Wood is a distinctive part of Russia's architectural heritage, especially in traditional villages in the North of Russia. For over a thousand years, until the 18th century, everything was made from wood including houses, barns, mills, princely palaces and of course, hundreds of churches. Starting from simple dome like structures, wooden architecture in Russia reached a degree of splendor to the point that some of these religious complexes were designed as fortresses of great beauty. The traditional wooden churches of the Russian North are particularly interesting. Working without hammer and nails, carpenters constructed such bizarre structures as the 24-domed Intercession Church at Vytegra (built 1708, burnt down 1963) and the 22-domed Transfiguration Church at Kizhi (built 1714), that still stand today.
None of the early wood churches have survived, but some remarkable cathedrals built during the early 18th century have weathered a storm of changes, ranging from harsh winters to the churches' abandonment during the years of Soviet Communism. Over the course of almost one hundred years, magnificent churches have been burnt down, rotted or been vandalized. Others remain in a state of tragic disrepair and neglect.
When famous artist and illustrator of Russian Folk tales Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, traveled to northern Russia, he came across the wooden churches of Russia and fell in love with them. Through his photographs, Bilibin drew attention to the lamentable condition of the wooden churches, and through his efforts and the sales of postcards, money was raised to restore the 300-year old churches.
Hundred years later, another photographer Richard Davies retraced Bilibin’s steps in northern Russia and brought back another series of wonderful pictures of these beautiful churches.
Today, we will visit 12 spectacular structures that braved hundreds of years of Siberian winter and other destructive elements.
The pogost of Kizhi (i.e. the Kizhi enclosure) is located on one of the many islands in Lake Onega, in Karelia. It includes two beautiful 18th-century wooden churches and an octagonal bell tower, also of wood, which was built in 1862. The jewel of its architecture is the 22-domed Transfiguration Church with a large iconostasis—a wooden screen covered with religious portraits. The roofs were made of spruce planks and the domes are covered in aspen. The design of this elaborate superstructure also provided an efficient system of ventilation to preserve the structure from decay. This massive church is about 37 meters tall and made entirely of wood making it one of the tallest log structures in the world. Not a single nail was used in its construction.
During the 1950’s, dozens of more churches were moved to the island from various parts of Karelia for preservation purposes, and today they together form a national open-air museum with more than 80 historical wooden structures. [Kizhi Pogost previously on Amusing Planet.]
Church in Suzdal
Suzdal, a town and the administrative center of Suzdalsky District of Vladimir Oblast, is home to at least 4 spectacular wooden churches built between the 13th century to the 18th century.
Church of All Saints in Surgut
Church of All Saints on the ground Siberian Beamed in Surgut was rebuilt in 2002 by all the canons of orthodox architecture - a wooden structure without a single nail. And they gathered it on the very spot where the Cossacks founded the city and built the first church.
Church of the Nativity of our Lady of Peredki, in Vitoslavlitsy
The Church of the Nativity of Our Lady was built in 1531. It was brought to the open-air museum Vitroslavlitsy from the village of Peredki, Borovichsky Rayon.
Church of Elisha
Ruined St. Elisha church in Northern Russia
Church of the Resurrection, Suzdal
The Church of the Resurrection from the village of Potakino rebuilt in Suzdal. This church was created in 1776 and is particularly worth visiting to see the bell-tower, which is incorporated into the church itself, and the framework of piled logs—an old traditional method of protecting the walls from rain.
St George's Church at Malye Korely
St George's Church from the village of Vershiny, Verkhnyaya Toyma District, 1672, relocated at Malye Korely State Museum of Wooden Architecture.
Church of Our Lady in Upper Sanarka
St Nikola’s Church in Veliky Novgorod
Church of Transformation in Perm Krai
Church of the Resurrection of Christ from Patakino
Church in Chukcherma
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