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Dr. Michele PARVENSKY, USA

WOODEN CHURCHES
O
F THE RUSYNS

 

Part One

 

 


The wooden churches of our Rusyn people have been a source of my interest for many years. It all started with an article published in a Greek Catholic Union (a Fraternal Benefit Society) yearly almanac. The article talked about the beauty of the wooden churches in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, the various types of churches and most importantly, that they were an unrecognized treasure.

 

 

Brezany

Brežany, St. Luke, 1727

 

 

Ulicke Krive, front

Uličske Krive, St. Michael The Archangel, 1st half of the 18th century

 

 

Ulicske Krive, back

Uličske Krive, St. Michael The Archangel, back view

 

After the fall of communism, photos of surviving wooden churches - especially those in the former Czechoslovakia - started making their way to the United States. I was amazed at these wonders of Rusyn architecture, which were rarely if ever mentioned in Greek Catholic publications in the United States. I knew that it would only be matter of time before I made a visit to starij kraj to locate and photograph these architectural marvels of our Rusyn people. The visitation of these churches was even more important than locating relatives.

During the summer of 1997, thanks to a summer fellowship from my high school, I finally made it to Slovakia. My goal was to locate and photograph as many wooden churches as possible. I had no idea what was in store for me, having never been overseas. I didn't even know if I would enjoy seeing more than a few churches. After a visit to the wooden church in Ladomirova and four others on my first day in Slovakia, I was hooked. I couldn't get enough of them.

 

 

Bodruzal - one of first churches restored - UNESCO site

 

 

 

 

Bodružal, St. Nicholas, 1658

 

 

Each church is unique. What is observed in one village is not necessarily seen in the next. It was a thrill just to view the church from the village proper (most of the churches are built on hills). It is impossible to describe my feelings when I saw these churches for the first time. Only having seen photographs of the churches, I was overwhelmed by their simplicit beauty and harmony with the environment. I never knew that our Rusyn people were such talented artisans. Their craftsmanship and ingenuity are reflected in the wooden churches, which they left behind. However, guilds of artisans also existed throughout eastern Europe and were called upon by villagers to build their churches; it would be up to the local inhabitants to care for the structure after it was built. Most of these extant churches were built in the 18th century and, because of their color they just blend in so well with the landscape. Unfortunately, this can present a problem with taking photos. Since many of the churches are located on hills surrounded by trees, it is extremely difficult to photograph the front of the church. One has to take photographs from the back and the sides and forget about the front.
 

 

Korejovce

Korejovce, Mother of God, 1764 (after renovation in 2000)

 

 

 

Kozuhovce

Kožuchovce - St. Nicholas, 1741
(tower -
church is now in the museum in Košice
)

 

In many instances, it becomes an adventure just trying to locate the church - which hill? which part of the village? Many times the local villagers must be asked for help. I so enjoyed my first visit to Slovakia, photographing the churches, and yes, finding my relatives, that I knew I had to return. One of the major reasons for wanting to return, was to rephotograph several of the churches. I wasn't satisfied with many photos. In 1999, I returned to Slovakia to revisit all of the villages with wooden churches. I enjoyed seeing them for a second time. There is always something new to see that was missed on the first visit. The craftsmanship on each church has always amazed me - from the metal crosses on the steeples to the hand carved doors - many with herringbone designs, hand forged doorknobs and hinges and even the wooden gutters.

Several churches have hand forged metal grates to wipe your feet before you enter the church. These grates sit over a small opening, which collects the debris from people entering the church.

The church in Nyzny Komarnik has a small ditch constructed of stones which runs around the building and serves to take storm runoff away from the church and down the hillside. The church also has a small slanted wooden skirt at the bottom of the board and batten siding which enables water to run directly into this ditch. Jedlinka's church has a similar setup with the stones in the ditch set on a slight grade so that water is carried away from the foundation and down the hillside. Clearly, the builders worried about protecting the bottom of the foundation.

 

 

 

 

Lukov, St. Cosmos and Damian, 1708-1709

 

 

 

 

Front view Lukov - has had new shingles put on

 

 

Lukov notice at least on two of the photos how nicely they also restored the basement - only wooden church in Slovakia with a basement

 

Before going to Slovakia in 1999, I had been on a tour to Lemkovyna and Transcarpathia with the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. We visited several wooden churches in Lemkovyna and historical sites in Transcarpathia. Consequently, my focus now turned to these two areas. Thanks to the web, I was able to locate books about wooden churches in Lemkovyna and Transcarpathia, which I could use as references. A visit to bookstores in Krynica and Sanok, Poland has also provided me with excellent resources. The Rusyn churches in Lemkovyna, and Transcarpathia like those in Slovakia are each unique, although the variation in church architecture in Transcarpathia is mind-boggling.

This article is an attempt to describe the various types of Rusyn wooden churches in Eastern Europe - areas, which I have visited and continue to revisit. Hopefully, it will encourage others to visit these artistic wonders before they are destroyed, particularly in western Ukraine.

 

Krainykovo

 

Krainykovo

 

 

The Rusyn churches in Lemkovyna, Maramures County, Romania, and Transcarpathia exhibit a wide range of diverse architectural styles due to the various cultural influences on the Rusyn builders. One sees central domed churches (Hutsul style) and tripartite designs of the Boykos and Lemkos. There are also churches, which clearly show a Baroque and Gothic influence (especially those in the former Maramoroš County in Romania) .

 

Krajnie Cierno

 

Krajne Cierno, St. Basil The Great, 18th century, with fence and gate

 

While one church may seem similar to another, there is not a single church which is completely identical to another one. Each church reflects the creativity of the carpenters who worked on it. Most churches are found at the edge of the villages on surrounding hills - to be closer to God. Only rarely are they found directly in the village (Hranične, Tročany, Uličske Krive, Slovakia). The area is usually enclosed by a wooden, stone or nowadays steel fence with the cemetery in close proximity to the church. The original fences were made of wood capped with wooden shingles. These can still be seen surrounding the churches in Bodružal, Hrabova Roztoka, Krajne Cierno, Ladomirova and Uličske Krive in Slovakia; Kotan, Yastrebyk, Hanchova, Bilyanka and Povroznyk in Poland. The fences in Bodružal, Krajne Cierno, and Hunkovce have gates with conical roofs while Ladomirova and Mirol'a have gates with pyramidal roofs topped with a small cupola and cross on the top. One can find in rare instances an original gate with a shingled roof. Chornoholova, Transcarpathia offers one of the best examples of this type of gate. Many churches in Poland as well as in Slovakia have an entrance gate which resembles a small bus stop. These entrances are made of stone, masonry or wood and covered with a pyramidal roof made of wooden shingles or tin sheathing. A small cupola may or may not cap the roof. In lieu of a cupola, a hand forged cross similar to those on the towers may be found. A particularly striking gate is found in Berest; its cupola is as large as those found on the church towers.

 

Berest
Berest (gate)
Church of Sts. Cosmos and Damian in Berest, Lemkovyna

 

Entrance gate of the church in Berest

 

 

 

Chornoholova, gate

 

Original gate at Chornoholova,
Church of St. Nicholas (1794)

 

Red spruce was the most commonly used wood due to its high resin content which made the logs weather resistant. These were later replaced by pine, fir or beech trees, although, yew was used in the construction of the church in Tročany.

 

The church in Trocany, back view

The church in Tročany is the church of St. Luke built originally in the 15th
century - oldest example of tripartite design eastern rite church in Slovakia

 

 

 

Inside of Trocany  church

Inside of the church of St. Luke in Tročany

 

 

 

back view

The church of St. Luke in Tročany, back view

 

 

 

Oaks were widely used for church construction in Maramoroš County. In fact, oak forests are still prevalent in the Tisa River Valley. Spruce, fir, oak or beech were utilized for the shingles while the pegs (used in lieu of nails) tended to be made out of walnut or yew. Newer churches in Romania continue to be constructed of wood; thus shingles continue to be handmade as they were in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Example of wooden pegs

Typical wooden pegs, the church of St. Nicholas, Svaliava-Bystry

 

 

The churches sit/stand on a stone base which extends around the entire floor plan. This base protects the building from dampness. One can see the use of quarried stone which was laid without mortar while other bases may have the stones fixed with soil or mortar.

The most common building plan is the "log cabin" style. This technique involved hewning the logs into prisms and placing them horizontally in successive layers until the wall reached a specific height. The logs were jointed at the curves of the load bearing walls to insure the stability of the building. No nails were used because they were associated with the crucifixion. Oak wedges were used to join main construction parts.

Only the highest quality lumber was used in construction. It was worked as it still is in Transcarpathia with axes and cut with saws to produce squared logs, split into half round logs or boards. We saw walls with planks of 60 cm widths and lengths of at least 30 m. The planks are straight with no imperfections - perfectly planted on top of one another.The church in Kolodne has planks constructed from 200 year old trees. These are readily noticed on the side walls due to their length and width. Imagine the time and effort put in not just by humans but also by their animals in moving these large logs, especially in areas where there is 30% or greater slope on the hillside. The earliest wooden churches were built in the vicinity where trees were plentiful but as the forests were cleared, the trees had to be bought in from greater and greater distances. The walls of the churches were traditionally made of squared or less frequently split logs. The flat side faces inside the building forming a flat wall while the outside gives the appearance of having been constructed of round logs. There is much deviation from this throughout the entire area where Rusyn wooden churches occur. Especially in the older Gothic churches of Transcarpathia, the exterior walls, had a flat surface. The walls were joined in hexagonal or octagonal units that formed the basic building components.

To preserve the timber from rotting, the exteriors were covered with shingles or board and batten sheathing, although, a handful of churches have neither. The shingles are quite varied in design and size and may have ornately decorated ends. They were often used to decorate the edges of the roof, window trimmings and the belfries and cupolas. They not only had a practical use but lent a decorative element to the church.
In later restorations or reconstructions, most of the churches were covered with a dark protective stain, for decay and termites had begun to attack the logs. However, stains were not used on the original log structures. They started to be introduced in the 60's. Churches were left as they had been built, with the pale yellow of the hewn logs and shingles left exposed to the elements.

 

Charna

Charna, St. Demetrius, 1764

 

 

Another form of protection for the churches was the construction of wide roof overhangs or arcades, usually supported on brackets built of projecting wall timbers. These overhangs or arcades may surround the entire church. It is fascinating to behold the artistic elements of these brackets. The churches have a specific symmetry which the builders maintained no matter what type of elements were constructed. The use and positioning of these brackets only adds to the beauty of the church. None of this is seen in the masonry churches which have replaced the wooden ones. The roofs of Rusyn wooden churches range from very simple to the many storied roof forms which show Gothic or Baroque influence. This arose from our villages being in close proximity to those which were Roman Catholic. In many cases, the same craftspeople who built the Roman Catholic church also built the Rusyn church. The simplest and oldest "hut or tent-like" churches are covered by a gable or hip roof with only a cross. Other churches exhibit either square or octagonal towers or a combination of the two topped with conical cupolas or onion shaped spires and hand forged iron crosses. The roofs were covered by wooden shingles which resemble layers of feathers. These shingles demonstrate the creativity of the carpenters who crafted them. While many of the churches still retain wooden shingles, others have had their roofs covered with tin sheathing. This is quite common in Transcarpathia, due to the economic climate; however, this practice destroys the artistic elements of the church. Many of the wooden churches in Poland also have tin roofs, but since they tend to be painted white, they don't detract from the appearance of the church. Only in Slovakia, does one not see tin roofs - except on those wooden churches which were built after the first world war, i.e. Varadka, Hutka, and Vyshna Polianka.

 

 

Kolochava, Holy Spirit, 1795

 

 

 

Kolochava, side view

 

 

Rusyn churches are classified according to their ground plan. There are four basic types:

1) a one nave floor plan consisting of two rooms - a longitudinal nave with a place for the altar on its eastern side;

2) the Hutsul type which consists of a centrally planned Greek cross;

3) the Boyko type which consists of three log rooms situated on an east-west axis. The middle log room is the dominate structure;

4) the Lemko type which evolved from the Boyko. The western log room or babinec dominates. One can expect many variations of the above due of course to the geographic location and the artisanship of the builders.

The one nave floor plan which predominates in the Tysa River Valley of Transcarpathia consists of a single oblong shaped room covered by a gable roof. To the rear wall or eastern end is attached another room which is partly closed off. The room is usually in the shape of a square or polygon. The roof of this room can stand by itself or is joined to the gable roof of the nave.

 

 

Bilyanka

Bilyanka, Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1773

 

 

Poienile de Sub Munte

 

Church of the Archangel Michael in the village of Poienile de Sub Munte
(Rusyn name is Rus Poljany), Romania, built in 1733

 

 

The influence of the Latin Church on Rusyn builders is evident in the Gothic features of the architecture. However, these churches are not examples of Latin Rite Gothic architecture but Rusyn Gothic architecture. The Rusyn artisans were probably influenced by German colonists in the territory who were brought in by Maria Theresa. Since the colonists were Lutherans, they built the same style Gothic masonry churches which they were used to attending. The Rusyn artisans developed their own style over a period of time. They built wooden Gothic steeples which serve only as a decorative element; they are placed at the western end of the steep gable roof. These steeples are rectangular in shape with open galleries and four small corner steeples. The steeples are topped with metal crosses. Also above the western entrance to the church is a low open gallery. One can see excellent examples of this architecture in Oleksandrivka, Sokyrnytsia, and Danylovo in Zakarpathia and Poienile de Sub Munte, and Sighetul Marmatiel in Romania.

 

 

Sokyrnytsia

Sokyrnytsia, St Nicholas, 1709

 

 

Danylovo

Danylovo, St Nicholas, 1779

 

Danylovo 2

Danylovo, back view

 

 

 

Oleksandrivka 1
Oleksandrivka 2

 

Oleksandrivka, St Paraskeva, 15th century

 

 

 

Another influence on the one nave structure was the Baroque form of architecture. The steeples are also located on the western side of the gable roof and possess an open gallery. However, they do not have a steep projection above the gallery nor the four smaller steeples. Instead, one finds a Baroque cupola so to speak with the usual metal cross. The church in Kolodne is an excellent example of this one nave variation with a Baroque influence.

 

 

 

 

 

All photos are the property of the author. Any publication of them for commercial purposes is prohibited. Any other use requires written permission from the author.

 

 

Title of the page

 

or

 

 

Wooden Churches
Of The Rusyns II

Part Two

 

 

or

 

 

Wooden Churches
Of The Rusyns III

Part Three

 

 

or