With a unique baroque iconostasis and a beautifully iconic “sky” ceiling, the Church of the Dormition on the banks of Lake Onega was one of the supreme examples of Russian wooden architecture.
"It has no equal among wooden churches… Amazing and unique in its kind, this church is a ‘swan song’ of folk architecture, sung with such deep power that after it any sound seems weak." - Academician, Doctor of Architecture A. V. Opolovnikov.
The first mention of the church in historic documents was in 1563, but the latest construction was built in 1774, making it just slightly older than America as a nation. It’s gable belt on the octagon and the expansion of the central pillar to the top were characteristic features of the Church of Prionezhskoy School of Wooden Architecture, and it was the highest wooden structure in the Karelia region, standing at an impressive height of over 130 ft tall.
Instead of commemorating some seemingly important person that likely doesn’t need another monument to build up their ego, this breathtaking Russian church was built to commemorate the peasants, the ordinary simple people, who died during the Kizhi Rebellion of 1769-1771.
Some of the features that made this church unique was as Igor Shurgin, a restorer, researcher and manager of the Foundation for the Support of Monuments of Wooden Architecture, reported “Unlike the vast majority of other wooden temples in Russia, it was never rebuilt, never covered with planks, no one ever replaced the iconostasis in the interior or covered the painted "sky" ceiling and carved details with a late finish.”
Unfortunately, all too soon disastrous times were to fall upon the church, starting with it’s last priest, Father John Lyadinsky, shot dead in 1937. Since then the church was incorporated into the government and as there were no services held, it began to fall into disrepair.
In 2014, it was already in bad condition, due to rotten lower venues, the church tilted by a full meter.
On August 10, 2018, the church, along with all the icons, among which were some of particular value, was burnt to the ground by a 15-year-old Satanist. He took five liters of gasoline and a match to the church. It went up like a dry tree and came down with a roar. He had even told his brother that he was going to, but was laughed at... until he actually accomplished his threat.
It had stood first on the list of wooden monuments for inclusion in UNESCO, but on this tragic day Russia lost another of its priceless treasures to mindless hatred.
The silver lining of this high-profile loss is that it has ignited a conversation on the conservation of these priceless wooden architectural marvels.
“What can one guard and a fire alarm system do when it comes to a wooden structure? The state of such monuments is of serious concern, and we call on the Ministry of Culture to pay close attention to this problem,” Fr. Alexander Volkov, the patriarchal press secretary, said in a statement.
Mikhail Milchik, a member of the Councils for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage under the Government of St. Petersburg and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation points out, “we speak and write for decades about the necessity to equip all wooden architecture monuments, which are under state protection, with automatic fire extinguishing means. And? And nothing! Two years ago, we developed a Concept for the Preservation of Wooden Architecture in Russia. And? And nothing!... And now we hear from the Ministry of Culture of Karelia, the measurements were preserved and therefore the church can be restored! If only we had money!”
The cost of restoring this monument was originally estimated at $1.1 million, but has recently been raised to $1.5 million; a seemingly impossible fundraising goal. But an official fundraiser has been launched and a number of large donations have already been received by the Northern Spiritual Path charity fund.
One of the largest donations came from the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadrov,who donated roughly $15,000, and another sizable donation came from the head of the Karelian government, Arthur Parphenchikov, who donated almost $1,500.
With restorations having begun, and donations being raised, it is only a matter of time before this church is restored and rebuilt. And if it cannot be rebuilt to its original glory at least it will serve as a memorial to the once breathtaking church and a reminder of its original purpose; to commemorate the simple, the ordinary, the humble Christian Russian peasants who died in a rebellion but were remembered by their compatriots in the construction one of Russia’s most well-known wooden churches.
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