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Like in any other Christian land, churches in Ukraine were dedicated mostly to saints, to the Virgin Mary, and to important events and holidays on the religious calendar. The Virgin Mary was regarded as a heavenly protectress of the land, there was the Feast of the Protection (Protective Veil), and there were churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s Protective Veil which would be thrown over the people and the land in time of adversity.
Usually, dedication of a church to Pokrova Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsi (Ukrainian for: “Protective Veil of the Most Holy Mother of God”; further on it will be referred to as Pokrova) was prompted by some important historical events, though not necessarily so. Some of these churches became famous because of their architectural and artistic merits. There is one such church in the village of Parkhomivka, Kyiv Oblast. In fact, it is one of the best known churches in Ukraine. It was built in 1903–1906, and consecrated in 1908. What is now a small village in the early twentieth century was a big estate that belonged to Victor Holubev, a rich industrialist and landowner. Holubev commissioned Volodymyr Pokrovsky to design and build a Pokrova church at his estate. Pokrovsky did a very good job. He suggested that the church should be decorated with mosaics, and Nicholas Roerich, one of the leading Russian artists of St Petersburg of the time, was approached with a request to make designs for mosaics to be installed in the Pokrova Church in Parkhomivka.
Roerich gave his consent, designed the mosaics, and later these mosaics (mosaicist Frolov was hired to actually execute them) were shipped from St Petersburg to Ukraine.
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N. Roerich’s autograph on the Spas mosaic.
Roerich planned to come to Parkhomivka to see his mosaics installed, but something prevented him from coming. Then the First World War broke out, followed by revolution and civil war. Roerich emigrated, never to come back. Nicholas Roerich was a notable figure in the culture of the first quarter of the twentieth century. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1874, (original Russian name: Nikolay Konstantinovich Ryorikh, also spelled Rerikh), educated at the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, and gained prominence as a scenic designer and painter of historical and epic pictures.
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The Spas Nerukotvorny
mosaic above the portal of the chapel.
Later, he made designs for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He was also a popular mystic, an archaeologist and landscape painter. Roerich's paintings evidence an intense feeling for the epic dimensions and mystery of nature, particularly prehistoric nature. His outstanding achievements arose out of the opportunity to create scenic evocations of the past. In 1920 he emigrated to the United States (it was in the USA that he changed the spelling of his name), where he fashioned a reputation as a painter, seer, guru, and peacenik, especially among the well-to-do, who provided him with funds and even built him museums, one of which still stands in New York City. In the thirties, he went to Asia, travelled widely, and eventually settled in India where he died in 1947. His interest in Ukraine was not accidental, and not only because of his historical curiosity — Kyiv was, after all, “mother of all Russian towns.” His father, Konstantin Rerikh, a lawyer, was the first chairman of the first ever Shevchenko Society (it was founded in St Petersburg in the nineties of the 19th century). His brother Boris admired Ukraine and its culture and later, in the thirties of the 20th century, he was arrested by the Soviet secret police for his “Ukrainian nationalism.” All of this contributed to having Roerich, and not any other painter, design mosaics for the Pokrova Church in Parkhomivka.
The village stands away from the main roads and is a half-hour drive from the regional centre of Volodarka. The church can be seen from afar but it is only when one gets close enough one realizes it is a church and not a graceful tower. The architectural style it is built in is usually described as “Russian Modern,” a variation of the art nouveau. The church is rather big, measuring 40 by 20 meters (120 by 60 feet) and the bell tower which is architecturally part of the church rises to the height of 50 meters (150 feet). In fact, it is a whole complex, done in one style, which includes a small chapel with a burial vault, a house for the priest, a lodge.
The fence around the compound also fits the overall pattern.
The Protective Veil of the Holy Mother of God mosaic adorns the facade of the church right above the portal. The mosaic, measuring 4 by 6 meters (12 by 18 feet), is one of the biggest mosaics of its kind in Ukraine. In spite of its exposure to the elements and turbulent times of revolutions and wars, it is in a good state of preservation. All those local atheistic vandals who had once thrown stones at it, according to old villagers, ended badly. Some art historians suggest that creating the image of the Virgin Mary Roerich wanted to embody in it some of his ideas about “The Mother of the World” who, in his opinion, was universal sacred symbol known to all the nations and peoples of the world. Nevertheless, there are very few deviations from the canonical image accepted in the Orthodox Christianity. The graceful and majestic figure of the Mother of God produces a very strong impression. One can easily see that Roerich was inspired by the images of the Virgin Mary from the Holy Sophia and St Michael’s in Kyiv. The angels and saints in the mosaic are portrayed with faces showing little emotion, whereas groups of people in mediaeval dresses are shown animated and gesticulating. The colour scheme is dominated by gentle greens, yellows, and blues.calling upon us to rise to spiritual heights above the mundane vanities.
All the architectural details of the church, chapel and bell tower have been chosen carefully to create an overall vibrant impression, emotionally uplifting. The doors, window frames, steps, benches carry ancient symbols, derived from pre-Christian, pagan times, but later used in Orthodox churches (wavy lines, wheels, stars, tridents, etc.). The whole complex stands out as a remarkable combination of age-long traditions and twentieth-century innovations. Saviour Not Made by Human Hands”) mosaic, the second of the two, designed by Roerich, and placed above the portal of the chapel, is in much worse state of preservation. Even so, one can see what a powerful image it is. The Virgin Mary, with its stern gaze, seems to be calling upon us to rise to spiritual heights above the mundane vanities.
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The dome of the bell tower.

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The carved-wood
iconostasis of the church. Detail.

All the architectural details of the church, chapel and bell tower have been chosen carefully to create an overall vibrant impression, emotionally uplifting. The doors, window frames, steps, benches carry ancient symbols, derived from pre-Christian, pagan times, but later used in Orthodox churches (wavy lines, wheels, stars, tridents, etc.). The whole complex stands out as a remarkable combination of age-long traditions and twentieth-century innovations. The church is not a museum, it functions as an Orthodox church should, but its artistic and architectural merits are so high that it would be worthwhile for the tourist business to pay a closer attention to it, as it has a potential of becoming a major attraction with international appeal.

Materials for the article
have been supplied
by Victor Kyrkevych
Photos by Yu. Buslenko

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