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Ancient wooden churches in the Land of Lvivshchyna
This time, seasoned traveler and sight hunter Olena Krushynska took a trip to several places in Western Ukraine, which is rich in architectural landmarks in general, and wooden churches in particular. In addition to her brief descriptions of the places she visited, she provides small tips for those who might wish to follow in her footsteps.
I started my trip from Lviv. In Lviv you can get your first glimpses of wooden architecture. The open-air Museum of Folk Architecture Shevchenkivsky Hay offers a rich collection of wooden churches and other wooden houses that are not replicas but the real thing brought from their original locations and reassembled at the museum. The churches from the Carpathian villages of Kryvka and Tysovets are particularly impressive.
Lviv – Kuhayiv – Medenychi – Drohobych
In one of the new housing developments of Lviv called Sykhiv, I discovered a wooden church that proudly stands among the high rises close to the railroad line. It is the Church of the Holy Trinity, which dates from 1654. Sykhiv used to be a village, but in the late 20th century the city swallowed it and urbanized the area — but the wooden church has miraculously survived.
It is a typical creation of the one-dome type. It is a functioning church, but newcomers should be warned to watch their heads when they enter it — the lintel of the door is very low. The interior boasts murals that date to 1683, and among Biblical scenes you can see things that don’t belong to canonical subjects. The church used to be referred to as “the Church of the Cossacks.” It’s believed to have been built by the Cossacks of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who were stationed in the vicinity of Lviv for several months during the War of Independence in the mid-17th century. Local legends claim that the windmills painted on the walls symbolize chaiky, or Cossack boats, and one of the mural figures depicts a Cossack leader. Among other characters in the murals, I discovered a noble-looking lady who leans on a multi-headed monster with a wicked smile on its lips. This figure could have been inspired by the Apocalypse’s verses, “I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls…” (Rev. 17:3-4).
From Sykhiv we (I was in the company of friends) went to Mykolayiv, but on the way we stopped at the small village of Kuhayiv to see a small wooden church that stands close to the road on a hill hiding behind large trees. The date of the construction of this Church of Bohoyavlennya Hospodnyoho (the Theophany) can be seen carved into the lintel of the door — 1693. The church possesses an architectural element, verkhy z zalomamy — a sort of a three-tiered structure, which is unique in wooden church constructions among Ukrainian churches. Seeing this church turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Passing Mykolayiv, we continued to Drohobych and stopped at the village of Medenychi to see the Church of Uspinnya Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsi (Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God), built in 1644. It is unusual among the wooden churches for its horizontal rather than vertical accents.
Drohobych is one of the oldest towns in Halychyna (Galicia). It developed as a center of salt trade. In the 14–15th centuries, salt from Drohobych was exported to various European countries. It is in the oldest part of town that both of Drohobych’s wooden churches are located, a few hundred meters apart from each other. Both churches are considered among the 10 best wooden churches in Ukraine. These churches have preserved their bell towers, murals and iconostases in more or less good condition. At present, the churches don’t belong to any religious community and have the status of museums.
The Church of Vozdvyzhennya Chesnoho Khresta (Erecting of the Most Holy Cross) is on the territory of a fire brigade, and this gives hope that at least it will be protected from fires. Its 25-meter-tall bell tower, which dates from the 17th century, looks like a defensive tower from medieval times. The church itself was built in 1613, constructed at the site of an earlier church that was burned down during the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. We could not get inside to see the interiors and murals because the church is opened only once a year on September 27, when the Feast of the Erecting of the Cross is celebrated. The church is awaiting restoration, but no one can say when it will begin.
The Church of St Yury (St George) is a museum and we could get in. It is considered one of the most important wooden architectural landmarks of Ukraine. In contrast to the neighboring Church of Vozdvyzhennya Chesnoho Khresta with its somewhat forbidding appearance, St George’s looks festive, made up of intersections of soft lines.
St George’s was bought by the people of Drohobych for “salt money,” which they made from selling this commodity. Its original location was in the village of Nadiyiv in Ivano-Frankivsk Region. The church, dating from the 15th century, was taken apart, transported to Drohobych and reassembled where it now stands.
The murals that we did get to see in the church’s interior consist of three cycles created in different times in the 17–18th centuries. The murals are meant to remind the congregation of the suffering and resurrection of Christ, of the Virgin Mary’s all-conquering love, and of the joy of good overcoming evil. The murals’ color scheme adds its own important touch to the overall impression — bright red, warm ochre, deep blue, light green, and white, produce uplifting emotions.
Skole – Rozluch – Yasenytsya Zamkova – Komarno
From Drohobych we proceeded to the small town of Skole situated at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, with its forested slopes, rock outcroppings and waterfalls.
Close to the center of Skole stands a 17th century wooden church, of St Paraskeva. Its belfry dates to 1760 and sits atop the entrance gate in the walls surrounding the church and its yard. The door leading to the belfry is flanked by sculptures that add solemnity to the scene.
From Skole we went to the village of Rozluch via the town of Turka to see the Church of St Francis Borgyash, built in the early 20th century for the local Roman Catholic community comprised largely of immigrants of German descent who had settled down in Rozluch in 1780. (See more about this church in Krushinska’s article on page 94).
Our next stop was the village of Yasenytsya Zamkova, where we admired the bell tower of the Mykhaylivska (St Michael’s) Church, the only one of its kind in Lviv Region. It was built in 1790 using only axes as carpenters’ tools.
The three-tired bell tower and open galleries winding around it make it look very large and tall, though it is only 14 meters high. At the same time, these galleries create a feeling of lightness. The bell tower houses a museum of everyday folk life. The museum collection is comprised of objects collected in nearby villages, including wooden slippers.
Passing by the village of Stary Sambir, we left the foothills, reaching flat ground. Further, past the town of Sambir and the village of Rudky, we turned off the road into Komarno, which is known mostly for its brick church Rizdva Bohorodytsi (Birth of the Virgin Mary, built in 1656), with its richly sculpture-embellished facade. Meanwhile, the panorama of the wooden Mykhailivska Church (built in 1754) with its bell tower opens as you enter the village. Both the bell tower and the church have recently been restored with money provided by two local religious communities — the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox. The first stage of the reconstruction dealt with the complex’s exteriors, while the next stage will take care of the interiors. When the restoration is completed, services will be held alternately for these two communities.
From Komarno we returned to Lviv. I’m looking forward to my next trips to see more of the marvels of wooden architecture.
Photos by Olena KRUSHYNSKA
The seventeenth-century murals in
the Holy Trinity Church in Sykhiv, Lviv.
The Holy Trinity Church, built in 1654 in Sykhiv, Lviv.
The interior of the Church of St Yura is lavishly
decorated with murals; detail of the mural
The Tree from the Root of Jesey, 1691;
among the branches — Biblical personages.
The iconostasis in the Church of St Yura; detail.
The Church of the Erection of the Most Holy Cross,
1613, one of the two seventeenth-century wooden
churches in Drohobych.
The Church of the Theophany, 1693, in Kuhayiv.
The Church of St Yura in Drohobych is considered to
be one of the most important wooden architectural
landmarks of Ukraine; it was originally built in the
fifteenth century in Nadiyiv and later was taken
apart, transported to Drohobych and reassembled
there; later, the church went through a series of
The seventeenth- century Church of St Paraskeva
The Church of Uspinnya Presvyatoyi Bohorodytsi,
1644, in Medenychi, is of an architectural design
unusual to Halychyna.
The bell tower of the Mykhaylivska Church in the
village of Yasenytsya Zamkova; it is the only one of
its kind in the Land of Lvivshchyna; it was built in
1790 with only axes being used as
The Church of Archangel Mykhail (Michael),
built in 1754, has been recently restored.
Recently, the Hrani-T Publishing House in Kyiv published a guidebook for tourists, Sorok chotyry derevyani khrama Lvivshchyny (Forty-Four Wooden Churches in Lviv Region). Its author is Olena Krushynska, who regularly writes articles for our magazine (see more at www.derev.org.ua).
The guidebook is well illustrated with photographs and maps of five tourist routes that can take tourists to the most interesting wooden architectural landmarks in Lviv Region.
Krushynska won a presidential grant for carrying out the project, Wooden Churches of Ukraine — creation of Internet portal and photo catalogue of architectural landmarks. The tourist guide was written and published as part of this project.[Prev][Contents][Next]