Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nehrovets, Ukraine


Nehrovets is a small village in the Zakarpattya region of western Ukraine, close to the larger village of Kolochava and 40 kilometres north of the small city of Khust. The church stands on a low hill above the central part of the village, with tall trees making it hard to see from the road. Views of the peaks and ridges of the Carpathian mountains to the north make an impressive backdrop for the church and separate wooden bell tower.


The church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel and was built during the eighteenth century. It is constructed primarily of spruce wood. The floor plan of the church features three rooms and there are three distinct roof lines above, making it an example of the Boyko architectural style. The height of the tower and the steeple above it dominate the structure, yet the overall design retains well-balanced proportions. An inscription indicates that in 1918 the church was moved to the present location and received a new roof and tower at that time.


The church interior contains a modern iconostasis and icons, though several historical icons from the 18th century have also been preserved. A large two-storey bell tower stands at the top of the steps leading up from the road. The bell tower has a shape which is typical for the 'Verkhovina' highlands of this region, though it is in a much better state of preservation than most others. A modern wooden church stands beside the historical one and serves as the main place of worship for the local villagers.


Nehrovets is difficult to reach by public transport, the best option is to walk the two kilometres along the road from the neighbouring village of Kolochava which has limited bus and marshrutka connections to Khust. In the morning marshrutkas also go from Nehrovets to the nearby town of Mizhhirya. The road through the village is paved but it is not in good condition. The keeper of the church keys lives across the road from the church, though I was unable to locate them during my visit.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hrabová Roztoka, Slovakia


This small Greek Catholic church lies on a hill above the village of Hrabová Roztoka in eastern Slovakia, just a few kilometres from the border with Ukraine. The church was built in the middle of the 18th century and dedicated to Saint Basil the Great. A sign on the rear wall of the church declares it to be a 'national cultural monument' of Slovakia (this type of metal sign is affixed to most of Slovakia's wooden churches), but interestingly a second sign declares it to be 'Ukrainian national architecture' written in the Ukrainian Cyrillic alphabet.


The church has a simple, rustic design which is similar to the nearby church in the village of Ruská Bystrá. It follows a three-room plan with a nave, sanctuary and 'babinec' or entrance room, while above there are two towers with onion domes topped by three-barred iron crosses. In the front tower there are three bells which date from 1796. The roof and exterior walls underwent repairs and replacement of wooden tiles in the year 2000.


The impressive iconostasis in the interior dates from 1794 and is almost as old as the church itself. A rare feature of this church among those in Slovakia is the Czar door, in place of the usual 'Tree of Jesse' doors. In the second row of the iconostasis the image of the Last Supper is in the central position, instead of the more common image of Christ. Five icons were stolen from the church in 2003; they were later recovered, but were damaged and required restoration.


Kalná Roztoka can be reached by infrequent buses from the towns of Snina and Stakčín to the north, while the neighbouring village of Ruská Bystrá has bus services connecting it to the town of Sobrance to the south. Therefore it is possible to see both Ruská Bystrá and Kalná Roztoka in a day by walking along the forest trail between them and arriving and departing from each by bus. The church key keeper lives down the hill in the centre of the village, but they weren't at home when I visited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Slavoňov, Czech Republic


This Roman Catholic wooden church sits on a small hill at the edge of the village of Slavoňov in the East Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. The church was built in 1553 on the site of a much older structure. It was originally founded by Utraquists (a moderate branch of the Hussite movement) and dedicated to Saint Martin, but the church became Roman Catholic in 1683.


The large bell tower within the church yard dates from the same era as the church, probably built in 1555. The lower half of the tower is made of brick and its height suggests it was also intended to have a defensive military function in the event of the village coming under attack. Three bells cast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries hang in the tower.


The beams of the church are made of oak, spruce and fir logs. The joints between the logs were filled in with mortar and then the exterior of the building was covered in whitewash. The interior walls and ceiling are painted with murals of plants and flowers which date from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The murals were restored twice in the twentieth century.


Getting to Slavoňov is possible by public transport since there are several buses daily from the nearby town of Nové Město nad Metují which has train and bus links to most major cities across the country. The village is just 4 kilometres east of Nové Město nad Metují so it is also possible to walk there along a forest trail. The church is open for religious services four times per week, and at other times the door into the front entrance room is left open where it is possible to get an obstructed view of the church interior.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kostryna, Ukraine


Kostryna is a small village in the north-western part of Zakarpattya region in Ukraine, close to the borders with Slovakia and Poland. The church stands at the top of a hill above the village in a clearing among the trees. New wooden steps added in 2013 lead the way up the hill from the road. The church is a fascinating example of a hybrid architectural style encompassing both Boyko and Lemko elements in its design. This is apparent in the large, dominant central tower above the nave, a feature of Boyko design, combined with the three towers descending in height from the bell tower above the entrance area, a feature of Lemko style.


The Church of the Intercession was built in 1761 and the original structure is a fine example of Boyko design. However, the addition of a taller bell tower above the entrance area in place of the original tower converted the style of the church from Boyko to Lemko, showing the dominant influence of Lemko style in this region in the early nineteenth century. This modification likely occurred around the year 1800. The largest bell in the tower was taken and melted down as part of the war effort in the Hungarian revolution of 1848, and was later replaced with a new bell in 1899.


According to some accounts the church originally stood in a nearby village and the people of Kostryna purchased it and moved it to its present location in 1703. The church has been lucky to survive until the present day; in the 1860s the villagers planned to replace the wooden church with a new stone church on the same site, but a lack of funds prevented this from happening. Enough money for a new stone church was finally collected by 1914, but the outbreak of World War One stopped construction, and following the war devaluation of the currency they had collected prevented construction of a stone church yet again.


Kostryna can be reached from Uzhgorod by elektrichka (regional train) or by marshrutka (minibus). There are several buses and trains per day travelling in each direction, so making a day trip to Kostryna from Uzhgorod by public transport is possible. The minibuses are usually very full and often uncomfortable, so the train is a more pleasant way to travel there. The beautiful mountain scenery in the region is more easily seen from the windows of the train as well.

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.