Church of the Transfiguration

Kizhi, Karelia, Russia - July, 2021: The Church of the TransfigurationThe Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord is the pearl of Kizhi, a wooden structure, impressive in splendor and built only with the help of an ax.

Onega Lake Island

Kizhi Island is one of the many islands in the northern part of Lake Onega. A maze of hundreds of picturesque islands and bays is woven into the natural landscape. on the banks of which there is the city of Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia. This small rocky island 5.5 km long, divided by narrow straits, strikes with its modest beauty.

Rocks with pine trees growing on them, bizarre winding lines of the coast, meadows playing with flowers of various vegetation – all create a uniquely beautiful place.

The island got its name from the Karelian word “kizhat”, which in translation means “games” : in pre-Christian times, pagan rituals and ceremonies took place here. Onega lands, reclaimed 9000 years ago, were inhabited by Novgorod boyars from the 11th-15th centuries. Each of the 12 villages on the island had a wooden Orthodox church.

Marvelous structures made of pine, spruce and aspen made the island famous, so that it became an open-air museum of wooden architecture. The Kizhi architectural ensemble consists of the Preobrazhenskaya and Pokrovskaya churches, as well as a bell tower with a hipped roof. All buildings were erected according to the Russian tradition “without a single nail.”

The pinnacle of wooden architecture

The main architectural monument of the island of Kizhi is the Transfiguration Church , built in 1714 on the site of a burnt church. Since then, the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord, sparkling under the northern sun, has been a symbol of Kizhi and Russian wooden architecture.

From the history of the church

The first mention of a settlement on the Kizhi Islands dates back to the 15th century. Natives of the Novgorod lands built a church that accommodated all parishioners on major Christian holidays.

The church was rebuilt and renewed many times. At the end of the 17th century, the temple burned down from a lightning strike. Several years later, the construction of the current multi-domed temple began .

The modern look of the ensemble took 265 years (1694-1959). Each century has made its own contribution to its creation. After the reconstruction of the log fence, the ensemble acquired a modern look.

Restorers paid attention to the old buildings at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, the domes of the Church of the Transfiguration were hidden by roofing iron, the building, sheathed with boards, was painted white.

The original appearance of the church was restored by the chairman of the commission for the protection of monuments of art, Russian painter Igor Immanuilovich Grabar and Moscow architect A.V. Opolovnikov, who found new ways to restore the old building.

To strengthen the building, a metal frame was created inside the church. The blockhouse was divided into seven belts, each was taken out and restored separately. The Transfiguration Church, without losing its sophistication, stands firmly on the ground without a foundation.

Architectural features

The architectural concept of the church is clear and clear. The shape of the church, atypical for a religious building, is round. The temple is a “summer” building and does not work in winter.

It is based on a cruciform plan: an octagonal blockhouse “octagon” with four two-stage cuts. Three “eight”, placed one on top of the other, gradually decrease upward in a ratio of 18: 6: 3 meters and together with the cuttings create a picturesque five-tiered composition.

The frame of the church, made of dry pine, without laying moss between the crowns, was placed without a foundation on a stone block . The altar cut is in the form of a pentagon. From the west, a refectory with a high front porch and a three-pitched roof adjoins the main frame.

The church has no front side, it is equally beautiful from all sides. 22 different-sized heads of curvilinear shape, such as “barrels”, are placed in tiers on the roofs of the sidewalks and “octopuses”. The shapes and sizes of the heads covered with aspen ploughshare vary in tiers.

A ploughshare is an aspen plank ending on one side with a wedge-shaped ledge. The aspen covering, permeated with water and warmed by the sun, shines as if the domes were covered with silver.

The 38-meter dome looks so majestic, as if the church stretches to heaven. The complex structure is made with an ax, without nails. The ploughshare on the domes was originally fastened with wooden dowels and only later – with small studs.

The entrance is in the form of a two-arch porch made of Karelian birch and located on wooden consoles.

The Church of the Transfiguration is a magnificent, elegant structure of the folk culture of Russia at the beginning of the 18th century. The names of the founders of the church are unknown: its life is surrounded by legends. Legend has it that one of the masters by the name of Nestor, having finished the work, said, looking at the church: “There has not been, no, and will not be like this!” and threw his ax into Lake Onega.

The interior of the northern temple

The interior of the Church of the Transfiguration has changed over time. The former interior, familiar to today’s visitors, was returned by restorers in the 1950s.

The floors are laid on log beams cut into the walls. The ceilings in the cuttings of the temple part are also cut into the walls. The central part is covered with rafters in the form of a “sky” with a round medallion in the middle. Above the “sky” is an internal gable roof, the edges of which rest on the walls with an octagon.

In the center – a lectern , on which the icons were placed. Depending on the day, the vesting of the lectern was daily or festive. Parishioners donated fabrics for vestments.

The part of the church where icons of various contents were placed – donation images, donations, icons moved from the iconostasis, is called the katholikon. In the eastern part of the katholikon there is a Solea, an elevation one step higher than the main room.

Along the edges of the solea there are kliros , where the singers and reciters stood. Banners and a lantern were installed on the kliros, which were used during religious processions. The dimensions of the salt in the Preobrazhensky Church were so great that next to the kliros there were monumental icon cases with carvings, gilding and sculptures with the icons “The All-Merciful Savior” and “Assumption”.

The iconostasis is the line between the temporal and the eternal, which separates the prayer space from the “holy of holies” – the altar of an Orthodox church. For the celebration of the Eucharist in the altar there is an altar and a throne – consecrated rectangular tables, dressed in clothes. On them are the vessels and objects necessary for the Liturgy – the main church service.

In the altar there is a high place, portable icons, a portable cross, as well as icons on the walls, a wardrobe. In the center of the iconostasis there are carved royal gates with small round frames, into which 7 icons are inserted.

The carved iconostasis frame frames 104 icons of the 17th-18th centuries, which reveal the gospel story of Christ. The curved iconostasis, radiating festivity and solemnity, is decorated with a grapevine ornament. Between the icons – voluminous carved gilded columns complement the richness of shimmering gold ornamentation.

“Heaven” is decorated with 16 wedge icons depicting the Seraphim, Cherubim and Angels that surround the New Testament Trinity.

Kizhi – open air museum

The open-air museum on the island of Kizhi was founded by the restorer Alexander Viktorovich Opolovnikov. The basis of the museum is the ancient structures of the Kizhi, whose light silhouettes fit into the harsh northern landscape.

In 1966, a museum-reserve was created here, where they brought monuments of wooden architecture from the regions of Karelia: chapels, houses, mills and baths.

There are real wooden houses with outbuildings, windmills with wings, barns and baths.

Not only tourists come here, but also cultural figures, historians and ethnographers. Creative people are interested in crossing the threshold of a village house, seeing handicrafts of local artisans, tools and amazing examples of dishes and kitchen utensils of Russian northerners – Karelians and Vepsians.

The museum’s collection contains 50,000 exhibits : ancient Russian paintings and icons, old manuscripts and books, photographic documents and household items, archaeological finds. The museum funds include buildings located outside the island and included in the “Kizhi necklace” sector: chapels and villages.

In 1990, the architectural ensemble of the Kizhi Island in Karelia was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The State Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve is the largest in Europe. Tourists from all over the world go to Karelia, who are welcomed on the island all year round.