February 9, 2018

Ukraine’s UNESCO churches: Traditional Carpathian wooden churches are topic of lecture

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Larysa Kurylas

Dr. Mykola Bevz lectures on Ukrainian churches designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Washington in September 2017.

WASHINGTON – Dr. Mykola Bevz, head of the Restoration of Architecture and Artistic Heritage Department of Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine, along with his university colleague Dr. Maryana Kaplinska, spoke on the topic of UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites in the Carpathian Mountain region. The 16 wooden churches are found in Ukraine and Poland.

The scholars were on a multi-city tour of U.S. cities, visiting major museums and educational institutions to observe state-of-the-art architectural conservation and restoration techniques and technologies, as well as inform American conservationists about the unique architectural legacy found in Ukraine. His presentation on September 29, 2017, co-sponsored by the Foundation to Preserve Ukraine’s Sacral Arts (FTPUSA) and the Shevchenko Scientific Society – Washington Branch, was hosted at the offices of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.

While Dr. Bevz’s presentation focused on the eight churches located in Ukraine, he spoke within the broader context of the UNESCO selection process and the UNESCO program of cultural-historic designation.

Each of the 16 churches, according to UNESCO, is an outstanding example of the once widespread timber-building tradition that survives in the region to the present. The unique and distinctive architectural forms of the churches, with tri-partite plans, pyramidal domes, cupolas and bell towers, conform to the requirements of the Eastern liturgy. At the same time, each church reflects the specific cultural traditions of the local communities that developed separately due to the mountainous terrain.

Designs include the Hutsul-style churches built in the Carpathian region of southeastern Ukraine at Nyzhniі Verbizh and Yasynia; Halych-style in the northern Carpathians on either side of the Polish-Ukrainian border at Rohatyn, Drohobych, Zhovkva, Potelych, Radruż and Chotyniec; Boyko-style on either side of the Polish-Ukrainian border near the border with Slovakia at Smolnik, Uzhok and Matkiv; and western Lemko-style in the Carpathian region of southwestern Poland at Powroźnik, Brunary Wyźne, Owczary, Kwiatoń and Turzańsk.

According to Dr. Bevz, the churches were selected according to local cultural traditions as they evolved from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Built using the horizontal log technique with complex corner jointing and exhibiting exceptional carpentry skills and structural solutions, the churches were raised on wooden sills placed on stone foundations, with wooden shingles covering roofs and walls.

The properties are considered authentic in terms of location and setting, use and function, Dr. Bevz explained. Of the 16, 13 are still used as places of worship with active parishes while the other three – in Radruż, Rohatyn and Drohobych – are kept intact as museums.

Authenticity is a key requirement for UNESCO designation. In each of these church buildings, the authenticity of materials remains high; over the years, the structural timbers have been carefully repaired by traditional methods. The artwork has a high degree of authenticity, as do the timber exteriors, roof and wall cladding, which requires replacement every 20-30 years. In most cases, these elements have been appropriately restored. Given that periodic replacement of the wall cladding is part of the ongoing maintenance schemes, continuation of technical knowledge related to techniques and workmanship is an essential requirement for future preservation. Almost all the churches retain their original doors and locking devices, with inscriptions on the lintels giving the dates of construction and names of carpenters.

In Ukraine, all properties nominated for the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are protected by inclusion in the National Register of Immovable Historical Monuments, mandated in Ukraine’s National Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage. The law ensures that these site administrators support conservation principles and engage in appropriate training.

Cultural heritage tourism is not yet well developed in Ukraine. Future tourist accessibility that will include construction of tourist facilities and parking will need to be carefully planned so as not to compromise the integrity of the designated properties.

Recognizing the value of preserving and protecting Ukraine’s cultural heritage is in line with the efforts of FTPUSA, as well as of the Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine. As Dr. Bevz traveled throughout the U.S., his goal was to become better acquainted with conservation and preservation programs and facilities in order to establish a conservation laboratory in Lviv, as well as update the university’s preservation curriculum. These efforts will be coordinated with Yuri Yanchyshyn, an expert in conservation of wood and painted finishes, principal and senior conservator at Period Furniture Conservation LLC, and Myron Stakhiw, an architectural historian who teaches at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Roger Williams University, and was the former director of the Fulbright Program in Ukraine.

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