Mother of God! Historic Preservation in Russia


In honor of Mother’s Day, today’s architectural bonbon is the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God (mouthful!) originally from Tokhtarevo, Suksun District, Russia.

This seventeenth century log church demonstrates the verticality typical to Russian church architecture, with keel-shaped roof arches called kokoshniki and the classic lukovichnaya glava or onion domes. This building, though constructed in 1694, represents one of the oldest types of log churches called kletskii or “barn” churches.  They often did not have domes (these may be later additions) and were built with an emphasis on rectangular shapes. Obviously, logs don’t lend themselves to the exotic curves, arches, and domes found in other Russian churches built of stone or brick.

The dry climate of central and northern Russia has preserved many of these log churches and examples dating to the fifteenth century exist- one preserved within a monastery in Kirillov near the Finnish border dates to 1485. Similar architecture is common in the Scandinavian nations, where great timber churches are known as stav or stave churches.

The Church of the Icon is also important because it represents the work of Russia’s preservationists- a harassed and lonely group of people who in the 1960’s founded several “open-air” museums of relocated vernacular Russian architecture. In response to widespread public backlash against the Khruschev adminstration’s destruction of historic buildings, the state nominally supported historic preservation beginning in 1965. The Church of the Icon is now located at Khokhlovka Museum, near Perm and there is a similar museum at Suzdal in Vladimir Oblast. Unfortunately, nominal support meant just that and many of the relocated buildings are poorly maintained because there are no funds or political will to save them. The legacy of these amazing structures may be… obscurity.

It’s Mother’s Day and Historic Preservation Month! Check out UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and see what you can do to help preserve buildings in places where preservation isn’t a priority. I’m not sure what the Russian Orthodox version of karma is, but you can’t go wrong trying to preserve the Icon of the Mother of God.




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