The Hutsul people may have been relatively more affluent than some of their neighbours at one time and this meant they could afford slightly more sophisticated church structures. In the Ukrainian homelands there are some magnificent examples of elaborate Hutsul churches with very complex carpentry work. While there are many examples of churches in Canada that are essentially Hutsul in spirit, the Canadian versions tend to be much less elaborate in woodwork. In particular, the Canadian churches usually lack the opassania, an eve-like overhanging that is placed around the perimeter of the structure. While in the old country Hutsul churches were frequently built of log construction, the Canadian versions are generally of frame construction.
Hutsul churches in the old country are generally of the Greek-Cross floor plan, which is to say there are four arms of the cross that are of equal length. In Canada, however, the arm on which one finds the entrance (usually the west arm) is often slightly elongated. Possibly this is due to a western influence or possibly the elongation was required to accommodate pews (a western innovation). In some instances, parishes have needed to enlarge the structure to accommodate growth and the result was to build a substantial addition to the church making it into a Latin-Cross floor plan.
At the centre of the crossing of a Hutsul church is placed a large octagonal drum that is surmounted by a cupola that is itself frequently octagonal and open to the interior. The drum frequently has windows, which gives a sense of airiness to the interior. Sometimes the dome is more like a polygonal pyramid. A cross always surmounts the large central cupola, but there also may be smaller crosses mounted on some or all of the four extremities of the roofline (over the gables).
A fine example of the type of church built by Hutsuls can be found in St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church in Hoshiw located in eastern Poland, just a stone throw from the Ukrainian border. The church is perched on a hill and looks like it could slide down it at any moment but this is normal for this semi-mountainous region. Note the opassania built around the perimeter of the church to protect the wood from rainwater. Also note the addition of tiny cupolas with crosses on each of the four arms of the Greek-Cross roofline.
- St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church, Hoshiw, Poland – Hutsul style
Immediately obvious is a layering of embellishment in St. Nicholas Church, the likes of which is never actually achieved in Ukrainian-Canadian churches.
Nonetheless, one can feel the spirit of the Hutsul style in the diminutive church located in an outdoor museum near Shandro, Alberta. It originally was built in 1904 at Shishkovichi near Chipman, Alberta, where the Russian Orthodox Mission had served it. The church is so small that appears not much larger than its belfry.
- Hutsul-style Church located near Shandro, AB
In Stuartburn, Manitoba, one sees an example of the Hutsul spirit in Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church built in 1911. Note how an eight-sided pyramid caps the octagonal drum over the centre of the church. This is the second church of the parish, as an earlier church had been built in 1898 but it no longer exists. It is a tribute to the tenacity and spirituality of the Ukrainian settlers that they placed such importance on building a church so soon after coming to what was, at that time, practically a wilderness.
- Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church—Stuartburn, MB
While in Poplarfield, Manitoba, I snapped a photograph of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church as it absorbed the rays of the setting sun. It is another church that draws on the spirit of Hutsul architecture. Note the little crosses over the narthex and sanctuary areas that are reminiscent of the tiny cupolas with crosses that grace the example of the church in Hoshiw, Poland. Settlers built St. Nicholas in Poplarfield in 1913; although Ukrainians first started homesteading in the area around 1910 or earlier.
- St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church – Poplarfield, MB
Three and a half miles southwest of Fenwood, Saskatchewan, is the location of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church. The parish constructed the church in 1937 and it bears hints of the Hutsul style.
- Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, Fenwood, SK
What makes Sts. Peter and Paul a particularly interesting specimen is the treatment of the dome. It is set on an octagonal drum and rises up in the form of an eight-sided pyramid. However, before the apex of the structure is met, the dome is crowned with a fancy wooden embellishment surmounted by a cross. While this is not the only church in Saskatchewan to use this technique, it is definitely not common.
- Detail of the central dome – Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church
In Gorlitz, Saskatchewan, St. Basil’s Orthodox Church is another example of a structure that takes some influence from Hutsul architecture. Nestled in among the trees, one notices in this church a bit of the layering of embellishment that marks the Hutsul style. In particular, it has tiny cupolas with crosses gracing each arm of the Greek-Cross roofline as seen in the example of St. Nicholas Church in Hoshiw, Poland. The parabolic central dome, however, is more reminiscent of the Kievan style with a lantern on its top.
- St. Basil’s Orthodox Church (OCA), Gorlitz, SK