Fun Facts about Ukraine: Wooden Churches

While in some parts of Europe, men may have raised their first churches from stony rubbles knowing many would never see the climax of stone and mortar, early Ukrainian church builders chose timber and the simplest of tools – axes, saws, and planes – to craft their religious reverence.

Built in the symbolic shape of a ship and positioned from west to east, Ukrainian wooden churches were historically constructed with a central nave and two aisles flanking either side of the passageway. The three part plan reflects three dogmas, or God’s Holy Trinity, the spirit, the soul, and the body of human beings. Multiple domes and spires came to denote the ship’s masts with the crosses at each peak demarcating its sails.

Though the first recorded reference to Ukrainian wooden churches dates back to the 10th century, their construction gathered steam during the 11th century, finally reaching its peak in the eighteenth century when the architectural design and size of the churches grew both in size and lavishness. In the end, the Russian Tsarist government banned construction of these churches that of a “national folk style” unbecoming of the Russian Empire. Still, the construction of wooden churches in Ukraine received a reprieve of sorts from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which allowed these traditions to continue in parts of western Ukraine.

Recognizing the historical and cultural value of Ukraine’s wooden churches, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Arts launched a restoration and preservation campaign of over 1,900 churches made of wood, largely located in western Ukraine, last year. The campaign, scheduled to last five years, includes registering each structure, evaluating condition, and completing the restoration process, ensuring the longevity of one of Ukraine’s most eclectic and unusual cultural traditions will be preserved for future generations.