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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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Wife of detained Richard O’Halloran wants Coveney to travel to China

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The wife of a Dublin businessman detained in China for almost three years has called on Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to travel to Beijing to plead directly for his release.

Richard O’Halloran, a 46-year-old father of four, has been blocked from leaving China since February 2019 over a legal dispute involving a Dublin-based aircraft leasing firm he works for.

His wife Tara said she had not received contact from anyone in Government or the Department of Foreign Affairs since November and she is concerned about the lack of progress in efforts to find a solution to the commercial dispute and secure Mr O’Halloran’s release.

She told The Irish Times that her children had to endure “third Christmas on FaceTime” with their father and his parents, who are in their 80s, “fear they are never going to see him”.

“We are very much at a place where we don’t know what else to do. We are really now pulling on the Government to try and do something immediately. It is nearly three years,” she said.

“We need some action. We are just asking that Simon Coveney go to China and meet face-to-face with the foreign minister or whoever it needs to be. Nothing is working that they have done in the past. We are in a place where we are really desperate.”

Last May, Mr Coveney met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Guiyang, China as part of Ireland’s two-year membership of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to raise the case of the businessman.

Mr O’Halloran travelled to Shanghai almost three years ago in an attempt to resolve a commercial dispute involving the Chinese owner of China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS), the aircraft leasing company he works for.

The dispute centres over Min Jindong, the chairman and main shareholder of CALS, and his raising of funds from Chinese investors to buy an Airbus aircraft that predates Mr O’Halloran’s employment with the company. The airplane has been leased to a Finnish airline.

Mr O’Halloran testified as a witness in the prosecution of Min for fraud. The Dubliner is not suspected of any wrongdoing, nor has been charged with any crime.

The Chinese authorities are demanding the money used to buy the plane be returned to Chinese investors and Mr O’Halloran has been prohibited from leaving the country.

CALS is not in a position to repay the money. A proposal made by Irish businessman Ulick McEvaddy, who became a director of the company to try to secure Mr O’Halloran’s release, offered to make monthly payment’s to the Chinese authorities from the aircraft’s lease income.

Mr O’Halloran’s brother David wrote to Mr Coveney and other politicians last week calling for the the Government to “forcefully” demand his release through Irish, EU and UN channels.

“David came over at Christmas time to visit the family and he was just so upset by the effect that this has had on everybody,” said Tara O’Halloran.

Echoing her brother-in-law’s plea in his letter, she said her husband’s situation was “not a commercial matter or legal matter anymore – it is a human rights matter”.

Her husband was in “a very low place” and felt “abandoned,” while her children are “absolutely devastated” as they had hoped their father might have been home before Christmas.

A spokesman for the department said it was “very actively engaged” on Mr O’Halloran’s case and continued to provider consular advice, support and assistance to him.

“The department remains fully committed to this case and will remains until Mr O’Halloran is permitted to return to Ireland,” he said.

“As with all consular cases, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specific details of the case.”

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gardaí search houses in Dublin and Offaly

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Gardaí investigating the murder of national school teacher Ashling Murphy have carried out searches of properties in Dublin and Co Offaly.

Both properties are understood to be linked to a man believed to be the chief suspect in the 23-year-old’s murder.

Ms Murphy was killed by strangulation as she was jogging along a stretch of canal near Tullamore on Wednesday afternoon.

Gardaí at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where Ashling Murphy was murdered on Wednesday evening. Photograph: PA
Gardaí at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where Ashling Murphy was murdered on Wednesday evening. Photograph: PA

The man attended a Dublin hospital on Thursday in the company of a family member where he received treatment for what doctors initially believed were self-inflicted wounds.

He remains in hospital under Garda supervision while detectives await medical clearance to interview him.

It is not clear when he will be physically and mentally assessed for interview but gardaí were hopeful this will happen imminently.

Ashling Murphy: The murder investigation was continuing as people in Tullamore expressed their shock and anger at the killing. Photograph: Rip.ie
Ashling Murphy: The murder investigation was continuing as people in Tullamore expressed their shock and anger at the killing. Photograph: Rip.ie

The Irish Times understands this suspect has lived in south Dublin and in the midlands, where he has family members.

His family members have told gardaí they do not believe he is capable of committing such a crime.

One property in Co Offaly, near Tullamore, has been searched. Gardaí in Dublin have also searched another house in south Dublin.

Gardaí are confident they are nearing a breakthrough in the investigation and that DNA evidence will prove crucial in their inquiries.

Gardaí believe Ms Murphy, a talented musician from the townland of Blueball just outside Tullamore, tried to fight off her attacker, resulting in the man who killed her leaving forensic evidence at the scene.

Forensic evidence was used to exonerate a man arrested on Wednesday in Tullamore and he was released without charge late on Thursday night.

Gardaí have examined the crime scene, a Falcon Storm mountain bike they suspect was used by the killer, Ms Murphy’s remains and the clothes she was wearing when she was killed.

Photograph: An Garda Síochána
Photograph: An Garda Síochána

They believe when the forensic results yielded from those examinations are cross-checked with any suspects it will prove instrumental in catching the killer.

The Falcon Storm bike they believe was used by the killer on their way to the scene was recovered after and is now a crucial piece of evidence in the case.

The killer was also seen by a number of people at the scene and statements have been taken from those eyewitnesses.

Gardaí are investigating a complaint from another woman who has told them she was followed on the canal tow path where Ms Murphy was killed about two hours before the murder.

Gardaí are also examining CCTV footage recorded around Tullamore on Wednesday looking for images of anyone riding the Falcon mountain bike.

Sources expressed satisfaction with how that part of the investigation was progressing. Gardaí have appealed to anyone who travelled between Tullamore town centre and the wider approach roads to Grand Canal Way around Cappincur on Wednesday to come forward.

They are especially keen to speak to anyone with footage of road users, including CCTV, dashcam, GoPro or mobile phone images.

Thousands of people attended vigils for Ms Murphy on Friday and over the weekend across the country. There was also a vigil held at the London Irish Centre in Camden on Saturday afternoon.

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Michael Tormey remembered as ‘gentle giant’ at Funeral Mass

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Michael Tormey, a father-of-three who was shot dead outside his home in Ballyfermot, Dublin, last Sunday, was remembered as a “gentle giant” during his Funeral Mass.

Mr Tormey, who had no known links to crime, was shot outside his home on Thomond Road in the early hours of the morning. The 49-year-old had worked as a security doorman and salesman.

Family, friends and other mourners gathered for his Funeral Mass in Our Lady of Assumption Church in Ballyfermot on Saturday.

Speaking at the Mass, his brother Brian described Mr Tormey as a “big teddy bear,” who was always generous. He recalled growing up how his brother had bought him his first Manchester United jersey. “I wore it to threads, I’ll always remember that,” he said.

Mick, as he was known, “loved belting out the tunes” on karaoke, his brother said. “He was nice, and he had nothing but laughter, I can’t understand why this was done,” he told those gathered.

Shauna, his daughter, also spoke about how her father loved to sing, and remembered how he “would sing Phil Collins with me until we had no voice left”.

She told mourners of memories of her father teaching her how to ride a bicycle, and roller blade in Marley Park, and of their favourite snacks.

“There was nobody else in the world who enjoyed a Meanies sandwich or a Burger Bites sandwich with me, and you’d always have room for more than one, I will always miss you, I will always love you,” she said.

Kaitlyn, his step-daughter, said when Mick came into her mother Amy’s life six years ago, he “changed our lives for the better”.

Fr Adrian Egan, who delivered the Funeral Mass, said Mr Tormey was a “gentle giant,” who did not have “a bad bone in him”. His life was “brutally” taken outside his own front door, he said.

He was known to be able to “talk for Ireland,” with a trip down to the shop taking upwards of two hours, on account of him stopping to chat with people along the way, he said.

The family had been “overwhelmed” by the support of the local community in Ballyfermot in the days after the killing, Fr Egan said.

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