The Churches of Old Lviv, Ukraine
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Lviv's abundance and diversity of churches in this charming old city developed from the city’s location on the border of eastern and western Europe. Although there’s no finite “border” marking eastern and western Europe but rather a large swath of gray area where Catholicism and Eastern Christianity, namely Orthodoxy, mixed and often clashed, even today. Lviv therefore saw many different rulers lord over its roofs and steeples within the last two centuries.* Today the city is an architectural gem and the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s easy to walk this beautiful little city that has a remarkable cross section of historical architecture ranging from medieval to baroque to Art Nouveau. This eclectic mix of building style owes its existence mostly to two factors: the city survived the ravages of World War II largely intact and the various nationalities that have ruled and resided in the city since it was founded in 1256. The original thirteenth century city had two parts: the castle (zamok) and the settlement below it (posad). While the former was fortified the latter constituted the artisan and living quarters of the town. The castle no longer remains but there is a path up the hill where it once stood and has excellent views of the city. A walking trip to Lviv is probably best done by starting at the Stary Rynok (old marketplace) in the center of the city. Known as Rynok Square this was the heart of the old city and remains the center of today’s Lviv. Strangely the city’s oldest building, not surprisingly a church, is located outside of the Rynok, but within walking distance. While many of the churches still stand in some form or another many suffered from disrepair and neglect during the Soviet era. Consequently, a lot of the chruches mentioned below are inactive religious monuments and their functions are many. One church, a beautiful Dominican monastery, was being used as a travel office for various airlines when I visited in 1998.
Armenian Cathedral. Having undergone several reconstructions this small cathedral complex dates to 1363 and is said to resemble the Cathedral of Ani in the former Armenian capital of the same name, now located in Turkey. The original structure was wooden until 1437 when a stone arcade was added. By 1527 a stone belfry had been built and by 1730 the stone nave, which is currently seen today, was completed. The complex is part of the Armenian Catholic Church. Armenians started to arrive in the city as a response to the Turk and Mongol invasions which threatened their homelands. They had a bishop and a large community of followers, hence the cathedral, which was originally under the Orthodox Patriarchate of Echimiadzen. Later many of the Armenians united with Rome, mostly beginning in 1664-1666, and the complex became Catholic. The original Armenian cathedral was a three-nave structure with three apses one the eastern side and a central dome. Considerable XX century reconstruction of the church altered the appearance but there are many Gothic and proto-typical elements that are extant such as the fragments of the "Pantocrator" frescoe found in 1927 which is from the Ukrainian school of painting typical of the XIV - XV centuries. The church was closed in 1945 with the onset of Soviet occupation and in 1997 it was finally turned over to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Bernardine Cathedral and Monastery. A beautiful and ornate Baroque structure on Ploscha Vicheva that was constructed between 1597-1616. The monastery portion was built between 1611-67.
Cathedral of the Benedictines. This is an exmaple of late 16th century architecture located near the old town square. Designed by P. Romano it has eclectic elements with some Baroque and gothic features.
Cathedral of the Barefooted Carmelites. The prominence of this two-steepled baroque church is obvious as it sits on a hill overlooking old town. Built in 1634.
The Purification Cathedral of the Barefooted Carmelites Convent. Construction of this church was between 1642-1683. It has an ornate baroque facade and overlooks the old town close to the Dominican Cathedral.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This small cathedral dates to the 14th century and is located on the OldTown square. It has undergone a number of changes notably in the late 19th century.
Cathedral of St. Martin. Founded by the Carmelite order in 1630 the current Baroque structure dates from 1736. It formerly served as a hospital for military veterans. Located at 8 Dekabristiv Street.
Boim Chapel. This chapel has a beautifully ornate exterior and can be found on the side of the Latin Cathedral. It was built by the Boim family and completed in 1615 and is a good example of mannerist architecture.
Cathedral of St. George. This beautiful rococo church, formerly the primary seat of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was built in 1744 and completed in 1760. Designed by Bernard Meretyn, it is the third church to be built on-site, or the Hill of St. George, and chronicles date it to the year 1280. After the city was sacked in 1340 by Casimir of Poland, St. George's and the Armenian church were the first to be rebuilt and the new city emerged around the current Ploscha Rynok. The second construction of St. Georges's was razed in 1743 and the remains of this ancient church were discovered in 1932. The archbishop’s residence sits adjacent to the Cathedral. The crypt holds the remains of a number of Archbishop-Metropolitans namely Metropolitan Sheptytsky, Cardinal Slipyj, and most recently Cardinal Lubachivsky. The Cathedral's most precious relic is the Wonder-working icon of the Virgin Mary which dates to 1674.
Church of the Assumption (Dormition). Also known as the Brotherhood Church.Located in Lviv’s old town the church’s distinct 65 meter high tower, known as the Vezha Kornyakt, make it clearly visible and easy to locate. It is the primary Orthodox church in the city and is currently being used by the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Mostly built in the late sixteenth century the Church has a beautifully decorated chapel known as the Chapel of the Three Hierarchs completed between 1591 - 1630. The building of the Renaisance Kornyakt Tower began in 1564 but it collapsed soon after the second tier was completed. Construction was started again and financed by Konstantyn Kornyakt between 1572 - 1578 and designed by Peter Barbona. The 200 foot tower was designed around the Madonna del' Orto tower In Venice with an Ionic style. The Brotherhood Church and tower remains one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Eastern Europe.
Church of St. Nicholas dates to the 13th century (1292) and has a cruciform shape with thick walls, probably to afford it protection from attack, three apses, and two cupolas. This church is located outside the old town but immediately below the old castle hill. It’s the city’s oldest existing church still in its original form although it had some additions built in 1701. It is one of only ten churches between the XIII and XIV centuries to have remained intact. It is currently a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church. Originally, it served as a church of the princely court of Halych during the 14th century.
Church of St. Onufry. Dating to 1463 the small church has undergone a number of changes the latest in 1776 and the 19th century.
Church of St. Paraskeva Piatnitsa. Located away from the old town in the pidzamche sector of the city, the original structure has been replaced by the current building whose distinctive tower dates to 1908. Other parts of the church date to the early 15th century and this is noticeable if you look at the nave.
Church of the Transfiguration. The original church was built between 1703 and 1731 which was destroyed during the 1848 uprisings. The second church was built by the Greek Catholics using roughly the same designs although modifications were made to the interior and by adding the apse and domes. Today’s structure is a mix of classicism and baroque. The Church was the first Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish to be restored facing the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union. It was also a focal point of the Ukrainian national movement during the early twentieth century.
Dominican Church. The large dome of this Roccoco church is hard to miss. Built between 1745-64 it had the dubious honor of hosting the Museum of Atheism during the Soviet era. A Dominican church has stood in Lviv since 1234, originally in the Lviv Castle, and a church on the present site dates to 1378 but fires and poor construction led to the construction of the present edifice. The current structure was designed by De Vitte, a Flemish architect.
Jesuit Church. This eclectic looking church was completed in 1621 and was one of the largest churches in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the time of its construction. Its baroque façade makes it easily recognizable.
Latin Cathedral. The official name is the Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, simply known as the Latin Cathedral. A church has stood on this spot since 1344 although the current structure dates to 1481. The nave has Gothic elements although the cathedral was almost completely remodeled between 1761-1776 and is baroque in form. Neogothic elements date from a subsequent remodeling to the presbytery in 1892-1898. The Latin Cathedral was originally founded and built by Germans.
St. Madeleine Church. Dating from 1615-1630 this beautiful baroque church is located on S. Bandera Street about a half kilometer to the southwest of Old Town Lviv.
St. Mary of the Snows. Founded by German artisans who were brought to the city by casimir of Poland, this was Lviv's first Latin-rite (Roman Catholic) parish.
*It's no surprise the city has different names depending upon who you ask. The Ukrainians call it Lviv as it is known today. But it has also gone by Lvov (Russian), Lwow (Polish), Lemberg (Austrian), and even Leopolis (Latin). Lviv was founded by Danylo, a Kievan prince. Within a century it was the defacto capital or seat of the princely state of Halych, one of many under the loosely confederated Kievan Rus principalities. Not long after it fell under Polish-Lithuanian rule where it remained until the partition of Poland in late eighteenth century. Austria benefited from the Poland’s political vacuum and the city became an administrative seat of Eastern Galicia, which was under Vienna’s hegemony. By this time, in the late eighteenth century, the city was Polish in culture but with a strong presence of proto-Ukrainians, who did not really experience a national awakening until the mid-nineteenth century. This ethno-national mix continued until the early twentieth century when more Ukrainians moved into the city. Austria lost Lviv to Poland when its empire collapsed in 1918 and Poland reappeared on the map after WWI. Between 1918 and 1939 the city was back to using its old name, Lwow. The German invasion of Poland in 1939 changed this yet again, and following the end of World War II when the U.S.S.R. took western Ukraine it would be called Lvov. Confused? The last change occurred in 1991 with the breakup up of the Soviet Union and it was at this moment that Lviv, the Ukrainian pronunciation, finally gave its official name to the city.