volytsya-Derevlyanska to see the marvels of wooden architecture.
* See the second article in the series Wooden Churches in the Land of Lvivshchyna in WU issue #3’2008
To get to Derniv, we travel from Lviv along the road that leads to Kam’yanka-Buz’ka. About two kilometers before we reach Kam’yanka-Buz’ka, we turn right. The church we are looking for sits in the backyard of what used to be a kindergarten. The sculpture and decorations on the walls of some of the buildings still portray protagonists of popular fairy tales.
The church we are looking for is a small one and it also looks as though it has come from a fairy tale. It was built in 1666 and was dedicated to St Mykyta. Very few tourists — if any — get to see this church but I hope their number will increase. Last year, I published a guide book, Sorok chotyry derev’yani khramy Lvivshchyny (Forty Four Wooden Churches in Lvivshchyna), and St Mykyta’s is mentioned in that book.
The church is in need of urgent restoration. In the soviet times, it was turned into “a museum of the revolutionary movement” and later was used as sleeping quarters by the kindergarten. When you walk inside the church, you can still see a peeling mural that dates from time the church was a museum, and rotting bunk beds of the kindergarten times.
In a small building that sits next to the church I found Father Nestor who is a local Orthodox priest. He told me that the congregation is small and is mostly made up of elderly people who do not have any means to get the church restored. It was thirty years ago that some restoration was done. The only thing that the local religious community could afford was to collect money for a new tin roof. If something is not done urgently, this wooden church will soon turn into wood dust — as so many other old wooden architectural landmarks did.
The town of Kam’yanka-Buz’ka celebrated its 560 anniversary this year. Tourists can rarely be seen there though the town still boasts a number of architectural and historical landmarks. The wars and human neglect destroyed it a lot but some of these landmarks have survived.
The town used to be called Kam’yanka Strumylivska after Yury Strumyl, a local governor of hundreds of years ago, who was instrumental in boosting the development of the village of Kam’yanka to such an extent that it acquired the status of a town and then was granted the Magdeburg Law. The town was a stronghold at the confluence of the Rivers Kamyanka and Zakhidny Buh, complete with defensive structures and a castle. The castle has not survived the troubled times but the City Hall and a number of other old buildings have. The Assumption Church in the Neo-Gothic style (1908–1914) is a very conspicuous architectural landmark of Kam’yanka-Buz’ka.
But it’s the wooden church that we are after. The Church of St Mykola Chudotvorets (the Miracle Worker), the oldest surviving church in Kam’yanka-Buz’ka, sits on top of a hill close to the river. The church and its bell tower stand among the old linden and ash trees at an old cemetery. In the seventeenth century this church was the center of religious and cultural life in Kam’yanka-Buz’ka.
The church had an icon which was believed to work miracles; it was decorated in a sumptuous Baroque-style manner and had a lot of beautiful wood carving. Later epochs, up to the time of fin de siecle, left their imprint on the church’s decorative elements. In 1898, a restoration was carried out and a year later, the local priest Mykhailo Tsehelsky commissioned the painter Yosyf Sydorovych to paint several icons and murals in the church’s interior.
Walking around the church, I discovered an inscription carved into the wood of the church’s southern door which reads, “This church was created in the year 1667 after the Incarnation of the Word of God, during the rule of his Lordship Heronim Radziovsky [and consecrated] on the 21st of the month of September.” I also found another inscription, on the western side of the church, above the door, a quotation from Psalm 99:4 “ENTER INTO HIS GATES WITH THANKSGIVING.” Still another inscription informed me that a stone foundation had been laid down beneath the wooden structure of the church — it was done two hundred years after the church’s erection.
No services are held in the church — it was closed down in the 1960s by the soviet authorities and for several decades it stood totally neglected. In 1987, thanks to the priest of another church in Kam’yanka-Buz’ka, St Mykola’s some restoration work was carried out — some of the rotten wooden structures were removed and new ones installed, the roof and the dome were covered with tin sheets, the floor was renovated and the exterior walls were covered with new wooden shingles. The slim bell tower that stands next to the church (it was built at the same time as the church was), has been less lucky — no restoration done and it is now in a ruinous condition. I do hope both the church and the bell tower, which has lost its bells, will not be allowed to decay.
After Kam’yanka-Buz’ka we go the village of Batyatychi, which is situated five kilometers to the west. Batyatychi was once famous for its apiaries — it supplied wax and honey to the court of the Polish king.
Batyatychi, which stretches along to the road that leads to Zhovkva, used to have three wooden churches, and two of them have been preserved — The Church of Presvyata Bohorodytsya (Most Holy Mother of God), which was built in 1778, and the Church of St Yura (St George). Both churches are tall, with helmet-like domes, and visually are heavenward bound.
In 1900, the painter Teofil Kopystynsky decorated the interiors of both churches with murals. In the soviet times, the Church of Presvyata Bohorodytsya was used as a warehouse, and later it was turned into a museum. At present it is a functioning church of the Greco-Catholic community. The bell tower that stands next to the church is wooden but its ground floor is solid brick and stone.
St Yura’s is situated at the eastern suburb of the village, not far from the main road. The length of the church equals its height and its proportions create a visual motion upward. It looks very similar to the Church of Presvyata Bohorodytsya, and looking at their photographs even I would not be able to immediately say which is which.
We take the road that goes south-west, along the left bank of the River Zakhidny Buh. The village of Tadani, our next stop, sits at the bank of the river. It boasts two wooden churches, one of which is visible from afar. It is the Church of St Mykola. It was built in 1876 in the style typical of the nineteenth-century wooden churches — their exteriors were covered with a coat of paint as protection against weather, and their roofs were covered with tin sheets.
The other church in Tadani dates from the eighteenth century and is one of the remarkable wooden architectural landmarks in Halychyna (a similar church can be found in the village of Radenychi, Mostytsky Raion). The church hides behind the trees and it may take some time before you actually spot it, even though it stands on a hill. It has been preserved in its original appearance, almost intact, even with murals.
The full name of the church in Polish runs like this (that part of Ukraine was under Polish domination until 1939): Ko¾ciol p.w. Nawiedzenia Naj¾wietszej Maryi Panny i ¾w. Tekli, that is the Church of the Visit of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and St Thecla to Elizabeth. Locally, it is usually referred to as the Blahovishchenska Church. In the soviet times the church was used as a warehouse, but in 1992 it was returned to the faithful. Now it is a Roman Catholic Church; services are held in it only on big church holidays. A priest from Kam’yanka-Buz’ka comes to Tadani to conduct these services.
The exterior of the church has been darkened by time, but the interior is still full of vivid color. The murals, which have miraculously withstood the tests of time and human neglect, date from the eighteenth century. The All-Seeing Eye looks down at the faithful from the ceiling; the angels unroll a scroll the text on which extols the Holy Trinity. The Virgin Mary is depicted at the northern wall, which also carries the image of a Czech saint, John of Nepomuk.
Svaty Jan Nepomucky — John of Nepomuk (also called John of Pomuk, or John Nepomucen, born c. 1345, in Bohemia, now in Czech Republic, died in 1393 in Prague) was canonized in 1729 (feast day May 16). He is the patron saint of the Czechs, who was murdered during the bitter conflict of church and state that plagued Bohemia in the latter 14th century. In 1390 he was made vicar general for the archbishop of Prague. In 1393 the archbishop, with John’s support, excommunicated one of the favorites of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia and thwarted the king’s ambition to make a new bishopric out of the province of Prague. John was arrested as the archbishop’s chief agent. Wenceslas personally tortured him with fire, after which he reconsidered and released him on an oath of secrecy regarding his treatment. John, however, was dying, and to conceal the evidence Wenceslas had him gagged, shoved into a goatskin, and cast into the Vltava River. Bohemian Catholics later regarded him as a martyr. Thetre is a more romantic version of the events, which involves a woman (the Austrian chronicler Thomas Ebendorfferus’ account) and which suggests that John was killed for refusing to reveal to the king the confessions of his wife, Queen Sophia, but it was officially declared false in 1961.
From Tadani I headed for the village of Volytsya-Derevlyanska. There is a circuitous route to get there by car, but I decided to take a short cut which involved crossing the River Zakhidny Buh over a “suspended bridge” on foot — and it is a bridge, locally called kladka, of a very flimsy and shaky kind.
This bridge, which hangs suspended from two supports on both sides of the river, can be considered a sort of “a landmark of folk engineering”. It was made not so long ago but similar bridges over rivers and precipices in the mountains have been built in Halychyna for ages. You have to be real careful in getting across — you must move in short, quick steps to prevent the bridge from becoming alive and starting to swing up and down and to the sides. I knew the trick of walking in the right way and crossed the bridge successfully — that is, without being thrown into the river.
The church I was looking for is situated a short distance from the kladka. It is the Church of Voznesinnya Hospodnyoho (Ascension of Our lord Jesus Christ), which was formerly belived to have been built in the 1680s. The dates that I discovered carved at the western door — 1651–1667, contradict it. The church must have been built during the hetmanship of Stanislaw Potocky who was also the governor of Krakow.
It is known that from 1662 to 1788 the church was a part of a monastery. At some later date, the church was covered for protection with tin shingles, which grossly disfigured it, and now the main attraction of this church is not its exterior but the iconostasis which was created in 1680–1682 by painters from the icon-painting and wood-carving shop of Ivan Rutkovych (this shop was already mentioned in the previous WU article about wooden churches of Lvivshchyna). The icons and the iconostasis itself can be considered one of the masterpieces of the art of making iconostases and painting icons of the late seventeenth century. The iconic images are full of lofty spirituality, the colors combine cheerful and somber tints, the compositions are canonical. Like in any iconostasis, each row of icons is called differently and they have different iconographical attributes. The lowest row of icons, for example, is devoted to Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, but in this iconostasis there are several icons — Savior, Last Supper and some others which are located at places that are not in keeping with the established tradition.
The church stands locked and is opened only at the time when religious services are held there.
Photos by the author
The Church of St Mykola (1667)
and the bell tower (1762) in Kam’yanka-Buz’ka.
The Church of St Mykyta (1666)
in the village of Derniv.
The Church of Soboru Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsi
(1778) in the village of Batyatychi.
The Catholic church in the village of Tadani. 1734.
Mural of the Blahovishchenska Church
in the village of Tadani.
Angel. Detail of a mural.
Getting across the River Zakhidny Buh over a shaky
The iconostasis of the Voznesenska Church,
a masterpiece of its kind, was made in 1680–1682
by wood carvers and icon painters form the
Ivan Rutkovych shop.
The Church in the village of Volytsya-Derevlyanska