Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Równia, Poland

This former Greek-Catholic wooden church is found on a small hill in the village of Równia, located south of the town of Ustrzyki Dolne and a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border. It features a three-domed architectural style which is very rare on Polish territory, being more typical of Boyko-style churches found further east in Ukraine.
The church is thought to have been built in the early 18th century, and it would later suffer extensive damage during World War Two. Following the war, the Lemko and Boyko inhabitants of the village were accused of aiding the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which was fighting the Polish government.
They were expelled from the region along with most of the Lemko and Boyko population of south-eastern Poland, and were sent to become new settlers in the recently-claimed former German territories granted to Poland at the end of the war. Thus the village of Równia lost its Greek-Catholic population, and the church was converted for use as a Roman Catholic church when Catholic Poles were resettled in the village.
This is one of the most unique wooden churches in the region of Małopolska (Little Poland), though the interior is much less remarkable than the exterior. The village is difficult to reach directly by public transport as it has very limited bus connections, but it is possible to walk to the village in about one hour by taking a hiking trail that begins at the edge of the town of Ustrzyki Dolne. There are also interesting wooden churches worth taking a look at in the surrounding villages of Ustjanowa Górna, Hoszowczyk and Hoszów.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Frička, Slovakia

This church stands on a small hill in the centre of the village of Frička, in a remote corner of eastern Slovakia close to the Polish border. The church is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, who is present in several of the icons that grace the interior. The iconostasis dates from 1830, while most of the icons are from the late nineteenth century. The ceiling of the nave is decorated with a colourful painting of St. Trinity, completed in 1933 by a local artist from the city of Prešov. The tower contains three different bells, the oldest from 1697.
The church is surrounded by a low wooden fence and contains an entrance gate which is typical of the Rusyn churches of the region. The church was fully renovated inside and out in the spring and summer of 2010, returning the structure to its original appearance. The use of a coating of protective varnish on the wood surface of the exterior has been criticised by some historians as not in keeping with the pledge to preserve the original integrity of the building, and this coating will not be used in other renovation projects of Rusyn churches in Slovakia (although it has already been used in the restoration of the church in Potoky). However, the varnish does give a very impressive appearance to the wood because of its shiny finish.
Frička is one of the most isolated villages in the region, but it can be reached by bus from the town of Bardejov with a few connections per day. It is also possible to follow a trail that leads up and over the hill into Poland, as the border is less than one kilometre from the village.

Ulucz, Poland

This formerly Greek Orthodox church located in Poland's far south-eastern corner sits on a steep wooded hillside above the small village of Ulucz. Thought to be one of the oldest Eastern Rite churches in the country, the tserkva was constructed in 1659 as part of a monastery complex with surrounding fortifications. The monks closed the monastery and left the region in 1744, but the church continued to serve the local Orthodox population until the 20th century.
At the end of the Second World War, the Boyko ethnic group who lived in the village were forcibly resettled to other parts of Poland, and Catholic Poles were encouraged to settle in the region. As a result, the Greek Orthodox church was converted for use as a Roman Catholic church for the second half of the 20th century. It has recently been taken over by the Museum of Folk Architecture in the nearby town of Sanok and is now used only as a museum. A mass is held in the church just once each year, on Ascension Day (40 days after Easter).
The church interior is nearly empty, as the Greek Orthodox iconostasis and icons are now on permanent display in the Sanok museum. A few badly faded painted frescoes can be seen on the wooden walls, including one depicting the crucifixion of Christ. The key to the church is kept by the family who live in house number 16 at the opposite end of the village. They are happy to come and open the church for visitors who come by car, as the distance to the church is about two kilometres along the road.
The village of Ulucz is best reached with your own transport, though there are infrequent buses which run to the village from the town of Sanok. Another excellent option is renting a bicycle in Sanok in order to travel to Ulucz and to have the opportunity to visit other villages in the region as well.

Desești, Romania

The UNESCO-listed wooden church in Desesti is one of the best preserved in the Maramures region of north-west Romania. Known as the church of Pious Parascheva, it was constructed in 1770. The influence of the gothic style is clear in its design, and this was typical of the churches built in the region following the destruction caused by the Tatar invasions of 1717.
The interior contains an excellent collection of icons painted on glass as well as wood. The exterior of the church features a large cross shape formed in the shingles above the front entrance. The church is surrounded by a small colourful cemetery featuring wooden and stone grave markers and sits on a low forested hill above the village.
A highly decorative gate with wooden towers attached can be found below the church at the foot of the hill. A sign on the front of the church informs visitors that the church was struck by lightning in 1924 and that the tower of the church burned down and had to be rebuilt. It seems remarkable that a building made of wood with such an incredibly tall tower wasn't a more frequent target of lightning in the days before lightning conductors came into common use. I was unable to find any local person about who could locate the key to open the church, so this was one of the few Maramures churches I was unable to see the interior of. The village of Desesti has many of the typical Maramures-style wooden gates lining the streets in front of people's houses, and horse carts are a common sight in the roads and laneways.

Miroľa, Slovakia

This wooden church is set in some of the most beautiful hilly countryside in eastern Slovakia. It sits on a slope above the village in front of a small cemetery and is visible from throughout the forested valley that surrounds the settlement. The present church was constructed in 1770, but it is thought that an earlier wooden church had stood in the same location in the village since the end of the 17th century. Dedicated to the Protector the Mother of God, the church is a typical three-part Lemko structure with three cupolas rising in height with the highest above the front entrance. Western design influences are apparent in the baroque style of the separate rooftops.
Life has not been easy for the local Rusyn residents, and many of them were forced to emigrate at the end of the 19th century to escape the poverty and poor living conditions of the time. During World War II many homes in the village were destroyed in the fighting for control of the nearby Dukla pass and the church was also badly damaged.
The interior of the church contains side icons in the Russian-byzantine style, while the iconostasis features some unusual images of the lives of peasants dressed in traditional costume placed in among the usual New Testament scenes. The entire iconostasis was restored in the 1970's by local experts.
The key for the church is kept by the family who live across the road, they are happy to open the temple for visitors and can give a demonstration of ringing the bell. It is expected that visitors will leave a donation of one or two Euros in front of one of the icons. The village is serviced only infrequently by bus, so walking in from the main Svidnik-Dukla road is a good option, as blue-marked forest hiking trails connect the villages which contain wooden churches together in a circular route. Bodružal, Príkra, Miroľa and Krajné Čierno can all be visited on an enjoyable day hike.

Plopiș, Romania

This Romanian Orthodox church is found in Plopis, a village in the Cavnic river valley in the Maramures region of Romania. A superb example of vernacular wooden architecture, the church sits on a small hill above the rest of the village. It was constructed in 1796 by local village builders and consecrated as the Church of the Archangels. The interior wall murals were painted in 1811 by the local artist Stefan of Sisesti.
The murals include an evocative image of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, with the snake coiled around a tree. The layout of the church is rectangular, with a pentagonal chancel apse. There is a porch in front of the main door featuring six pillars supporting the beams that carry the weight of the roof.
The tall pyramid-shaped steeple on the tower is surrounded by four smaller pinnacles in each corner. These pinnacles indicate that the church once served as an official court of law for the surrounding region. The three-lobed ceiling vault of the nave is considered to be a unique feature among the Maramures wooden churches. The structure has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, one of eight wooden churches in Maramures region to receive this honour.

Kryvka, Ukraine (Now in Lviv Skansen)

This wonderful wooden church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, is originally from the small village of Kryvka, found near the border with Poland. In 1930 it was moved to the Lviv Museum of Folk Architecture to become the first structure in the museum's collection.
Today it is the museum's star attraction, preserved as a superb example of the Boyko style of Rusyn wooden church design. Boyko churches are identifiable by a building plan with three steeples where the tallest steeple is the central one; the interior contains three rooms, with the middle one being the largest.
The Kryvka church was originally constructed in 1763, and suffered major damage in World War I when a shell crashed through the roof. I spoke with the priest responsible for the church and he told me that a lack of funding for restoration of western Ukraine's wooden churches threatens the long-term sustainability of many of these unique and remarkable structures. The Lviv skansen is found at the edge of the city, and is easily reached by tram from the centre.

Ladomirová, Slovakia

I have a particular interest in the wooden folk architecture of the Carpathian mountains, especially the wooden churches found in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Czech Republic. Each of these churches is architecturally unique, and distinct regional styles can vary enormously, from the three-steepled Lemko and Boyko churches of the northern part of the range in Poland and Slovakia, to the tall shingled steeples of Maramures region in Romania. I've visited more than 90 of these churches, including some from all five countries.
I will put up photos and a description of some of the most unique ones, so I'm starting today with the church in the village of Ladomirová, Slovakia, which is pictured here. The Greek Orthodox Ladomirová church is a typical example of the Lemko style, with the three steeples arranged from highest to lowest with the highest closest to the door. The church was built in 1742, and endured significant damage during World War 2, as the nearby Dukla Pass was the scene of heavy fighting. Russian soldiers reportedly slept on the floor of the church during the conflict, and were given food by the local villagers. The key to the church is available from the family who live in the house immediately in front of the church; I was given a tour by a wonderful old woman who was full of stories and memories of the village as it changed through the course of the 20th century (This conversation was in Slovak, having someone with you who can translate her stories would add much to the experience). The iconostasis wall inside the church has many of the usual hallmarks of Lemko churches, including an image of the Last Supper beneath the image of Christ the Pantocrator. The village of Ladomirová is located 6 kilometres north of the town of Svidník, and there are several buses a day that run to the village from Svidník.