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Reviving the Spirit of the Ages
An old watermill in the town of Radomyshl, 60 miles from Kyiv, has been reconstructed by Olga Bohomolets, a distinguished dermatologist, professor of medicine, patron of art and singer, all rolled into one, into a stylized medieval castle.
Yevhen BUDKO has seen it.
Photos by Yevhen Budko, Mykola Ivashchenko
The earliest written mention of Radomyshl (Radomysl) dates from the year 1150. The place through centuries had different names and it was only in the twentieth century that it finally became Radomyshl.
My trip to Radomyshl, a town which is many hundreds of years old, began not very auspiciously as far as the weather is concerned — the sky was overcast with heavy clouds laden with rain. But as I was nearing Radomyshl, the clouds began to disperse and the sun rays revealed the castle in its majestic fairy-tale prominence, with the park providing the background of magic autumnal colors.
The castle and the park, the combination of medieval-style castle, willows, water and reeds made me experience a sense of awe not dissimilar to what one experiences on a visit to a major protectoral landmark of venerable age.
The castle walls did not look forbidding at all; there was a distinctive note of serenity and well-wishing in the whole complex.
A look into history
Back in 2007, Ms Olga Bohomolets began looking for a place to exhibit her unique collection of over 5,000 Ukrainian icons which used to be in private possession in people’s homes, and which had been purchased and acquired by her for many years of collecting. When she learnt that an ancient mill in the town of Radomyshl that sits on the confluence of the Rivers Myka and Teterev, was for sale, she made her move.
When Ms Bohomolets saw the ruins of the mill and the land around it, she must have immediately sensed the potential of the place. As soon as the ruins and the land were purchased, the work on the site began. The first task was to clean it from trash and garbage that had accumulated there over the years.
Soon after the work of reconstruction had begun, it was discovered that the mill, which had been built in the early twentieth century, stood on the remains of a much earlier building that dated to the early seventeenth century.
That earlier building was a paper-making factory that belonged to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv. It was built with not only paper making in mind — the building had to be massive and thickwalled so that it could be easily turned into a defensive structure. In fact, it had loopholes in addition to regular windows.
It was the oldest paper making factory in Central and Eastern Ukraine. Incidentally, the town district where the factory cum fortress turned mill was situated is called Papirnya — that is, Paper-Making Factory. It means that the memory of that factory was kept long enough to give the district its name.
It is not known when exactly the factory/fortress was built but it is known that the print shop of the monastery began working not later than in 1606 — and it was for this print shop that the factory in Radomyshl supplied paper, it can be surmised that the factory started operating at about the same time.
The paper the factory produced was taken to Kyiv first by water on rafts and then delivered to the print shop by wagons.
The factory was in operation at least until the end of the eighteenth century. Damaged in one of the many uprisings and disturbances of those times that occurred not only in that area but in many parts of Ukraine, the factory was abandoned and some time later on whatever was left of the old building, a mill was built.
Radomyshl was a sort of cultural center and was visited by a number of cultural and religious figures, among them Petro Mohyla, a seventeenth-century Ukraine church leader who made worthy contributions to Ukrainian culture.
Museum, castle and concert hall
As the reconstruction began, plans kept being modified and what resulted was a museum stylized as a medieval castle, plus hotel, restaurant and a lot else — something that got nicknamed “ethno- complex” by the journalists.
As a point of fact, I went to Radomyshl on an invitation, as many other journalists did, to be present at the unveiling of the “ethno-complex”. At the unveiling ceremony, Ms Bohomolets announced that “I want this Radomyshl Castle to live and function without my financial support, as a self-sustained unit, I want it to be a place to which people would come in their spiritual quests.”
The central part of the Radomyshl Castle is The Museum of Family Icons Dusha Ukrayiny (Spirit of Ukraine) which is the only one of its kind in the world. The icons (which were once owned by ordinary people and kept at the place of honor in their homes), exhibited in the museum, date from the seventeenth and later centuries, and in addition to icons, the museum exhibits ancient figurines, toys, decorations, vessels and other artifacts.
The icons of the museum are not only painted in various media and on various supports — wood, glass, and so on; there are carved icons, icons made of metal or wood. Most of them have been carefully cleaned and restored, but some still carry wounds inflicted by time and militant atheists — saber cuts, bullet holes, etc. One of the icons — The Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) had served as a board upon which the umbilical cord of the newborn babies was cut by the midwife. Some icons from the Carpathians have figures painted onto them by their owners. One of the exhibits, the sculpted figure of St Mykola, is allowed to be touched — St Mykola was the patron saint of all travelers and touching it would protect you on your journey.
The Radomyshl Castle is, as I’ve said, a complex, that includes a park complete with ponds, islets in the water, little bridges and pieces of sculpture, with outcrops, here and there, of rock on which the whole place rests (incidentally, the solid rock under the complex made it possible not to build any foundations). Two artificial waterfalls fill the air with “rejuvenating ions”. The park is alive with wild life — fish in the water, beavers, squirrels and other animals were already reported to have been seen. They say there is even a ghost wandering through the corridors of the castle at night — that of the White Monk who, instead of copying gospels, was writing billets doux.
The company, which Ms Bohomolets has turned the Radosmysh Castle into, has pledged to make it a fully self-sustained venture. Excursions have already been started for tourists and visitors (booking in advance is required).
The place is also an ideal venue for concerts of ancient classical music, music festivals, conferences and symposia — and wedding and corporate receptions too. The Hall of Ceremonies and Rituals is designed to hold receptions; The Feast Hall offers itself for parties and several rooms offer accommodation for those who would have to stay overnight. There are plans to organize mock knight tournaments and jousts, and next year the facility for making paper will invite tourists and visitors to make paper with their own hands from nettles and flax.
The Radomyshl Castle has become one of the first — and one of the most attractive — tourist sites of Ukraine that have been created within the project Via Regia — Cultural Road to Europe (this Via Regia, Royal Road, extends across eight European countries, from Ukraine to Spain).
The official unveiling ceremony conducted in the presence of the journalists gave way to a chamber music concert held in the concert hall of perfect acoustics. Incidentally, it is not only almost miraculous acoustical properties of the hall that deserve a mention — there is a spring of water in the hall that is fed from an underground source. The water tastes like the “living water” of fairy tales must have tasted!
I was itching to ask a question, “Why did you bother to build all this, to place the priceless icons in your possession in a museum, and then give it all away?” but Ms Olga Bohomolets, in her address to the journalists, provided an answer without my asking the question when she was speaking of the cultural heritage which is the backbone of the Ukrainian nation and which has allowed this nation to survive the hardest of times when the very existence of the nation had hung in balance — culture heritage should be accessible to all.
Incidentally, Ms Olga Bohomolets is a scion of one of the oldest aristocratic families of Ukraine whose coat of arms shows a bull’s head pierced by an arrow, with an inscription that reads, “Kill the Beast in Yourself.”
Very curious artifacts — “Amphorae” from the Land of Polissya.
Archangel Michael, Leader of the Heavenly Host.
This icon was used as a board on which the umbilical cords of the newborn babies were cut.
Prof. Olga Bohomolets and Viktor Moskalets, curator of the museum of icons.
Journalists on a guided tour.
Icons hang on many interior walls of the Radomyshl Castle, from top to bottom.