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Old wooden churches in the Land of Zakarpattya

 

Olena Krushynska, the creator of the website Wooden Churches of Ukraine (www.derev.org.ua), began the year 2009 with a story about her last summer trip to Zakarpattya (Transcarpathia) which is as rich in wooden-church landmarks as the Land of Lvivshchyna is.

 

Uzhgorod

This major city of Zakarapattya is a good start on a journey devoted to collecting the marvels of wooden architecture in that westernmost part of Ukraine. It may be a good idea to go first to the Zakarpattya Museum of Folk Architecture and Traditional Life-Styles which is situated at 33 Kapitulna Street, practically next to the Uzhgorod Castle. It is an open-air museum, where you can see excellent samples of traditional Ukrainian wooden architecture that date from the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries  peasant houses, a church, a chapel, a school, a korchma (tavern), a water mill and a smithy. They are not replicas  they are genuine wooden buildings which were transported from their original sites in villages and installed in the museum (first, they were carefully taken apart, then parts were moved to Uzhgorod where they were re-assembled).

The main feature of the museum is probably the Church of St Michael from the village of Shelestiv (it is locally referred to as The Shelestivska Church). The church was built in Shelestiv in 1777 in the typical Lemkiv style with a characteristic bell tower that sits right above the entrance, that is in the western part of the church. The dome that crowns the church is of a rather intricate shape. The acoustic properties of the upper part of the bell tower, where the bells are, are such that the powerful sound of the bell-ringing does not get choked but easily escapes and spreads far and wide. The bell towers of this type were actually used in the times of old for defensive purposes as well  their design made it possible for the defenders to shoot at the approaching enemy from various angles and at a close range, staying at the same time out of the enemys sight.

The roofed porch in front of the entrance looks like an integral feature of the churchs design and also provides a visual feature which makes the church look light. The carved wooden pillars that support the roof are carved to look decorative, not just functional.

The weather in Zakarpattya is very capricious, with sudden rains and unexpected blizzards, and the spacious roofed porch is a welcome feature which provides some protection for the parishioners who come to the church service on a rainy or snowy day.

The interior of the church is graced with parts of the ancient iconostasis which was brought from a church in the village of Kolochava. Also, the church has a wooden contraption which is called klepach. The klepach is used on Strastna Pyatnytsya (literally: Passionate Friday, or Good Friday) when, according to the local Orthodox Christian tradition, the bells are not allowed to be rung and instead the klepach is set into motion to produce the summoning call (in some churches, a wooden board was struck repeatedly with a wooden mallet). The point was to avoid metal clinging against metal.

In 1927 this church was moved to Mukacheve, and in 1976 it was taken apart and shipped to the museum in Uzhgorod where it was reassembled to become the highlight of the wooden-architecture collection.

 

Likitsary

From Uzhgorod we went to the village of Likitsary, which is situated rather high in the mountains (we took the road that would take us eventually to Lviv but at the town of Perechyn we turned left and via the villages of Tyryi Remery and Turytsya we got to Likitsary).

Though it was rather a long journey, I was awarded with the sight of the handsome Church of St Basil the Great, which was built in 1748. Unfortunately, later restorations changed considerably the original appearance of the church, both in the exterior and in the interior. The bell tower carries a klepach and two bells, one of which was made in Slovakia in 1820, and the other one is of a local production of the early twentieth century. Even the name of the bell maker is known  Ferenc Egry.

 

Chornoholova

From Likitsary we returned to the Lviv highway, and went to the village of Dubrynychy, whence we proceeded to the village of Chornoholova (there is a road sign that indicates the turn to take in order to get to that village). The road runs along the banks of a mountain stream that meanders across the floor of a rather narrow valley. The scenery is highly picturesque and invites active picture taking.

The road takes you right up to the Church of St Mykola which was built in the seventeenth century. In 1794 it was partly rebuilt and the church acquired some new decorative features. Visually, the church is in full harmony with the surroundings, revealing its various aspects as you walk around it. Depending on where you stand and from which angle you look at the church, its horizontal and vertical lines alternately gain prominence. The tall smereky (Carpathian conifers) which stand close to the bell tower provide their own romantic touch.

I felt I could spend hours walking around the church, examining details, taking pictures, and thoroughly enjoying the sight. Every little detail is in its right place, introducing variety but at the same time forming a homogeneous whole. The rich carving that adorns the church in various places creates a festive mood.

The dome is of an elaborate shape; the church is provided with a roofed porch and gallery. The interior of the church boasts the iconostasis which dates from the eighteenth century, but the icons it displays are of much later times. There are some features in the interior  the ancient small window in the chancel wall, for example, which reveal their ancient origins.

 

Bukivtsyovo

This tiny village is located still higher up in the mountains. From the main  or in fact, the only street of the hamlet you can spot the tip of the dome of a church at a distance of about a third mile away  it sticks above the tree crowns. It is impossible to get there by car, so we left it near the local community center and walked to the church. To get to it, we had first to go down to the streamlet, cross it over a shaky and flimsy bridge, and then climb the rather steep slope of a hill. The hill is topped with the church which is flanked by a bell tower on one side and a curious wooden structure which looks like a pyramidal roof on four wooden pillars and which stands opposite the portal. The knoll is covered in lush grasses and wild flowers and I greatly enjoyed walking around.

The church is dedicated to St Anna  incidentally, there are very few St Annas in Ukraine. The church was built in the seventeenth century in the typical Zakarpattya style. In 1791 it was reconstructed and we know the name of the architect who supervised the reconstruction  Hryhory Makarovych. It was the roof that was subjected to particularly extensive changes. The door of the portal probably dates to the time of the reconstruction  it is massive, with heavy iron hinges and latches.

The bells on the bell tower are much younger than the church. The inscription on one of the bells reads, Mikhail [from] Bukovtsovo 1924. Cast by Rihard Herold in Khomutov. The other bell was cast in Hungary in 1924.

There are many spots and angles from which you can look at this church to appreciate its beauty, but I think the best picture can be taken with the church in the foreground and the green and wooded hills in the background.

 

Sil, Kostryna

We went from Bukivtsyovo all the way down to the Lviv Highway and then proceeded northward. Our next destination was the village of Sil. The Church of St Basil the Great stands close to the road that runs through the village. It is known that originally this church was built in the village of Syanky in the seventeenth century, but later, in the eighteenth century, it was taken apart, loaded onto ox-drawn wagons and hauled to the village of Sil where it was reassembled. The iconostasis made this trip too and was installed at the place where it belongs in the interior.

The reconstruction of 1834 changed the roof and the dome to suit the local tastes (originally, the roof and the down were in the so-called Boykivsky style), and the wooden awning on all sides of the church was provided to protect the wooden walls from rain and snow. The porch was roofed too.

From Sil we went on to the village of Kostryna. The church stands on a hill close to the road but you have to know what you are looking for because the church is obscured from view by tall trees. There is a path that takes you right up to the Pokrovska Church (it is dedicated to the Protective Veil of the Most Holy Mother of God).

Similarly to the church in Sil, the Pokrovska Church in Kostryna was built in the village of Syanky in the seventeenth century (1645), but later, in 1761, the religious community of Kostryna bought it from Syanky and had it transported to Kostryna. There were a couple of reconstructions made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but it is not known how extensive the changes were. Anyway, Pokrovska Church in Kostryna has a distinctive architectural appearance which makes it easily recognizable among all other churches in Zakarpattya.

Early in the twentieth century, the local Christian community decided they wanted a stone church and the money was collected for the construction of a new church at the site of the old wooden Pokrovska Church. But war  First World War  broke out and the construction of a new church was suspended and then altogether abandoned. It was an extremely rare, if not unique, case when war saved a church from destruction.

 

Vyshka and Uzhok

Only a few miles separate the villages of Kostryna and Vyshka. The Mykhailivska (St Michaels) Church in Vyshka proved to be a bitter disappointment  the church which was built in 1700, has recently been covered with tin sheets to make it weatherproof, but it completely disfigured the church. Unfortunately the Mykhailivska Church in Vyshka is not the only one that has been subjected to such an act of esthetic vandalism. The church that used to look like a natural growth, a feature of nature in the picturesque landscape, now looks like an alien monster.

Our last stop on the tour was the village of Uzhok, which is situated close to the Uzhotsky pereval (mountain crossing) straight at the border between the Lands of Lvivshchyna and Zakarpattya. The River Uzh begins as a streamlet in the vicinity of Uzhok, higher up in the mountains. 90 kilometers (about 60 miles) downstream it turns into a river on the bank of which stands the city of Uzhgorod.

The church of St Michael in Uzhok sits on a knoll close to the road. It is said to have been built higher up on the slope but it proved to be too long a walk uphill for older people of Uzhok and the church was moved downhill, much closer to the village.

The carved inscriptions on one of the walls of the church inform us that the church was built in 1745 by masters Pavlo from Btlya (the neighboring village) and by Ivan Tsyhanyn from the village of Tyhe (pronounced Te-hei). Carved inscriptions at other places provide some more information about the church. One of such inscriptions reads: 1895 Hyrych Petro kurator vazhyv  literally: Petro Hyrych, supervisor, weighed. Which means that under the supervision of this Petro the church was lifted by hoists and winches off the ground and new timber was laid into the foundation.

The exterior of the church is in a very good condition but the interior gave us another unpleasant surprise  parts of the walls are covered with disfiguring plastic sheets. Luckily, the iconostasis has not been subjected to such barbaric treatment and it reveals beautiful wood carving.

Because of its dark color (the wooden shingles were some time in the past coated with protective oil) the church is locally referred to as the little black ship. The church which is of a relatively small size, is one of the most attractive wooden landmarks that Ive ever seen. Its intrinsic handsomeness is much enhanced by the amazing beauty of the surrounding landscape. No wonder that the church features on the Welcome-to-Zakarpattya tourist picture postcards; many a painter set their easels at various spots around the church to paint it against the background of the glorious Carpathian views which become breathtakingly gorgeous in the fall which paints the mountains in vibrant autumnal colors.

 

Photos by the author

 

 

Detail of the bell tower of the Shelestivska Church.

 

The Church of St Michael (Shelestivska Church)

which dates from 1777 in the open-air museum

in Uzhgorod.

 

The Church of St Basil the Great in the village

of Likitsary. 1746.

 

Close-up of the shingles on the roof of the church.

 

Klepach of the bell tower of the church in Likitsary

which is used instead of bells on Good Friday.

 

An ancient iron cross on the top of the dome

of the Church of St Mykola.

 

The Church of St Mykola in the village

of Chornoholova. 1794.

 

Ancient-style window in the wall of the chancel.

 

The author in the bell tower of the church.

 

Church of St Anna in the village of Bukivtsyovo.

17th-18th century.

 

Pokrovska Church in the village of Kostryna. 1645.

 

Church of Archangel Michael in the village of Vyshka.

18th century.

 

The artists from Uzhgorod, Moldova and

Transdniestria whom the author met in the village of

Sil; they were painting plein air views of the church.

 

Church of Archangel Michael in the village of Uzhok,

1745, is locally referred to as the little black ship.

 

The photo from a Czech postcard of the 1930s

of the church in Uzhok.

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