The bell tolls for Tsyvozero

October 17th, 2012 by Richard Davies

I’m just back from a visit to the wonderful masterpiece of wooden architecture in the Archangel region of Northern Russia – the bell tower at Tsyvozero. I was joined by Alexander Popov, the restorer of wooden architecture based in Kirrilov, the wooden architecture enthusiast Andrei Pavlichenkov, the journalist and campaigner Alexander Mozhaev and my friend Alex Popov from St Petersburg. We were all horrified by what we saw.

Bilibin’s Tsyvozero postcard pub. 1904

In 1904 the bell tower was described by Bilibin as ‘a most adorable tent bell tower… She is living her last days, she has leant over sideways and trembles in the wind. The bells have been taken from her.’

David Buxton’s photograph Tsyvozero 1932

In 1932 David Buxton wrote ‘In the evening it brightened up, and off I went to view the object of my visit – a delightful old wooden bell tower of the smallest dimensions, but pleasing in every way.’

17th August 2002

When I first visited Tysvozero in 2002 the bells were certainly missing but the tower stood proud and erect, albeit dishevelled.

7th October 2012

This time, the 7th October 2012, the bell tower was showing her age. She was propped up, her roof battened down with roofing felt. Many of her logs were rotten or showing signs of rot. In 2002 I’d had no problem climbing within the tower, this time the stairs had collapsed and the route to the top was very precarious indeed. Concerned about the authorities neglect of this great work of Russian art local villagers had recently carried out the remedial work.

Alexander Popov

The purpose of our visit was to assess the structure with a view to obtaining permission to support the local people in their desire to restore the bell tower. We were confident that we could find backers in England and Russia to support the project. Alexander Popov, the restorer, is a great admirer of this beautiful bell tower and was keen to use his skills to preserve it.

Having seen the bell tower we were all shocked and downhearted – what could be done? The project had seemed straightforward but now we wondered if Tsyvozero was beyond repair.

We spent the next few hours in Belaya Sluda with teachers from the school and kindergarden, Galina Kornyakova and Luibov Khabarova. We visited the schools famous Mushroom Museum and paid homage to the King of Mushrooms, who resplendent in all his finery, sat on his throne surrounded by his subjects. We saw an exhibition of ‘miracle vegetables’.

‘Miracle vegetables’ exhibition

The school proudly displays on it’s walls photographs and models of the local treasures – the Church of St Demitius of Thessolonika at Verknyaya Uftiuga that Popov had restored in the 1980′s (Luibov was thrilled to meet her hero) and of course the bell tower at Tysvozero. There was an old photograph of the Church of the Virgin of Vladimir at Belaya Sluda. It had been destroyed in 1962. Galina was eight years old at the time and remembers the thundery day. The church was hit by a single bolt of lightning and burst into flame. Men climbed onto the roof to throw down the burning timbers but the fire was too fierce and flamming like a huge out of control candle the church burnt to the ground. With Galina and Luibov we visited the site of the Virgin of Vladimir, I showed them Buxton’s photograph from 1932. Luibov became very excited, the photograph showed the railings in front of the church and the stone church that had survived. Luibov and the villagers have re-inhabited the stone church and she now wants to reinstate the railings. She has collected twenty seven of the original sections from around the village. The photograph showed that they had been placed slightly differently from how she had imagined!

David Buxton’s photograph Belaya Sluda 1932

Luibov Khabarova and Galina Kornyakova

After tea, mushrooms and sweeties in the school staff room we set off to catch the last ferry back across the Dvina to Krasnoborsk.

‘Кино’ Dvina ferry shelter

Dvina ferry to Krasnoborsk

On the drive back to our hotel in Veliky Ustiug Popov was disturbed and expressed his anger at what we had seen at Tsyvosero – how could this extraordinary icon of Russian wooden architecture be left to its fate without some effort being made to preserve it. Again we considered what could be done. We all agreed that ideally wooden architecture should be preserved were it stands, it has a greater resonace, but Tysvozero is almost beyond hope. It could be protected from the worst ravages of the elements with a canopy but it’s beauty would be destroyed. The ideal at this stage, we eventually agreed would to carry out a thorough survey of the bell tower, dismantle it and rebuild it in a purpose built top lit structure (the hall housing the Elgin marbles in the British Museum came to mind!). Sasha Moshaev suggested that the Tsyvozero bell tower replace the copy of Michaelangelo’s David under the dome of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. An authentic Russian masterpiece replacing an academic sham. It would look magnificent! The Marble Hall at the Ethnographic Museum in St Petersburg would also be a perfect setting and a wonderful tribute to Bilibin. For during the early years of the last century Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin collected artifacts, and recorded with photographs and paintings the folk art and wooden architecture of the North at the behest the Russian Museum.

A replica using the traditional working methods studied and perfected by Popov could then be built on the original site – it could safely be left in the hands of the local community whose young people have been encouraged and taught to appreciate and respect their heritage and homeland. In time the tower would accrue the patina of the old tower. Hung with a fine set of bells she would awaken new life and energy.

Dedicated Babushka

July 28th, 2012 by Richard Davies

Dear Mr. Davies,

I did want to take the liberty of sharing this with you, so that this wonderful lady’s memory might be fixed somewhere more permanently than my mind alone.

Perhaps you can add this to your data base, or post it on your blog.

Your photographs of the Church of St. John on the Ishnya River, near Rostov (pp. 234-35) brought it to mind.

In the summer of 1976, a group of us, four American college students, and our Intourist driver/guide, were traveling around the Golden Ring.

While in Rostov, we, of course, went to see the Church of St. John on the Ishnya.

At that time the care-taker was named Nadezhda Constantinovna (we did not learn her surname).

She it is who appears in this photograph which I took in front of the church. She lived there in the village.

She was an amazing lady, totally dedicated to caring for ‘her’ church. She told us that she and her husband had been married in it many years before.

Nadezhda Constantinovna kept it spotless — the polished floors and woodwork shone like golden honey.

It was a dry, summer day, and we only entered the church for a short time, but immediately she got out her cleaning rags and started to polish the floor behind us.

Then I did something a bit daring for a foreigner in those days. Being a ‘country boy’ I was very intrigued to see what the inside of an occupied izba looked like (not the peasant ones in the museums).

Nadezhda Constantinovna was a bit reluctant, but eventually we prevailed upon her hospitality, and she let us in.

It was a very pleasant visit. I have the warmest memories of that day.

Thirty years later, in 2006, we were once again in Rostov with a group of Orthodox Christian pilgrims. I gave a copy of this photograph to the guide staff there, and they all remembered Nadezhda Constantinovna most fondly. They promised to give the photograph to her relatives.

It is thanks to those dedicated babushkas like Nadezhda Constantinovna that we still have such wooden treasures.

Fr. Nicholas

Holy Transfiguration Monastery

Boston USA

www.thehtm.org

PS: In the upper, right-hand corner of the photo, the tablet marking the church as an historical monument can just be seen.

Richard Temple – Temple Gallery, London

April 24th, 2012 by Richard Davies

Church of the Transfiguration (1781), Turchasovo, Onega district, Archangel region

This heartrending book provides a glimpse into the culture of Russian religious faith and its expression in the fragile wooden churches that hover in the northern landscape imparting presence and deep meaning. Heartrending because these churches and the religious civilisation they represent are now abandoned and disappearing through neglect. They will soon be extinct. Silhouetted against grey skies in the vast northern emptiness their onion domes, tent-shaped steeples and eccentric bell towers silently recall the relationship between earth and sky, between man and Eternity. Delicate, harmonious and utterly unpretentious, their beauty is unimaginable by the standards of our corrupting materialism. They are the last echo of the great spiritual resurgence in the late 14th century emanating from Saint Sergius of Radonezh whose followers founded four hundred monasteries, many of them in the Russian North.

To enter such a wooden church is like boarding a great galleon that has landed from the sky and in which, with all one’s senses attuned to new possibilities, one feels ready to ascend into Infinity.

Dick Temple

http://www.templegallery.com

Христос Воскресе! Воистину Воскресе!

April 15th, 2012 by Richard Davies

Ivan Bilibin 1901

Kulich–Gorod

April 14th, 2012 by Richard Davies

There stands a Kulich-Town, preening itself,
Crowing proudly over all the other towns:
“There is no place more glorious than me though!
I am made entirely of Tvorog and dough!

Ivan Bilibin 1911

Country Life – 29th February 2012 – Averil King

April 2nd, 2012 by Richard Davies

*click on image to enlarge

The Times – 31st March 2012 – Marcus Binney

March 31st, 2012 by Richard Davies

*click on image to enlarge

Open Democracy – 30th March 2012 – The tragedy of Russia’s abandoned wooden churches – Alexander Mozhayev

March 30th, 2012 by Richard Davies

Church of St Nicholas (1727), Ratonavolok, Archangel region, 27th February 2006

‘The Russian mentality has developed to understand “old” as something that is out of date… Some years ago, the abbot of a monastery was asked why he had knocked down the porch of his 300-year-old church, and he replied as honestly as he could: “Because it was old!”’

http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-mozhayev/tragedy-of-russias-abandoned-wooden-churches

 

Indifference – Равнодушие

March 17th, 2012 by Richard Davies

The Final Hour

In the Afterword to the recently published book ‘Wooden Churches’ Mikhail Milchik writes about the state of wooden architecture in Russia – he gives many reasons for its demise then says ‘finally, and possibly the most important reason, is the almost total indifference towards the fate of the national cultural heritage, that reigns in Russian society, from top to bottom.’

Looking through a book of Russian Revolutionary posters I came across a wonderful image by Viktor Deni from 1920 which I asked my friend Peter Brookes, the political cartoonist on The Times newspaper to reinterpret.

In Deni’s image the victim is Capitalism, the hour hand threat is Communism - Capitalism has they say survived for the moment. In Peter’s cartoon the victim is wooden architecture, the threat indifference. Let us hope that the message of Peter’s cartoon will be as wrong as Deni’s and that we will not be the last generation to experience these unique buildings as Mikhail has dolefully predicted….

The Voice of Russia – radio interview

March 14th, 2012 by Richard Davies

Russian BookWorld – 11th March 2012

 

http://english.ruvr.ru/radio_broadcast/28742746/68239105.html

((( >  < )))


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