Uniate parish tserkva, currently serving as the Orthodox tserkva of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bielsk Podlaski
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Uniate parish tserkva, currently serving as the Orthodox tserkva of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Bielsk Podlaski

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One of the oldest surviving wooden tserkvas in the Podlasie region. An example of a building which combines the typical features of tserkva architecture (the tripartite structure) and the design of Catholic churches (the interior divided into the main nave and side aisles). Both the silhouette and the interior of the tserkva have survived with relatively few alterations; the lower section of the mid-18th century iconostasis, the main altarpiece as well as the two side altarpieces from the same period have also been preserved, with the side altarpieces now serving as icon cases.

History

The tserkva of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bielsk Podlaski was originally a castle church. In 1562, it was relocated to the town, although at that point it has also been deprived of its cathedral status. After 1596, it became a Uniate church. The existing tserkva is believed to have been built somewhere around the mid-18th century. In 1790, the so-called “pryedel” (aisle) was added on the northern side of the structure, designed to accommodate the side altarpiece of St Anne with iconostasis. In 1839, the parish returned to Orthodoxy following the dissolution of the Union of Brest. The subsequent restoration works were carried out in 1869, 1926-1929 and 1932. During World War II, the tserkva was damaged by enemy fire, with both the sanctuary and the iconostasis being partially destroyed. A comprehensive restoration was carried out in 1968; both the foundations and sill plates were replaced, as was the roof truss; the Baroque steeple was removed, with a bulbous cupola installed in its place. In the years 2001-2006, a sacristy was added to the southern chancel façade; the weatherboard cladding was replaced, as was the sheet metal cladding and cupola above the nave. A similar cupola was added above the chancel, while the structure of the wall separating the nave and the vestibule was modified through the addition of a trio of entrances.

Description

The building is located on the eastern side of Jagiellońska street; it is surrounded by a fenced cemetery and accompanied by a wooden bell tower. The tserkva is oriented towards the east. It was designed in the Baroque style.

The tserkva is a tripartite structure consisting of a number of rectangular sections: the chancel flanked by a pair of sacristies, the nave and the two-storey vestibule. The nave - the tallest part of the entire structure - is covered with a gable roof with broad eaves and a jerkin head up front, with a small cupola positioned on top of a shaft rising from the roof ridge providing the finishing touch. The chancel, lower than the nave, features a three-sided roof topped with another cupola and is flanked by two auxiliary annexes covered with shed roofs. The lower level of the vestibule is taller and wider than the upper one and separated by a broad skirt roof. The upper storey features a gable roof which reaches all the way to the jerkin head of the nave roof. The entrance is preceded by a gable rooflet supported by a pair of pillars. The entrance in the northern façade as well as the northern sacristy door are likewise protected by gable rooflets.

The tserkva is a wooden log structure positioned atop a brick foundation. The walls are reinforced with vertical supports and covered with wooden boards inside and out. The roofs are covered with sheet metal, with the cladding of the cupolas designed to imitate gold. The tserkva features wooden floors and flat ceilings. The windows and doors are made of wood.

The façades are divided by a horizontal cornice which runs at about one-third of their height. The weatherboards are positioned horizontally below the cornice, while those above the cornice follow a vertical arrangement. The corners are covered with decorative boards with an undulating outline. The boards running beneath the eaves feature decorative, serrated edges. The windows are framed with wooden surrounds and adorned with fretwork window headers and sills. The same type of decoration is also carried over to the gable of the porch which precedes the front entrance.

The three-nave interior is divided by three pairs of quadrangular pillars. The chancel is separated from the rest of the interior by the iconostasis. The organ gallery above the entrance features an overhanging balcony. The windows are adorned with fretwork window headers and sills. The northern auxiliary room houses a side altarpiece preceded by an iconostasis.

The interior fixtures and fittings include a four-layer iconostasis consisting of two distinct parts - the lower section with the Holy Doors, dating back to the mid-18th century, as well as the three upper rows which are a modern addition. The main altarpiece and the two side altarpieces likewise date back to the mid-18th century, although they now serve as icon cases. There are also two additional icon cases designed in the Russian-Byzantine style, most likely dating back to the 19th century, with one of them incorporating the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, believed to originate from the 16th century.

The building is open to visitors.

compiled by Grażyna Rogala, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Białystok, 18-12-2014.

Bibliography

  • Jaroszewicz J., Miasto Bielsk, Studziwody 2007, pp. 107-111.
  • Maroszek J., Katolicy-unici w Bielsku podlaskim w latach 1596-1839, [in:] Bielsk Podlaski. Studia i materiały do dziejów miasta, Bielsk Podlaski 1999, pp. 31-82.
  • Mazuruk K., Fionik D., Bielsk Podlaski. Miasto pogranicza, Białystok 2004.
  • Sosna G., Fionik D., Dzieje cerkwi w Bielsku Podlaskim, Białystok 1995, pp. 75-96.
  • Zieleniewski J., Powstanie i rozwój układu przestrzennego Bielska Podlaskiego w XIV-XVIII wieku, “Studia Podlaskie”, vol. I, pp. 47-70.
  • http://www.bielsk-hodigitria.pl/

General information

  • Type: tserkva
  • Chronology: poł. XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Jagiellońska , Bielsk Podlaski
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district bielski, commune Bielsk Podlaski (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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