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The Resurrection of a Russian Wooden Church

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This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original title of this article was: Miracle at Tsypino: The resurrection of a Russian wooden church


The wooden churches of the Russian North are among the most remarkable creations of traditional Russian artistic culture. Unfortunately, the passing years have taken their toll on these structures, and a number of the best examples have been lost over the past few decades.

There is, however, a recent extraordinary example of the large-scale restoration of a northern log church — the Church of Elijah the Prophet at Tsypino in the Vologda Region. Appropriately, this monument is located near one of Russia’s most revered cultural and spiritual landmarks, the Ferapontov-Nativity Monastery, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its complement of early 16th-century frescoes by the Moscow master painter Dionisy.

The village of Tsypino is now tiny (a population of one, according to the 2002 census), but its origins date at least to the 16th century,however, and in the late 19th century, it was the center of a thriving agricultural parish that included over 20 villages.

At that time, the village was adjacent to a sacred territory known as Tsypinskii Pogost, which consisted of the Elijah Church as well as a brick church built in 1800 with altars dedicated to St. George and St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki. The entire territory of the pogost, which included parish houses and a cemetery, was surrounded by a solid wooden fence painted white.

The priest of the Elijah Church for much of the late 19th century (1862-1895) was Father Ivan Brilliantov, two of whose sons, Alexander and Ivan, became specialists in Russian history. Ivan in particular played a leading role in the study and preservation of the extraordinary artistic legacy surrounding the Ferapontov Monastery, Tragically, both succumbed to the wave of Soviet repression directed against historians in the early 1930s.

The Elijah Church, as it stood in the 19th century, was built of pine logs in 1755 and consecrated in 1756. Then, as now, its tall, spacious form consists of three ascending octagonal tiers over an octagonal base, from which extend four arms of the cross. The east arm contains the main altar and the west arm serves as the main entrance. The base structure of the church is encompassed on the south, west and north sides by a raised gallery resting on extended logs. The structural design is a marvel of functional ingenuity and aesthetic harmony, enhanced by an ideal site overlooking the small Elijah Lake.

The interior of the church was centered on a large icon screen that rose into the canopy formed by the upper tiers. Four ​majestic rows of sacred images looked down upon those assembled in the church’s wide octagonal space, unencumbered by columns or piers.

Closed in 1935, the church fell into decay. The cupola collapsed in 1958, and the two upper tiers fell soon thereafter. By that time, the icons had already been collected in the nearby local history museum in the former St. Cyril Belozersk Monastery in the small regional center of Kirillov.

Fortunately, this remarkable example of Russian wooden architecture had been documented in photographs and was not totally forgotten. In 1995, a presidential order included the Elijah Church in the list of architectural monuments of national significance. When I first photographed the structure, in the summer of 1996, work had just begun on clearing the overgrown site around the surviving log courses of the base structure.

The restoration proper was begun in 2003 under the direction of Alexander Popov, a leading practitioner of historic restoration methods with an emphasis on log structures. The first task in the restoration process was to completely disassemble and study the remaining structure. An examination of stroke marks on the original logs led to the creation of extended, narrow-bladed axes replicating those used in the construction of this 18th-century structure.

The careful, methodical rebuilding of the church by master craftsmen extended through the summer of 2009, when the monument was reopened to visitors. As in the 19th century, the exterior is clad in plank siding painted white. This was typical practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but post-war Soviet restorers of wooden architecture made a practice of removing the siding for a more “authentic” appearance and to better appreciate the construction techniques. A new approach recommends recreating the siding in specific cases where it is clearly documented. Some have argued that this helps preserve the log structures.

Work has continued on the interior of the Elijah Church. In 2010, a reconstruction of the carved wooden icon screen was completed with photographic reproductions of the icons.. The original icons remain in the excellent museum at the St. Cyril Belozersk Monastery, where they are preserved in a secure and regulated environment. The gallery of the Elijah Church contains museum displays on the region and its folk culture.

The sublime Elijah Church has now been joined by a tiny log chapel brought from the nearby village of Pasynkovo. Its square logs, tightly joined by a dovetail technique, were reassembled in 2010 by a team of Polish restorers.

Although not fully recreated in its pre-revolutionary form, the Tsypinskii pogost site has been resurrected as a worthy addition to the masterpieces at Ferapontov Monastery and the St. Cyril Belozersk Monastery. The town of Kirillov is now the headquarters of the “Russian North” National Park, closely linked to tourist destinations such as White Lake (Beloe Ozero), the neighboring historic town of Belozersk and the Tsypina Gora ski resort.

Despite the continuing loss of monuments of Russian wooden architecture, the Church of Elijah the Prophet at Tsypino is stunning testimony to what can be accomplished with the proper combination of historical documentation, technical expertise and financial support.

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe

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Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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