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.