Wooden Churches in Ukraine

In 2013, by unanimous vote of the UNESCO Committee, eight wooden churches in Ukraine were recognized as world heritage sites.
Most of the churches are located in western Ukraine, the rest are in various regions of the country. Unfortunately, many of them have suffered from wars, fires, and vandalism. But why wood, and how have these buildings, made of such short-lived material, survived until today? Everything is simple – stone in those days was a great luxury. And wood was not delicate; it was stored in a salt solution for decades, which made it resistant to weather conditions and even fire. Therefore, construction of the churches took a very long time, but they were guaranteed a long life.

Wooden Churches in Ukraine

It is not known when wooden churches first appeared in Ukraine. The first mention of the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet in Kyiv, is found in a letter to Prince Igor (944). The oldest wooden churches in Ukraine are located in the Carpathians: these are the two churches of St. Nikolai in Rakhiv (1428) and Tyachiv districts (1470). The buildings are constructed in Gothic style and complemented by Hungarian motifs. The Church of the Holy Spirit (beginning of the 16th century) is a museum in Rohatyn, and Bohdan Khmelnytsky visited it. The iconostasis of the temple is made in the Renaissance style and belongs not only to Ukrainian, but also world culture. The capital of Ukraine can boast only one wooden church, Makariyivskyy (1897).
Unlike Russian wooden churches with their pyramidal architecture, multiple domes, and tent roofs, the Ukrainian style has mainly threedome types. The main part, or nave, was intended for men; the western part was for women (funeral rites were performed here); and in the eastern part was an altar. They are also more laconic, but generously decorated with Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish ornamentation (depending on the time of construction).
Most of the iconostases and interior paintings have survived, and, besides religious subjects, there are many domestic scenes, as well as floral motifs. Often, we see Ukrainian types in the icons.
At the Pyrohiv open-air museum on the outskirts of Kyiv, you can see five wooden churches from different regions of the country. The oldest of them is the Church of St. Michael (Kyiv region, 1520).

Natalia Soboleva


This article was published in the book Interesting Ukraine.
You could download this book in PDF file for free here.

© Sky Horse Publishing House (Kyiv) / Nahs Haus, 2019
Copying and publication of this article is possible only with the written permission of the publishing house.
Official website of the Awesome Heritage series: awesomeheritage.com

To continue publishing a series of articles about Ukraine, Kyiv and Chernobyl, we need your support!