Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bodružal, Slovakia

This Greek Catholic church is found on a small hill above the village of Bodružal among the forest covered mountains in the north-eastern corner of Slovakia. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas and was built in 1658, making it one of the oldest churches with a Lemko design in the Carpathian region. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 together with seven other wooden churches in present-day Slovakia.

The three-part Lemko design (narthex, nave and sanctuary) are intended to represent the holy trinity. An onion dome projects above each of the three room sections with the highest dome placed above the narthex (entrance room) which is a typical feature of the Lemko style. The tower above the entrance contains three bells, the oldest of which was cast in 1759. The iconostasis wall in the interior is entirely original, dating from the 17th century, and is one of the finest examples of icon painting in this region of the Carpathians. The church grounds are surrounded by a low wooden fence with a main wooden entrance gate with a small shingled roof.

The church is in use at least weekly with regular services held on Sunday morning. The key keeper lives 50 metres down the road from the church and since this is a popular church with tourist visitors it's usually not a problem to find someone willing to come and open the door. They will expect an entrance fee of about two Euros per person to be paid, and donations can be left in front of the icons.

There is no direct transportation to Bodružal, but it is an easy 15 minute walk from the village of Krajná Poľana which is on the main road between Svidník and the Polish border and there are frequent buses throughout the day from Svidník. A walking trail through the forests connects four villages with wooden churches (Bodružal, Príkra, Miroľa and Krajné Čierno) which makes a perfect day hike to experience both the villages and the surrounding countryside.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tarnoszyn, Poland (Now in Lublin Outdoor Museum)

This Greek-Catholic wooden church is dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is now located in the Outdoor Folk Architecture Museum in Lublin, Poland. The church was originally constructed in 1759 in the village of Uhrynów (Uhryniv in Ukrainian) which is now part of Ukraine.

In 1904 the church was moved further west to the village of Tarnoszyn, which today lies in Poland just a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border. Following the expulsion and resettlement of the Greek-Catholic population of the village following World War Two, the church was used for Roman Catholic services until the early 1960's. Over the following decades the church was abandoned and fell into ruin.

In 1994 the church was purchased by the Greek Catholic parish in Lublin, and in 1997 it was transported to its present site in the Lublin Outdoor Museum. Extensive renovations were carried out between 1999 and 2001, and the interior fittings including the iconostasis were completely reconstructed.

The church features a classic Boyko style with a three-part design (nave, narthex and sanctuary) each topped by a dome with the largest dome placed above the nave. The design of the entrance area with a porch and four pillars is very unusual and is likely not an original feature of the building plan. The lowest part of the structure reveals the original horizontal log construction while the upper portions are covered in a modern vertical timber facade. Next to the church there is a large wooden bell tower which was also transported from Tarnoszyn and includes a cone-shaped roof over the bells.

The Lublin Outdoor Museum is located in the north-western suburbs of the city and can be easily reached by city bus from the old town. The museum is very large, you could spend most of a day seeing all of the different building styles and regions which are displayed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yasinya, Ukraine

This originally Greek Catholic wooden church sits on a small hill above the village of Yasinya and the Chorna Tysa river among the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine. The church is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Hutsul architectural style and few modern alterations have been made to the building, two factors which contributed to its selection as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013. According to a Hutsul legend the church was built on the site where a flock of sheep miraculously survived through the winter unharmed after being left behind by a shepherd in a snowstorm.

The Church of the Ascension was built in 1824 on the site of an older church, though some accounts suggest the current church is from the late 18th century. It is frequently referred to by locals as the 'Strukivska' church. As a perfect example of the Hutsul style it features a floor plan in the shape of a cross, a large central dome above the nave with an onion dome at the top and four much smaller onion domes at the four corners of the building. A minor addition was added to the structure of the church in 1994 when a wooden entrance room was added onto the side in the same style as the rest of the church.

Unfortunately the interior of the church is not in its original state, and the icons and iconostasis are crudely crafted versions of the originals. The overall effect is warm and welcoming, but without a feeling of true authenticity. There are many brightly coloured icons and paintings on the upper walls and dome of the roof, which intentionally draw your eyes upwards to heaven. Since 1995 the church has been used jointly for Orthodox and Greek Catholic services.

The broad bell tower was built in 1813, supposedly a decade before the current church, and is equally impressive as the church in terms of its architectural significance. The structure has an octagonal upper floor where the bells are kept and a lower floor shaped like a square. If you are lucky enough to find the key keeper in the house below the church you will be able to climb to the bell platform in the tower for views of the church and the village. In return for opening the church and bell tower for visitors they expect that you will make a small donation to the church and perhaps buy one of the postcards they have available.

Yasinya is one of the easiest Hutsul villages to visit by public transport since it is directly on the main road running east to west across the Carpathian mountains in this region and many buses and marshrutkas use this route to travel between cities like Uzhgorod and Mukachevo on the western side of the mountains and Kolomiya, Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi on the eastern side. The bus and marshrutka station is in the centre of the village on the main road, and to reach the church from there you will need to walk about 1.5 kilometres south through the village and then across the river to the west on a rickety old bridge with wooden slats. From there the church is visible on the hill just to the south, though finding the way there can be confusing through the maze of narrow streets between the houses and fenced pastures.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Uzhgorod, Ukraine

This Greek Catholic wooden church stands in the Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture in Uzhgorod, Ukraine. The church was originally constructed in 1777 in the village of Shelestovo near the city of Mukachevo, and was dedicated to Saint Michael. In 1927 the church was moved to Mukachevo, where it was later neglected during the early Soviet period. The church was transferred to the Uzhgorod museum in the 1970's to form the centrepiece of the museum's collection of Transcarpathian folk buildings.

The church is an outstanding example of the Lemko style of architecture, with its three onion domes arranged with the highest above the narthex (entrance area) a middle dome above the nave and the lowest dome above the sanctuary. There are only a few remaining examples of the Lemko architectural style in Ukraine, since the style is more commonly seen further west in the Carpathians in what today are Slovakia and Poland. Three Lemko churches were moved to what today is the Czech Republic while Transcarpathia was part of Czechoslovakia between the World Wars. Two other Lemko churches which are still in Ukraine have been transferred to the Outdoor Museums in the capital Kiev and in Lviv. A further example of the style is in the town of Svalyava, where the large church of St. Nicholas can be seen.

The tall and slender 22 metre Baroque tower is one of the finest features of the church, and it is topped with a decorative cross above the onion dome. This feature is repeated with crosses featuring intricate metalwork designs found above all three of the onion domes. The square pagoda-style series of roof layers above the nave are wonderfully proportioned in conjunction with the smaller tent roof over the sanctuary. The walls of the church are made of oak beams which are fastened together with dovetail joints in each of the corners.

The carved wooden posts which form a balcony around the entrance door and along the sides of the narthex and the nave are typical of the central Transcarpathian style where northern Lemko and Boyko elements mixed with design features seen further south in areas influenced by Romanian builders. Most of the original icons and the iconostasis wall from the original Shelestovo church have been lost, and the icons displayed in the church today as part of the Outdoor Museum were brought from the church in the village of Kolochava in the Carpathian highlands. These icons date from the 18th century.

The Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture is a short walk from the centre of Uzhgorod, with the main entrance lying just beyond Uzhgorod castle. Uzhgorod is located at a crossroads of different countries and Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania all lie within easy reach. Buses cross the border to Košice in Slovakia several times daily. Minibuses travel south to Chop near the Hungarian border where international trains depart for Budapest. Buses and minibuses run at least every hour to the neighbouring city of Mukachevo and there are direct trains heading north to Lviv.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uzhok, Ukraine

This small church, found in a remote corner of the Carpathian highlands of Ukraine, was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013 together with fifteen other tserkvas in Ukraine and Poland. The village of Uzhok lies in the Uzhok pass, the highest pass in this part of the Carpathians and one of the most scenic locations in Transcarpathian Ukraine. The church is one of the most famous in the region and often features in tourism and other promotional materials as a symbol of Transcarpathian Ukraine.
The church was built in the Boyko style in 1745 and dedicated to Saint Michael. Supposedly the church was originally placed higher up the slope of the hill, but it was moved down nearer to the road because it was difficult for elderly villagers to walk up the incline. The architectural proportions of this church make it one of the most perfect examples of the Boyko style of architecture. The large triple-layered roof above the nave stands above the smaller single-layered roof of the narthex and the double-layered sanctuary roof. The shape of the tower above the narthex is similar to that of churches in the Lemko style found a little further to the west in the Carpathians.
The brightly coloured interior has had several modern additions to its fittings and decorations, but still has a pleasing appearance overall. The 18th-century iconostasis has luckily been only slightly altered from its original appearance. The elegant windows with white framing are not an original feature and were added during a later renovation. The church exterior is covered in a dark coating of oil stain to protect the wood, and this has led to the church being referred to locally as 'the little black ship'.
Standing next to the church is a wooden bell tower, though its roof and upper walls are now covered in metal rather than wooden shingles. During World War One the government of Austro-Hungary (the state to which Uzhok belonged at that time) had the bells from the bell tower removed and melted down for military use. On the slope above the church is the village cemetery, with many older graves overgrown by grasses and trees.
The village of Uzhok is most easily reached by train, since there are several regional trains daily from Uzhhorod which run directly there. A few trains daily also continue onwards to Lviv to the north. There are a couple of buses and marshrutkas which run to the village daily from Uzhhorod, but the timing of the trains is more convenient to make a comfortable day trip. Just before arriving at the platform for Uzhok the train crosses a spectacular rail bridge across the valley, offering excellent views in all directions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ruský Potok, Slovakia

This small Orthodox church stands on a raised patch of ground in the centre of the village of Ruský Potok in the far northeast corner of Slovakia. The forested hills of the Poloniny National Park surround the village on three sides, and sections of the UNESCO-listed Beech Forests of the Carpathians site are also nearby.
The church was built in 1740 and dedicated to Michael the Archangel as a Greek Catholic church. Since the year 2000 it has been used by the local Orthodox church community, though services are only held on religious holidays and special occasions.
The church contains a three-section floor plan (narthex, nave and sanctuary) on an east-west axis which is typical of Greek Catholic churches found in this region. The church was built on a low stone foundation to enhance its durability.
Next to the church is a small bell tower which contains three bells. The bell tower is not part of the original church plan and was built only in 1956. The three bells it contains were originally housed in the belfry in the tower above the narthex of the church. The tower features a series of small windows, which is a unique feature among the churches found in this region.
The iconostasis in the church likely dates from the eighteenth century. Due to the narrow space available in the small nave, the icons on the far left and right are placed on the side walls at a ninety degree angle to the rest of the iconostasis. This is another very unusual feature which does not appear in any of the other churches in this region.
The church was originally surrounded by a stone wall with two entrance gates, though at present there is a wooden fence with one entrance gate leading down towards the village square. A modern church has been built within the same grounds as the original wooden church.
Ruský Potok is very difficult to reach by public transport, since no buses run to the village and just a few buses per day pass along the Snina - Ulič road four kilometres to the south. The road into the village from the Snina - Ulič main road is paved and fine for access by car or bicycle. There is a blue-marked hiking trail over the hills connecting the villages of Topoľa, Ruský Potok and Uličské Krivé, and since all three villages contain wooden churches this route makes a nice one day trek.