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Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North Hardcover – 1 Dec 2011
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"80% of Russian wooden architecture that existed pre-1917, no longer exists. But luckily, there is still something left to fight for." Professor Vyacheslav Petrovich Orfinsky, Architecture Department, Petrozavodsk State University, August 2008
The photographs in this book have been taken over a period of nine years. These churches are the remnants of thousands that were built all over Russia from the time of Prince Vladimir, who, on his conversion to Christianity in 988, 'ordained that wooden churches should be built and established where pagan idols had previously stood.
Most of those that survive are to be found in the sparsely populated north-western corner of Russia - specifically, in the Leningrad, Vologda, Murmansk, and Archangel Regions and the Republic of Karelia. The area is vast and many thousands of miles have been travelled by car, jeep, aeroplane, boat, train, snowmobile, sledge and foot to track them down.
These fragile, desecrated structures retain a spiritual presence that commands respect even in the absence of their gilded icons. They are nearing the end of their days. It is extraordinary that a country as rich and powerful as Russia, with a cultural legacy beyond compare, should let these wonderful, life-enhancing treasures slip through its fingers.
Along with the photographs of Richard Davies, there are first-hand accounts by Matilda Moreton of their journeys, and the insights and interpretations of writers and artists, travellers and historians, propagandists and politicians.
"Wooden architecture, the most original and most unique part of the cultural heritage of Russia, is on the verge of total extinction." Mikhail Milchik, St Petersburg, October 2011
Top customer reviews
Those who have had the good fortune to visit some of these churches, as I have, will find this a wonderful souvenir, but the book will appeal equally to anyone with a love of wooden architecture, old churches or the Russian countryside - or all three!. Perhaps a health warning is appropriate: Prepare to want to see them for yourself! Sadly these churches are badly in need of care, maintenance, in many cases restoration. As it is they are just a small fraction of the many such churches that existed a hundred, even sixty years ago. If they are not soon given the urgent attention they require, this book may simply become the best record of something lost through ignorant and indifferent neglect.
Finally, this book is the perfect companion to the Opolovnikovs' "The Wooden Architecture of Russia" (1989).
I bought this book on the strength of the photos (I saw them featured in The World of Interiors), and they truly are gorgeous. Summer or winter, robust or decaying, each church is photographed in a way which brings out their architectural features and places them within the landscape that brought them forth. But there's so much more to the book than that. Old photos reveal what some churches looked like before they fell into ruin, or record those that no longer exist. Cartoons and magazine extracts record the Soviet assault on the Orthodox faith. Extracts from travel diaries, memoirs and histories show what these churches and the religion they housed meant to their communities. Most interesting, and sometimes very moving, are the tales from Davies and Moreton's travels to take the photos: the people they met and the stories they had to tell. One thing I particularly liked about Wooden Churches was that there's no attempt to hide the human element. Power lines cut across views; haystacks and woodpiles, muddy roads and old caravans creep into shot. Sometimes local people appear, and those photos are amongst my favourites.
This can't help but be a rather sad book; there's been so much change and destruction in Russia and the churches that it documents have really suffered as a result. But hopefully this book will encourage people to protect this beautiful architectural heritage, and perhaps even inspire similar projects elsewhere.
I really do feel privileged to own this book.
In addition to the documentation of contemporary churches, the book contains a preface by photographer Davies; a historical introduction; an afterword from Mikhail Milchik, Vice-Director of the St Petersburg Research Institute of Restoration; a description of architectural features of the churches; an architectural glossary; a historical chronology; a bibliography; acknowledgements; and an index of the churches featured. The production values are very high indeed.
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