Russia's Unique Wooden Heritage Steadily Destroyed by Fire

Here is an account of 45 wooden churches Russia lost by fire between 1985-2018

The ruin of Kondopoga is most bitter, but certainly not a single or accidental lost.

"Keepers of Heritage"

The following martyrology is not published to heal wounds, but to make all of us think about the pace at which we are losing our unique wooden heritage. We are not learning any lessons from the losses and we are not taking any systematic measures to save them. The tragedy of Kondopoga - nightmarish and irreplaceable - is really just a link in a chain of endless losses. The reasons are repeated, only the addresses and names of the performers change.

We’ll start the countdown from 1985, from the beginning of the reforms in our state. As we see, reforms are reforms, and losses are losses - nothing changes here. Both little-known buildings and masterpieces of the European scale, like Kondopoga, perish.

Unfortunately, our list of losses is hardly complete - not all the provinces receive information, not all losses are even recorded. Not included are collapsed, demolished, ruined by inept restorations, and partially damaged churches.


 The Ust-Kozhsky Church

Arkhangelsk region, near the village of Makaryinskoe

Three kilometers from the village of Ust-Kozha on the Onega River, near the village of Makaryinskoe, on the high bank of the Kozha River until the mid-1980s, stood a wooden ensemble - “tee”. The center flaunted the five-domed church of Clement (1695), and nearby stood the tent-shaped Church of the Exaltation of the Cross Exaltation (1769) and the bell tower (XVIII century). The ensemble was completely destroyed by fire in 1985 - according to local historians, children played with matches and burned down the two churches and bell tower.


 The Castrovsky church

Arkhangelsk region, Vinogradovsky district, the village of Zaostrovye

This ensemble consisted of two tent churches - the Nativity of the Virgin (1726-1728) and the church of Michael the Archangel (1778), as well as a tent bell tower (1785). The churches were used as warehouses, and they burned in 1989 as a result of a lightning strike.


 Spasskaya church in the Bear Wilderness

Moscow region, Dmitrovsky district, the village of Pustyn

 The Bear Wilderness is the name of an ancient monastery on the banks of the Sestra River. In 1809, the wooden Spassky Church was moved to the territory of the former monastery from the neighboring village of Dulova, placing it north of the monastery Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin of the 16th century. The squat church  of the turn of the XVIII - XIX centuries, such as "octagon on four", was complete with a faceted dome, and imitated the forms of stone church architecture of classicism.The log walls of the church were renovated in 1838 and 1877, and were protected with planks of wood. The interior retained five pairs of columns supporting a flat ceiling that cut off the dome from the interior of the church, a carved gilded iconostasis, as well as the remains of oil paintings from the second half of the 19th century on plastered walls. The wooden church was lost in a fire in 1991. According to investigators, the cause of the fire was arson.


The chuch of Elijah the Prophet in the village of Suisar

Republic of Karelia, Petrozavodsk district

This slender one-domed church of the 17th century was a kind of monument of wooden architecture of the Russian North. The rectangular log house of the church also contained a refectory and a canopy, culminating in a two-story overturn on the longitudinal walls. The church was rebuilt in the XVIII century, and in 1864 a five-sided altar apse was added to it. The octagonal tented bell tower was set over the canopy and part of the refectory. The church burned down in May 1993.


The church of the Nativity in Melichov

Moscow region, Chekhov district

The church was a model of the once widespread, but now rare in the middle zone of Russia type of wooden churches - "octagon on four." Built in 1757 at the expense of the owner of the village A. Naumov, the church stood in a rural cemetery adjacent to the famous estate of A.P. Chekhov. A faceted altar apse and a refectory adjoined the church, and sat on a high basement. The late bell tower, built according to the project and at the expense of A.P. Chekhov, was lost in the Soviet years. By the beginning of the 1990s, the church building had the appearance that was given to it by the restoration of 1966 and 1989, when the late cladding and the dome were removed. Closed back in the 1930s, the village church was returned to believers by 1991, when church services resumed here.

The Nativity Church in Melikhov burned down in 1994. In its place in 1999 a “remake” was built, repeating the features of a lost church.


The church of Saints Joachim and Anna in Kashin

Tver Region, Kashin

The Church of Joachim and Anna (1646; according to some reports, completed in 1670), a monument of architecture of federal significance, was the last of the once numerous wooden churches of Kashin. The Clet Church, which connected the church and the refectory under the gable roof, was crowned by two paired chapels. In the 1830s, the church was covered with wood, and decorated in a classic spirit. During the restoration of 1968-1971, the late parts and casing were removed, the half-rotten log house was almost completely replaced by a new one, but the dimensions of the building and even the thickness of the logs remained unchanged. In Soviet times, the church was used as a warehouse. In 1995, the church was unowned. On the night of March 19 to 20, 1995, the church, which did not have a fire alarm, caught fire from the inside (the investigation did not exclude arson) and was soon completely destroyed by fire.


The Saint Nicholas church from Novinki village

Vologda Oblast, Ustyuzhensky District, Danilovskoye Village

This church was an extremely rare monument in terms of compositional features. The unusual steepness and height of the four-sloped roof of the Crate rural church made it possible to consider it as a one-of-a-kind model of a tent with a quadrangular base. The church was dated 1717 (according to other sources, 1700) a .

An architectural monument of federal significance, the church in 1987 was moved from the depopulated village of Novinki to the neighboring village of Danilovskoye, where a memorial museum works in the former estate of the poet Batyushkov. Danilovskoye, where a memorial museum works in the former estate of the poet Batyushkov. After transportation and assembly of the temple, restoration work began in it, which were soon curtailed. The church stood for several years abandoned and open wide. In 1996, the temple burned down - five-year-old children climbed into it to fool around with fire. Museum workers managed to save only a fragment of the ceiling of the church. The fire investigation was soon terminated.


The church complex of Verkhnyaya Mudyuga

Arkhangelsk region, Onega district, the village of Verkhnyaya Mudyuga

The last classic ensemble is the “tee” (a tent-roofed cold church, a cubical warm church and a bell tower), preserved in the Onega region of the Russian North. The main structure of the ensemble - the marvelously harmonious and strictly hipped tent Entrance Jerusalem church, with a triple barrel-shaped coating over two five-sided altar apse - belonged to the XVII century. In 1753 - 1757, the local master Daniil Panteleev attached the Three Saints chapel to the church. The ensemble was supplemented by the bell tower of the 18th century and the cubical five-domed Tikhvin church of 1865, probably copying the forms of an older church on this site.

The Upper Mudyugi church ensemble burned to the ground on August 10, 1997, after a festive service. The Tikhvin Church and the bell tower were recently restored. The fire, noticed by the villagers in the evening, quickly spread from the tent church to the rest of the buildings. Firefighters, who had to be called on purpose due to the lack of a telephone, arrived two hours later and found only the charred remains of the ensemble. According to the preliminary version of experts, the fire was caused by careless handling of fire: in the winter Church of the entrance to Jerusalem, someone threw a cigarette butt on the floor.


Church of the Epiphany in the village Seemenovsky

Moscow region, Istra

The wooden Church of the Epiphany (1674; rebuilt in 1730), hewn "in a cloud", once stood in the village of Semenovsky, Pushkin District, Moscow Region. A particularly valuable architectural monument of the Moscow region, it was transported to Istra on the territory of the regional museum of wooden architecture. The interior of the church was decorated with a sailing iconostasis, icons of the 16th-17th centuries were transferred in 1966 to the Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art. Andrei Rublev. The church rose the basement with a five-sided chopped altar and a refectory, above which a tent-shaped belfry towered, and was the best exhibit of the regional museum. After being transported to Istra, the church was restored, trying to bring back its original appearance. Experts noted that a rare monument for the Moscow region perfectly preserved the architectural and structural basis of the XVII - XVIII centuries.

The Church of the Epiphany from the village of Semenovskoye burned down in September 2000 as a result of a wiring closure. Firefighters fought the fire for an hour, but could not save the church.



Church of St. John the Baptist in the village of Kurashim

The wooden Church of St. John the Baptist was built in 1761-1766, and rebuilt in 1848 by master Makar Grachev. An architectural monument of federal significance that did not close during the Soviet era, it preserved the unique iconostasis of the 18th century, and many features of the interior and exterior decoration of the 18th – 19th centuries. The temple caught fire on April 18, 2002 - a church watchman, as later stated, inadvertently started the fire. Firefighters fought for the church for four hours, but the fire managed to destroy the altar and the entire upper part of the church. It was decided for the surviving structures to be disasembled.

The church of the protection from the village Old Keys

Nizhny Novgorod, Schelokovsky farm

The Tiered Pokrovskaya Church of 1731, an architectural monument of federal significance, was transported in 1973-1975 from the village of Stary Klyuchishchi, Kstovsky District, Nizhny Novgorod Region, to the Museum of Architecture and Life of the Nizhny Novgorod Volga Peoples, to the regional center. The church was built on the site of a wooden church burned down in 1729. It was a pyramidal composition of three declining octagons on a massive four, adjacent to the refectory and five-walled altar. From west and north, a pillar gallery was added to the temple. In the interior of the temple, the remains of murals were preserved. The Protection church burnt in broad daylight on July 3, 2002, was the victim of arson: at an altitude of 1.5 - 2 meters from the ground, according to the conclusion of the fire services, there were visible traces of "bringing open fire from the outside of the building." Museum staff noticed the fire, and immediately called the firefighters. They arrived seven minutes later, but could not save the building: in the 30-degree heat, the fire quickly spread to the top of the temple, and the church burned up from a five-story building in 20 minutes. Only charred fragments of the lower four survived from the original monument, and they managed to save part of the utensils. The surviving refectory is largely a restoration “remake” of the Soviet era. The church burned down two days before the order for its new restoration. It was restored in 2005.

The church of the Transfiguration from the village Spas-Vezha

Kostroma, the territory of the Ipatiev Monastery

The Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior was the only wooden church on stilts that survived in Russia to this day. The textbook monument, whose photographs adorned all publications on the history of Russian architecture, dates from 1713. Dates from the clerical records of 1628 and 1642 it is worth referring to its predecessors in the Kostroma village of Spas-Vezhi. Built, according to legend, by the Yaroslavl carpenters brothers Muliev. A slender, almost symmetrical about the longitudinal axis of the church was raised on piles due to frequent floods. In the east, a five-sided apse adjoined the temple, hewn, in contrast to it, “in the paw”, on the west - the refectory. On three sides, the temple and the refectory were surrounded by a closed gallery with a staircase. Simultaneous to the church, the tented bell tower on stilts, connected with it by transitions, was lost in 1926.

In 1956, the temple was transported to the regional Museum of Folk Architecture and Life and put up in the New Town of the Ipatiev Monastery on the outskirts of Kostroma. In the second half of the 1950s, restoration under the project of B.V. Gnedovsky returned the temple to its original appearance, in the interior was restored a four-tier fishing iconostasis.

In 1993, the Ipatiev Monastery was returned to believers. In 2002, the monastic community adjacent to the museum was granted the territory of the New City, on which there was a woodenchurch . The museum was preparing to move the church from Spas Vezhey outside the monastery walls in the fall - winter of 2002. According to the workers of the museum and the regional committee for the protection of cultural heritage, the community closed the entrance to the New City, not letting tourists or museum workers or monument protection officials go there. On the evening of September 4, 2002, the church from Spas-Vezhey caught fire for unknown reasons. The church was not equipped with a fire alarm; no extinguishing equipment was found nearby. Alas, the attempts of museum workers to tear away the burning porch from the church and prevent the fire from spreading to the church were unsuccessful - soon a fire of "the highest category of complexity" broke out in the monastery - the column of fire reached 50 meters in height. A few hours later, only burnt firebrands remained from the unique church.

The intentions of the Kostroma authorities to recreate the burnt church were not realized.




Arkhangelsk region, the village of Kalya

The wooden church complex of the XVIII century - the Kalezhsky churchyard - has long had two churches with a bell tower. Until the 21st century, the tent-roofed Demetrius Church (1761), partially rebuilt in the 19th century, survived; St. Nicholas Church (1774) and the bell tower (1748).

In 2006, a severe fire broke out in the village, as a result of which 14 houses and the church complex burned down. After that, there is no permanent population in Kalle.



The Grebnevskaya church in Klazme

Moscow region, Pushkin district

The church in honor of the Grebnevskaya Icon of the Mother of God, one of the largest wooden churches in the Moscow Region, was built in 1902 according to the project of architect P.A. Vinogradov at the expense of residents of the village. In 1906, a wooden bell tower was added. In the 1930s the church was closed; since 1992 it has been operating. It was restored in 1995-2002, and on October 11, 2007, destroyed by fire.


The grieving church In The Village Of Mirenka

Chuvashia, Alatyr district

The large three-altered wooden church (1896) also functioned under the Soviet regime, with a short break. On January 6, 2012, a fire broke out in the basement; firefighters could not save the church . A new one is built on the ashes.


Pokrovsky Church in the Village of Lobki

Bryansk region, Pogarsky district

This church was built 1864 burned down on May 13, 2012. The building was previously repaired by several locals.

The church of Cosmas and Damian in the village Teshnyar

Penza region, Sosnovoborsky district

This church was built in 1897, and burned down on July 18, 2012 from a voltage drop in the electricity. The church did not close and was well preserved.

The Saint George church in Veretevo village

Moscow region, Taldomsky district

This church built in 1778 burned down on August 30, 2012, at the final stage of restoration work. The building was one of the few well-preserved monuments of wooden architecture of the XVIII century in the suburbs. Over the last few years, the restoration of the chur was carried out with the restoration of the historical appearance and the reconstruction of bypass galleries.

The Saint Barbara church in the village of Esino (Chasovenskaya)

Karelia, Medvezhyegorsk district

This chapel from the 18th century burned down on November 25, 2012. In 2007 it was restored and was in good condition. It caught fire for an unknown reason in the dead of night.


The Kazan church in the Illinka village

Astrakhan region, Volodarsky district

A church built in 1909 burned down on January 22, 2013 due to a fault in the wiring. During the years of Soviet rule, it did not close and was known in a venerable manner to Our Lady, the Theotokos. In the 2000s, the building was reconstructed. A new church has been built on the ashes.

Pokrovsky-Vlasyevsky Church and the Belfry in Lyades

Arkhangelsk region, Kargopol district, Lyadiny village

This tent church built in 1761 and the bell tower in 1820 were burned down on May 5, 2013 as a result of a lightning strike in the roof of the church. There was a lightning rod on the church, but it did not divert the lightning. Five fire engines arrived quickly, but could not put out the fire at high altitude - there was not enough water pressure. The church burned to the ground. From the scattered burning little fires, the tent-shaped bell tower nearby stood on fire. The second church of the ensemble - the 12th main church of the Epiphany of 1793 - survived by a miracle. The authorities decided to recreate the church, but it was not actually done.

The Saint Nicholas church in Chiganara village

Chuvashia, Yadrinsky district

A church built in 1784 burned down on October 1, 2013 due to a faulty electric furnace used by the workers who were repairing it. According to experts, it was one of the best wooden buildings of the 18th century for the Volga region with a picturesque composition.

The Resurrection church in Vazhgort

Komi Republic, Udora district, Vazhgort village

This church built1849 burned down on November 14, 2013 due to a short circuit in the wiring. Firefighters managed to extinguish the building only after the collapse of the roofs and part of the walls.

The church of the Forerunner in the village of Albay

Tatarstan, Mamadyshsky District

A church built in 1873-1874, burnt down on the night of November 28 to 29, 2013, and was the victim of an arson. These days in Tatarstan, several arsons of Orthodox churches are committed at the same time.

According to TASS, in March 2017, the Volga District Court sentenced nine members of the Islamist group involved in these arsons to imprisonment for 16 to 24 years in a maximum security colony.

The Saint Nicholas church in Biyanka village

Chelyabinsk region, Ashinsky district

This church was built in 1882 burned down in 2013. The building was rebuilt in the Soviet years, and used as a club.


The Saint Nicholas church in the village of Kuroedovo

Ulyanovsk region, Nikolaev district

A church built in 1885 burned down in April 2014 due to careless actions with fire (the so-called spring fall). The building preserved its original architectural appearance very well, but was already extremely dilapidated.


 The Transfiguration church in the Zagorod village

Tver region, Maksatikhinsky district

In the early morning hours of January 8, 2015, a fire destroyed the church building (built in 1866; according to other sources, 1868). The church burned down completely in less than an hour. A fault in the wiring was called the cause. The church retained the original iconostases and interior decoration, since it did not close during the years of Soviet rule. It contained icons from the nearby Nikolo-Terebenskaya wilderness, a wooden sculpture of the Monk Nil Stolbensky, as well as a wooden sculptural Crucifix from the church of the village of Loschemlya, Maksatikhinsky district.

The Saint Nicholas church in the village of Zaya

Pskov region, Ploosky region

An object of cultural heritage of federal significance burned down on the night of April 22, 2015. The church, built in 1629-1646, had just been restored. The fire spread to the church from a neighboring house of the church community. From the St. Nicholas Church in Zayan there was nothing left but the foundation.

 The Saint Nicholas church in Vasilievsky village

Moscow region, Serpukhov district

A most valuable and rarest monument (1689) of Old Russian wooden church architecture, an object of cultural heritage of federal significance - fell under obscure circumstances in the early morning of June 19, 2015.

Firefighters managed to save only three walls of the burnt log-house of the refectory. The altar apse, the main quadrangle, and the roof with the dome were completely burned. The unique pentahedral carved beams of the 17th century, which were highly appreciated by researchers, were also destroyed. According to an unofficial version, the cause of the fire was arson as a result of the penetration of unknown persons into the current church. According to the priest, the door to the church on the north side was cracked. In 2007, the church was restored (in the amount of 2 million rubles from the regional budget).

The Assumption chapel in Krasny Bor

Leningrad region, Boksitogorsky district, village of Krasny Bor

On September 2, 2015, the wooden Assumption Chapel of the second half of the 18th century fell. The miniature (2.5 by 2.5 m) cage chapel once stood “on the reaping”, i.e. in the water meadows. Therefore, its blockhouse was raised above the ground on the three lower rims, between the logs of which special gaps were made to allow water to flow into the spill springs. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the chapel was moved to Krasny Bor. In the 1970s, it was restored by the efforts of WOOPIC. Since September 1985, it has been under state protection. According to eyewitnesses, the chapel burned out "completely, in a blaze of fire."

The Assumption church in Ivanovo


On the evening of November 18, 2015, in Ivanovo, the Assumption Wooden Church of the 17th century was almost destroyed by fire in two and a half hours, the oldest church in the region’s capital, one of the two surviving wooden cage temples of the 17th - early 18th centuries, in that region. As an object of cultural heritage of federal significance, in 2014-2015, restoration was carried out on it.

The Ivanovo authorities, as if nothing had happened, began to inform the population that now there is a "conservation" of the architectural monument. However, from the moment of the fire to this day, the Federal Property Management Agency (the owner of the monument) has not taken any conservation measures, even if there were binding decisions to do so. A half-burnt, but preserved log frame was beat on by all the winds and elements. At the end of June 2018, the fate of the church was discussed at a parliamentary forum in Suzdal, and Federation Council speaker Valentina Matvienko instructed the Ministry of Culture to resolve the problem in two months. Now the church has been transferred to the Old Believer diocese, but there is no information about the beginning of the "conservation".

The Kazan church in Semeno-Petrovsky

Bashkiria, Kugarchinsky district, the village of Semeno-Petrovsky

On the night of December 19 to 20, 2015, the Kazan Church, built in 1861 (according to other sources in 1892), was completely destroyed by a fire caused by a fault in the wiring. The church was renovated in the 1990s, the interior preserved paintings of the late XIX century.


The Epiphany church in Prislonikha

Ulyanovsk region, the village of Prislonikha

On the night of May 5, 2016, in Prislonikha, the home of the artist Arkady Plastov, the famous Epiphany church burned down.

The fire started at about one in the morning, and it was not possible to extinguish it. As local information resources put it, "the temple burned like a match, leaving behind only the charred debris." The wooden church, built in 1880, completely burned down, only a stone fence remained. On suspicion of arson of the church, the police arrested a local resident (18-year-old and drunk student at the Karsun College, Anton P.). The sad commentary by Igor Romanov, the head of the Manor of the People's Artist A. A. Plastov Museum, of the museum: “The church burned to the ground in literally 10 minutes. We know who did it. Our local resident burned the outbuildings, and then doused the church with gasoline. While it was burning, the culprit himself sat across from it and watched. "

Since 1990, the Epiphany Church was protected by the state as a monument of architecture of regional significance. It was considered a peculiar visiting card of the village of Prislonikha - the birthplace of the USSR national artist Arkady Plastov. The church was built and painted by the artist’s grandfather Grigory Plastov with his son Alexander. The Epiphany Church, together with the estate of A. A. Plastov, is a branch of the Ulyanovsk Regional Art Museum.

After the opening of the museum in the village of Arkady Plastov in 1988, the church was restored, largely thanks to drawings by Arkady Plastov. Since 1991, services have been held in the church. Secular and ecclesiastical authorities in the region expressed their intention to restore the burnt church.

The Ilyin church in Nikiforovo village

Arkhangelsk region, Velsky district

On the morning of July 19, 2016, as a result of the fire, the Ilyinsky Church, built in 1765-1770 and partially relocated in 1882, was completely destroyed. It belonged to the characteristic Povazhy type of buildings with a pear-shaped dome. In recent years, it was in disrepair, with a collapsed overlapping octal. The most likely cause of the fire is arson.


Transfiguration Church In Spas-Klepiky

Ryazan region, Klepikovsky district

On the night of December 16-17, 2017, the wooden Transfiguration Church of 1886 was destroyed by fire in Spas-Klepiky, which are in the orbit of Esenin Rus. The poet, who studied at a local school, no doubt, had bee in the Transfiguration Church.

The most likely cause of the fire is a wiring failure. The burnt church was part of a complex of two paired wooden parish churches of the second half of the 19th century.


Church of the Assumption in Kondopoga

The Assumption Church in Kondopoga was built in 1774. It burned down on August 10, 2018.

According to the version widely circulated in the media, the temple was set on fire by a 15-year-old Satanist schoolboy who was staying with his grandmother in Kondopoga on vacation. A very convenient version that allows attributing the loss of a national masterpiece to a boy, who, apparently, will be difficult to bring to any responsibility.

Was there a boy? Even if he was set on fire, this does not negate the responsibility of all officials who did not ensure the safety and protection of the unique monument.


In preparing the publication, the materials of a very informative blog by Alexander Bokarev, the tireless chronicler of the fates of the monuments of Russian wooden architecture, were used.

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