Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Carpathian Wooden Road

I have heard Rusyns called by many names: Ruthenes, Sub-Carpathians, Rusniaks, Lemkos, Ukraines, and the list goes on. Perhaps this is the lot of a "lost people", a people without their own country. While they may be a people without a country, they certainly have left standing memorials of a cultural institution, their Greek Catholic Church. These memorials are the Carpathian Wooden Churches.

Villages with barely three-digit populations are home to the most striking architecture in north-east Slovakia, 27 in total built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their overall "tripartite" design may look similar with three onion-shaped domes, but no two are identical. There was no blueprint to order and follow. The carpenters, artisans and villagers expressed their individuality. This is a striking (and thankfully refreshing) difference from the Soviet Bloc apartments in Slovakia's larger cities during the communist rule.

The location of the churches was generally on the edge of a village, on a hill if possible. The village cemetary was usually in close proximity and a fence surrounded the entire area.

The churches were constructed entirely from wood that had a high resin content for its weather resistance. Some of the woods used included red spruce, pine, fir, beech and yew. Only the best materials were chosen. Axes were used to reduce logs into planks. The walls were weather-resistant, but most of the churches were exteriorly sided with shingles or board and batten. An additional safeguard against a damp climate, the churches were built on a stone foundation, and some had shingle skirting around the base of the outside walls to divert water away from the foundation.

The most fascinating construction methodology I came across was reference to the fact that there were no nails used. That's right: there were no nails used in the entire construction. This is because Christ was nailed to the cross, so nails were perceived as a form of torture. Instead, wooden pegs made of walnut were substituted throughout.

My favorite: The Church of the Demise of the Mother of God! Go figure.

Architectural styles of the wooden churches are distinguishable, and although we only saw a few of Slovakia's 27 churches, we could pick out the Lemko from the Boiko design. Both styles are called "tripartite" with three domes, but the location of the tallest cupola varies. In the Lemko design, the highest cupola of the church is at the entrance with the two other domes sloping down towards the sanctuary. The Boiko design varies in that the highest cupola is above the nave. Several of the Carpathian wooden churches sustained heavy damage during WWII and underwent restoration. Even now, some of the churches get "facelifts" with new shingles. Doug thought he was pretty sure nails were being used on these later renovations. Hmmmm. I'll have to think about that.


Anonymous said...

When we were out in the country in Russia we saw a great many beautiful wooden homes and churches, some going back to the 12th century. I found myself totally fascinated with the roofing shingles on some of the churches...each carved into a shape reminding me of a 4-leaf clover and layered from the onion-dome down to the edge of the roof.

It really is a completely different world , isn't it? The craftmanship of my fellow humans is always so amazing to me!

Thanks for sharing. Luke

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous. lro

Harley said...

Nancy & Doug, I found this account and the accompanying photos especially fascinating because my late brother-in-law was born in that area. His family came to this country when he was three, in the early 1930's, and settled in Watervliet, NY. When I knew him his surname was Korutz, although it may have been different when the family lived there. Thanks for another very interesting post!

Anonymous said...

These churches are amazing and to think that all that would can last in that climate. It looks like a pretty wet place, especially looking at it from here in the hot, rainless fire prone place known as Colorado! Mid 90's in September this is crazy!