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Read more about each of these unique places…
By Pogranicze Media
Published: 06.03.2020

   A legend has it that originally the tserkov in Chotyniec was situated 8 kilometres away from its present location. It is believed the new site was chosen by the Virgin Mary, and the church was moved here by oxen.
   The architecture of the wooden church in Chotyniec, built in the early 1600s, at the first glance reveals that the building is connected with Eastern Christianity. The typical bulbous roofs provide the first hint.  Yet the most characteristic feature of the tserkov of Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Chotyniec is the unique, exterior gallery above the women’s section, leading to the formerly existing upper chapel.
   Why did this lovely wooden tserkov need more than one chapel? The reason is that in the early 1700s in accordance with the rules of Greek Catholic Church one location was not allowed to hold more than one liturgical service per day. Since there was a large number of Greek Catholics in these areas, the additional chapel was created within the tserkov so that two services could be conducted each day in Chotyniec. Located upstairs, the chapel of Annunciation received its own iconostasis. Unfortunately it was dismantled in the 19th century.
   The fortunes of the tserkov in Chotyniec were as varied as those of the village itself. As it was mentioned, once the local Greek Catholic community was so big that two chapels were needed. Before WWII the village was inhabited by nearly 3,000 people, mostly representing this denomination. Later, however, the turmoil of WWII and the subsequent enforced population transfers completely changed the situation here. When a small group of Greek Catholics returned to the village in the 1950s, they found the tserkov was being used by Roman Catholics; then 30 years later it was closed down. Fortunately, in the 1990s the Greek Catholic parish was re-established here, and brought life back to the tserkov. Today, thoroughly restored, the church can again be admired in its full glory.

For cyclists: The tserkovs in Chotyniec and Radruż can be visited during a journey along Green Velo route. The length of the route in Podkarpackie amounts to 400 km.

   Built in 1791, the tserkov in Smolnik nad Sanem is younger than the churches presented above. Unlike the other UNESCO sites in Podkarpackie, the Smolnik tserkov was furnished in contemporary times. The original furnishings were lost as a result of historic upheavals. Despite that the tserkov in Smolnik is still a truly unique landmark, mainly because it represents Bojko-style architecture. The modest-looking, small, yet very characteristic building consists of three basic parts, seemingly separate but complete structures attached to one another, each with its own tent-like hipped roof. Symmetry and centrally oriented layout, two characteristic features of Bojko style, are well visible in the Smolnik tserkov, explains Anna Fortuna-Marek.
   Before WWII in south-eastern outskirts of Poland there were many buildings of this type. Yet only three Bojko churches have survived, the best preserved being the tserkov in Smolnik.
we see the lovely wooden church standing alone on the hill, and if we imagine that once it stood in the middle of a prosperous village, we will understand how many changes happened during World War II and as a result of the events in its aftermath. Before the war the population of Smolnik was four times larger than today and the tserkov was its epicentre, not only for the Greek Catholic community.  The services in the tserkov were also attended by Poles, as the Roman Catholic church was rather far away, and by protestants who came here from Austro-Hungary to work in lumber industry. Following the war and the post-war turbulences everything changed, and the tserkov is the only witness of both the happy times and the tragic events in the lives of the people formerly inhabiting this area.
   From the viewpoint of visitors, the tserkov in Smolnik nad Sanem is distinguished by one more special feature - it is the location, in the very heart of the Bieszczady, at the foot of Trohaniec, in the vicinity of hiking and riding trails, along the large “ring-road” of the Bieszczady.

   Beautifully blending within the landscape on the border of the Bieszczady and Beskid Mountains, the graceful tserkov of Archangel Michael is located in Turzańsk, on the Osława river. Roughly speaking, everything about it is related to Łemko, or more specifically Eastern-Łemko heritage.
   The history of Łemko people, once living in the Beskid-Bieszczady border area is similar to the history of Bojko people in the Bieszczady. Shortly before WWII they were the main ethnic group populating the areas along River Osława. After the war they were forcefully relocated and it seemed Łemko people would never come back.
   What was left behind was the church - the wooden witness of history. Both its architecture and its furnishings represent Łemko heritage. Built in 1801-1803, it is a characteristic example of Eastern-Łemko style. The typical features of the tserkov include its three-part structure, the elongated floor plan, equal height of the wall framework in the three main parts of the church, and most of all five bulbous domes covering the main parts of the tserkov. Analysis of its appearance suggests that the tserkov in Turzańsk is an unusual, ingenious transposition of the archetypal brick Byzantine tserkov, explains Anna Fortuna-Marek.
   Another distinctive feature of the church, even more closely linked with Łemko community, is the iconography. The author of the wall paintings, Josyf Bukowczyk, in his rendition of some scenes made reference to the realities of Łemko land in the late 1800s, that is the time when he created the work. You will see here a representation of Christ visiting a Łemko family, as well as a Łemko man sowing grains, and the beautiful landscape, characteristic for the Bieszczady and Beskid mountains.
   Importantly, Łemko people returned to this land, and from 1960s Turzańsk is home to an Orthodox parish. Thanks to this small Łemko community, the tserkov continues to be alive.