Russia’s wooden churches falling apart
They represent the unique architectural treasures of Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Karelia, but are nearing the end of their days if no urgent measures are taken.
Traveling the remote parts of Barents Russia without being fascinated by the beautiful wooden churches is impossible. These churches are the symbol of a thousand year old architecture history of the Russian north. You still find them in rural villages, but most are in rather bad shape. Others are moved to open-air museums, like the Malye Korely outside Arkhangelsk and on the Kizhi island in Lake Onega.
A recently published book, authored by Richard Davies and Matilda Moreton, presents photographs of these unique churches. The book, “Wooden Churches – Travelling to the Russian North” presents insights to many of the remaining churches to be found on the countryside and interviews with Russian experts.
“80 percent of Russian wooden architecture that existed pre-1917, no longer exists. But luckily, there is still something left to fight for,” says Professor Vyacheslav Orfinsky at the Architecture Department of the Petrozavodsk State Univierity.
St. Petersburger Mikhail Milchik is not very optimistic. “Wooden architecture, the most original and most unique part of the cultural heritage of Russia, in on the verge of total extinction,” says Milchik.
Today, some 200 churches remain, most dating from the 1700s. On the Kola Peninsula, there are some few along the White Sea coast, while many others are to be found in Arkhangelsk and Karelia. The most famous of them is the Kizhi Pogost, which contains two churches and a bell-tower surrounded by a fence. It is now listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Although many of the other churches that remain in the remote areas of Barents Russia are in varying states of decay and despite their neglect and the wrecking of their interiors, these extraordinary structures have a spiritual presence which commands respect even in the absence of their gilded icons.
“Many churches have been saved by dedicated specialists and enthusiasts, whose untiring work goes on. We hope that the photographs in this exhibition will help raise public awareness of the plight of these wonderful buildings and that more restoration projects will attract the funding they deserve,” the authors of the book write in the introduction.