Kievan and Cossack Baroque Styles

St. Parasceve’s Church in Chernihiv, Ukraine

Of all the styles of Ukrainian ecclesiastical architecture, the Kievan style is the oldest. It emerged at the turn of the second millennium in the period when the first large scale churches were built in Kievan-Rus using the churches of the Byzantine Empire as an architectural inspiration. Thus, the most significant church in the Ukraine, Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral, was inspired by the most significant church in the Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople.

The Slavic architectural traditions have evolved more quickly than the Greek ones. Thus, various styles of domes emerged in the Slavic countries while the semi-circular domes remained the norm in the Byzantine Empire and in Greece. In the seventeenth century, St. Sophia in Kiev was significantly renovated transforming it into the Cossack Baroque style, which is essentially an evolution of the Kievan Style. Since one style is an evolution of the other, there are plenty of churches that naturally exhibit the qualities of both and it is sometimes difficult to place certain churches firmly in one category or the other.

Kievan Style

St. Parasceve’s Church in Chernihiv, Ukraine, exemplifies a style that perhaps could be termed early Kievan. It was built in the late 12th century and, while it was badly damaged during World War II, it was reconstructed in the original style. It is very Greek looking in many ways but note that the drum that supports the dome is much more elongated than what would normally be in a Greek church. Its stepped cylindrical vaults are also a bit unusual but they add nicely to the ornamentation of the church.

In the Kievan style, the floor plans mostly tend to be cruciform — either in the Greek-cross plan or the cross-in-square plan. St. Parasceve’s Church has an abbreviated Greek-cross floor plan. Indeed, it is so abbreviated that the church is almost square. The Latin-cross plan is also used and is particularly common in Canada where western influences have been more widespread. From this type of floor plan rises an impressive superstructure culminating in lofty domes. The Kievan style does not spare architectural detail and embellishment.

This is demonstrated in St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev. While the church was constructed between 1862 and 1886, the architects specifically designed it to replicate the style of the Kievan princely period. In this example the domes are on high drums; however, one also sees that they are more elongated—almost parabolic shaped.

Interior spaces in Kievan style churches are marked by a sense of airy majesty that is usually heightened by an open central dome. In Holy Resurrection Ukrainian Catholic Church in Dauphin, Manitoba, the interior has captured some of that feeling. Fr. Philip Ruh, who was famous for building “prairie cathedrals”, designed the church.

Interior of Holy Resurrection Ukrainian Catholic Church, Dauphin, MB

The Kievan style domes increasingly were placed on higher and higher drums giving the structure more of a sense of otherworldliness. The domes themselves became more elongated and there emerged various forms of the “onion dome” which so characterizes Slavic ecclesiastical architecture.

In Canada there are few, if any, churches that are entirely faithful to the Kievan style but there are many that do a good job of replicating it. St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton, Alberta, is good example of such a church. After an arsonist torched the first church of the parish in 1980, the parish decided to rebuild a second church based on a design of St. Basil’s Church in Ovruch, Ukraine. Since St. Basil’s dates from the 12th century, the new Edmonton church has a definite look of Kievan style to it. The windows are a touch larger than what one would expect in a medieval Byzantine church. Other than that, St. George is almost a perfect model of the Kievan Style. The interior is magnificently decorated with iconography that seeks to replicate the Kievan period as well. While the fire was an act of unspeakable evil, the second church is proof that God works wonders in mysterious ways.

St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Edmonton, AB

Much could also be said for St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral located in Montreal, Quebec. In the picture notice that the domes of this church have become slightly more tapered and fanciful, which suggests its influence is from a somewhat later time during the Kievan period.

St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, Montreal, QC

This look is again captured in St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Here we see the same high drums and the tapered domes in a cruciform church.

St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Prince Albert, SK

A wonderful example of the Kievan style is the Holy Transfiguration Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Pine River, Manitoba. The church is cruciform and the seven tapered domes are very admirable for a small-town church and the central one has a slight hint of the Cossack Baroque style with its lantern on top.

Holy Transfiguration Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Pine River, MB

Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canora, Saskatchewan, has the same cruciform plan. Not only are the all domes parabolic shaped, they also all are topped with lanterns. Thus the Kievan style progresses to a higher level of ornamentation.

The domes of Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, Canora, SK

Many churches designed by Fr. Philip Ruh are essentially Kievan in spirit while exhibiting some signs of western influence. For example, St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton is exuberant in structure with lofty domes over a cruciform plan. The columns on the façade are a bit of a western influence. However, to be fair, Ruh may not have recognised that since there were many churches in Ukraine at the time that had such westernized elements and he undoubtedly would have seen them when he studied in Western Ukraine. We now see a combination of small cupolas and major domes. The central dome is topped by a lantern, which is surmounted by a cupola, which is topped by another lantern, and that is in turn crowned by another cupola with a cross at the very top. At this level of ornamentation one might say that the church is more in the Cossack Baroque style than the Kievan style.

St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Edmonton, AB

Cossack Baroque Style

The Cossack Baroque church is, if anything, even more embellished. The domes are frequently even more elongated than the original Kievan model and a dome that surmounts the church is commonly surmounted by a lantern, which may be surmounted by another smaller dome, which in turn is always surmounted by a cross. Thus, what is created is a layering of embellishment that distinguishes it much from the original Byzantine prototypes. The Cossack Baroque style became popular during the seventeenth century when there was a revitalization of Ukrainian culture as well as religious and social institutions under the rule of the Cossack hetmans.

It was around this time that considerable damage occurred when fire broke out at Kiev’s famous Monastery of the Caves (Percherska Lavra). When the buildings were reconstructed, the result was almost like a small city made up of Cossack Baroque buildings. In the picture of the Monastery skyline, note the multiplicity of domes. The one in the foreground is particularly layered in embellishment.

The skyline of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Winnipeg is a modern structure that takes influence from the Cossack Baroque style. It has the cross-in-square floor plan and the highly elongated and layered domes. Such domes are more pear shaped than onion shaped. Holy Trinity was completed in 1962.

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, Winnipeg, MB

Also in Winnipeg, one finds St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor. The amazing thing about this church is that it was built between 1925 and 1951 by mostly volunteer labour. The two towers at the front of the church are something of a western influence; however, the treatment of the domes is particularly baroque. This type of bud dome was one of the innovations that became common during the baroque period.

St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor, Winnipeg, MB

The Kievan and Cossack Baroque styles can be found in various regions of Ukraine but they tend more to be located in cities and substantial towns rather than in the rural villages. Given that most Ukrainian immigrants prior to 1945 came from rural settings it is interesting that so many churches in Canada were designed with this architectural style as the influence.