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Exotic landmarks of Ukraine
Olena Krushynska continues her travels across Ukraine in search of unusual, strange and bizarre creations of humans and nature.
Spearheads in a church. Rozluch
Onthe Lviv – Uzhgorod highway that runs across Galicia (Halychyna) to Zakarpattya, motorists can see billboards advertising hotels and tourist lodgings in the village of Rozluch, which is located along this highway in the Turkivsky district of Lviv Region.
In the early 20th century, Rozluch was known as a spot of good vacation facilities and picturesque scenery. The village boasted 14 rest homes and in the early 1930s it even featured a natural formation that could be used as a 50-meter ski jump. After the Soviets annexed this part of present-day Ukraine away from Poland at the outset of World War Two, Rozluch found itself close to its new border with Poland and the Soviets restricted visits to the village.
After Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, tourism to Rozluch picked up, and with it, the awareness of one of the village’s main attractions — a wooden church that is as unusual for its architecture as it is unique compared with other wooden churches in the region.
Unfortunately, this church’s days could be numbered, and its value for visitors and posterity nullified, as it receives no form of state protection for its preservation, leaving it at the mercy of the elements and time.
The Church of St. Francis Borgia was built in 1901– 1902 for German colonists settled in the region in a style that may best be described as Neo-Gothic, featuring its single spire and lancet windows on the outside.
But you are in for an even bigger surprise when you walk inside the church.
The church’s walls and ceiling are painted in yellow and blue, and there is a stylized wooden structure with downward-pointing spearheads for decorations affixed to the ceiling that doesn’t appear to be a necessary part of the church’s functional architectural design (see photograph).
Olga Merye-Sheremeta, an art historian who researches wooden churches, believes that the church’s colors were inspired by folk traditions. The ceiling symbolizes the sky and is naturally blue. Stars and cherubim are painted in the church against a dark-blue background.
In his book Anhely na skhodakh neba. Narodni povirya I zabobony (Angels on Heaven’s Stairway. Folk Beliefs and Superstitions), Pavlo Chubynsky writes, “God created the sky for living together with angels. The sky is a blue roof in a clouded space… Stars are angels sitting on the steps of the stairways to heaven holding burning candles in their hands. Stars are souls of people. Stars are burning candles.”
Another quotation from Chubynsky’s book may suggest an explanation for the spearheads pointing down from the ceiling. “God shows the people lightning so that they always remember that God is always in the sky. Lightning is the real sky that God demonstrates in a moment of his wrath. They say this sky will open up before the Doomsday.”
I was impressed by the church but shocked by its dilapidation. Village elders remember that the church was kept in good condition until some time before the Second World War (that is, until the time when western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union by force). Among the church’s congregation were people of German and Polish descent, with a Catholic priest being invited from another town for some services.
Today the church is in a sorry state. The timber is rotting, there are gaping holes in the walls, the front door is always open and hanging lopsidedly on its hinges, and if nothing is done about it, the neglected church will turn into a ruin. The locals do not consider the church to be “theirs,” saying “it’s a Polish Catholic church.” Poland has offered help to restore the church, but the offer was met with the usual red-tape treatment.
The church, though unique in Ukraine, has not been given the status of “architectural monument” because of its “young age” and “foreign origin,” and since it hasn’t been designated an official architectural landmark, it isn’t protected by the state. When it collapses one day — and it surely will if not restored — no one will be held to blame for its demise.
The reddish-gold spearhead on the blue ceiling
could symbolize lightning in the sky.
The Rozluch church charms with its art,
but disheartens with its dilapidation.
French Gothic cathedral. Pidlisny Mukariv
The village of Pidlisny Mukariv in Khmelnytsky Region boasts a church that could make you rub your eyes in disbelief and make you think that you have been transported to France when you stand before it in this typical Ukrainian village. The French Gothic church comes complete with a rose window and an elaborate portal on its western facade, two towers, lancet windows and flying buttresses along its sides. The Gothic feeling continues when you enter the church, as colored shadows cast by the stained glass windows become visible, together with an organ on an ornately decorated balcony.
In the 15th century, Podillya was part of the Kingdom of Poland. Later, it was made into the administrative district of Mukarivske Starostvo, parts of which were in the possession of various landowners.
At the end of the 18th century, the ruler of the Mukarivske Starostvo was Carolina Gozdska, the wife of Prince Charles de Nassau-Zigen (1745–1808), a French adventurer. The prince took part in the first French expedition to circumnavigate the world. He also fought in the Seven Years’ War, was involved in the Spanish blockade of Gibraltar, and later came to Russia to offer his services to the imperial court. There is a portrait of the prince painted by Francesco Casanova, the brother of Giovanni Jacopo Casanova (1725–1798), the famous Italian adventurer who, after being thrown out of a seminary, wandered Europe, meeting luminaries, working in a variety of occupations, and establishing a legendary reputation as a lover.
After the prince’s death and the death of his wife, their adopted daughter Elizabeth, who was educated in Paris, inherited the Mukarivske Starostvo. Her husband, Pavlo Butyahin, was a secretary at the Russian embassy in France. This French connection must have influenced the architectural style of the church in Pidlisny Mukariv, which was built in 1859–1872. Stonemasons from Podillya managed to create a church that looks like a close replica of a Gothic cathedral.
Christ in Satan Town
There is a town in the Nadzbruch region with a rather sinister name — Sataniv — which literally means “the town of Satan.” The town holds a castle, defensive walls, a medieval synagogue, an impressive Catholic church with two steep towers, a spa with sources of mineral water containing medicinal properties, and thick forests and deep caves in its environs. All of these make Sataniv, despite its somewhat frightening name, attractive for tourists.
Tourists usually don’t bother to have a look at a sculpture in the backyard of the local hospital. It is the figure of a doleful Christ who sits on a four-meter pedestal supporting his head with his hand. Evidently, a local artisan created this sculpture. In fact, it is the oldest known monument in Ukraine that commemorates the events of the War of Independence, fought in the 17th century by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. However, the monument was dedicated to those who fought against Khmelnytsky’s Cossack forces rather than those who were on his side.
In September 1653, the Cossack army arrived at Sataniv, which was in Polish hands. The people of Sataniv chose to open the gates and let the Cossacks in rather than fight them, but the garrison stationed in the castle was determined to do battle. The garrison was overwhelmed by the Cossacks’ superior forces, and the Poles and Ukrainians who were on the garrison’s side were slaughtered.
Later, the situation changed and Sataniv was recaptured by the Polish forces of Martyn Kalinowski. The civilian population was sentenced to death for letting the Cossacks in, but later this sentence was somewhat lightened and only every 10th “rebel” was executed, without regard to age or sex.
Kalinowski ordered a monument to be erected to commemorate those who died fighting the “rebels” and to honor the victors who had taken the town back from the “insurgents.” At the monument’s unveiling, Kalinowski said, “Look, the Lord Himself is grieving. He closed His eyes when He saw the treason against the King.”
However, locals formed their own opinion of what this monument represents. For the last several centuries they have said in jest that the figure on the pedestal is Kalinowski himself, who is upset over losing a fortune in a card game.
Photos by the author.