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BRAMA, Jan 20, 2007, 1:00 am ET

Historic landmark church endangered
by Olenka Z. Pevny, PhD.

Scholar fears preservation of Church of St. Cyril in Kyiv, Ukraine, is compromised.

On January 11, 2007 published a report by Dr. Olenka Z. Pevny regarding the threat to the preservation Ukraine's most important 12th century monument - the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria in Kyiv. Below is an update on the situation from Dr. Pevny, who continues to receive information regarding developments in Ukraine.

"St. Cyril teaches in the cathedral"
Fresco, 12th c.

Church of St. Cyril
Kyiv, Ukraine


The Church of St. Cyril (the Kyrylivs'ka tserkva) is a monumental princely foundation of the Kyivan Rus' period. It is part of the National Preserve of the St. Sofia Cathedral that falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Building and Housing and Communal Services of Ukraine. It is the only 12th century monument in all of Ukraine to preserve medieval frescoes and it is one of two monuments in all East Slavic lands that has preserved significant sections of medieval painting (the other monument being the Church of the Savior in the Mirozh Monastery in Pskov, Russia). After the Cathedral of St. Sofiia, the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria and its frescoes is the second most important medieval monument in Ukraine. It is also the only Byzantine Orthodox monument to preserve a depiction of the life cycle of St. Cyril of Alexandria.

In recognition of its uniqueness and cultural importance the Church of St. Cyril was designated a cultural/historic landmark belonging to all the people of Ukraine. Its care has for many years fallen to the directorship of the National Preserve of St. Sofia. Its museum status has allowed all visitors regardless of nationality and religious confession to appreciate the medieval murals, the most important of which are located in the areas of the sanctuary apses. The recognition of the Church of St. Cyril as a cultural monument also assured the proper monitoring of the humidity and temperature in the structure and the ongoing preservation of the wall paintings.

In 2004 the status of the Church of St. Cyril changed significantly. The monument was designated to service a parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Under an agreement signed on Novemer 12, 2004 by the acting director of the National Preserve of the St. Sofiia Cathedral, V.V. Kyrylenko, and the ecclesiastic Fedir Sheremeta, the unique historical monument was given over for permanent use with no financial obligations to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. This agreement limited museum access to the Church of St. Cyril to four hours a day, from noon to four, five days a week. Soon thereafter the Church was closed for restoration work and in October 2006 the National Research Restoration Centre of Ukraine issued a report on the fragility of the frescoes and painting and the need to maintain a proper microclimate in the building and restrict access. The report also mentions the damage caused by the burning of candles and oil lamps. Despite these concerns, at the petitioning of the parish priest Fedir Sheremetev, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych recently issued an ordinance confirming the conditions of the 2004 agreement. In the last few days His Holiness the Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) has issued verbal assurances that at the present time the walls will not be repainted, but that new icons will be displayed in the church for veneration.

The issues touched upon by desired preservation of the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria are complicated indeed. In many cases the preservation of religious monuments requires the negotiation of an understanding between cultural preservationists and ecclesiastics. The case of the Church of St. Cyril, and a select number of other monuments in Ukraine, should form an exception to this rule. There is but one well preserved 11th century monument in Ukraine with fresco imagery - the Cathedral of St. Sofiia. There also is only one relatively well-preserved 12th century monument in Ukraine with fresco imagery - the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria. These monuments first and foremost belong to the Ukrainian people. They are also part of the cultural heritage of the entire world. Access to these structures should be restricted only on the basis of the requirements posed by their preservation. The scheduling of several church services daily in a 12th century structure, the accommodation of large crowds of faithful rubbing and leaning against the frescoes walls, the opening of door and the burning of candles, lamps, and incense is bound to damage the existing painting. The installation of other icons in the church, their removal and reinstallation, will also cause harm to the underlying images and prevent their viewing for museum visitors.

The preservation of the Orthodox heritage of Ukraine should be secured for future generations. There are other structures that can accommodate the need of faithful besides the handful of the most important medieval structures to survive in the country.

Ukrainian colleagues interested in the preservation of the Church of St. Cyril have indicated that letters sent to Ukrainian government officials may help assure the preservation of this unique monument.

Dr. Olenka Pevny is Assistant Professor of Art and Art History the University of Richmond, specializing in Late Antique, Byzantine and Medieval art history.

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I am (We are) writing to express concern regarding the preservation of Ukraine's most important 12th century monument - the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria (Kyrylivs'ka tserkva). News is reaching us that the Church of St. Cyril, which is part of the Cultural Preserve of the Cathedral of St. Sofiia is in danger of being deprived of its protective status as museum. Indications are that such a move may precipitate the endangerment of the murals by such prominent nineteenth-century artists as M. Vrubel and M. Murashko, and compromise the preservation of unique 12th century frescoes.

The Church of St. Cyril is the most important 12th century monument in Ukraine. Its medieval frescoes are unparalleled not only in terms of Kyivan Rus' visual culture, but also in the context of Middle Byzantine art. They are the only specimens of monumental 12th century Orthodox iconography to survive in the former Rus' and present Ukrainian capital city, Kyiv. Among the truly irreplaceable compositions in the church is the life cycle of the 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, St. Cyril. Images from the life of this saint constitute the only representation of the life of this church father in the world. Together with the Church of the Savior in the Mirozh Monastery in Pskov, Russia, the frescoes in the Church of St. Cyril comprise the most important examples of medieval monumental painting executed in the Byzantine tradition to survive in East Slavic territories. There are so few actual medieval monuments remaining in Ukraine and even fewer with iconographic evidence from the Kyivan Rus' period that preserving the Kyrylivs'ka tserkva must be a cultural priority.

According to colleagues in Kyiv the current crisis unfolded in the following manner. Since 1994, the Church of St. Cyril has been officially recognized as a dual-use building, that is, designated both as a historical site to be used by the public as a museum and as a church to be used for worship. The Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was allowed to hold services in the church. Since 2004 measures have been taken to allow for the ultimate transfer of the Church of St. Cyril to the Church.

In a recent church newsletter the parish priest complained about the Vrubel oil paintings not being 'iconic' enough, and expressed displeasure with caricature-like style of the frescoes prompting fears that the interior of the monument may be altered should it fall under the jurisdiction of the Church.

I (We) urge you to intervene in this matter and help protect this unique historical and cultural monument. The preservation of this monument should be a national and international priority. Its appreciation should be insured for all Ukrainians and visitors interested in learning about Ukraine's medieval past. This can only be achieved by maintaining the monuments museum status and ensuring government protection and oversight. Please help preserve the Church of St. Cyril for future generations and assure assess to this monument and its paintings for all visitors while giving priority to its preservation.


Listed below are the addresses and e-mail addresses of individuals to contact regarding this matter. Everyone interested in the preservation of Ukraine's cultural heritage is encouraged to mail letters of concern.

Yuschenko, Viktor Andriiovych
President of Ukraine
252220 Kyiv, Ukraine
vul. Bankova 11

Yanukovych, Viktor Fedorovych
Prime Minister
Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine
01008 Kyiv, Ukraine
vul. Hryshevs'koho 12/2

Oleksandr Oleksandrovych Moroz
Head of Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council)
252019 Kyiv, Ukraine
vul. Hrushevs'koho 5

Volodymyr Vasyl'ovych Rybak
Minister, Ministry of Building and Housing and Communal Services of Ukraine
01025 Kyiv, Ukraine
vul. Velyka Zhytomyrs'ka 9

Yurii Petrovych Bohyts'kyi
Minister, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine
01601 Kyiv, Ukraine
vul. Ivana Franka 19

Volodymyr Ogruzko
Director, National Commission of Ukraine for UNESCO
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
01018 Kyiv, Ukraine
Mykhailivs'ka ploshcha 1 /

His Holiness Volodymyr,
Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine
01015 Kyiv, Ukraine
vul. Sichnevoho povstannia, 25, korp. 49

Oleh Shamshur
Exraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine to the US
Embassy of Ukraine in U.S.
3350 M St., NW
Washington D.C. 20007

Mme. Françoise Rivière
Assistant-Director-General for Culture of UNESCO
2 United Nations Plaza, Rm. 900
New York, NY 10017

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