Uniate parish tserkva, currently serving as the Orthodox parish tserkva of St Michael the Archangel, Bielsk Podlaski
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Uniate parish tserkva, currently serving as the Orthodox parish tserkva of St Michael the Archangel

Bielsk Podlaski

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The tserkva is one of the few surviving Uniate churches designed on an octagonal plan, located in the vicinity of Orla and Bielsk Podlaski and erected in the second half of the 18th century. Despite the extension works which altered the appearance of the tserkva throughout the ages, its 18th-century main body and lower section of the bell tower have survived intact.

History

The first documented mentions of the Orthodox parish of St Michael dates back to the year 1563, although it seems certain that the parish must have existed well before that date. Soon afterwards, the parish tserkva attained the status of a cathedral, previously enjoyed by the tserkva of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At that point, its name was changed to that of the tserkva of the Epiphany. After 1596, the parish adopted the Union of Brest and the tserkva became a Greek Catholic (Uniate) church, even though disputes as to confession continued to rage well into the first half of the 17th century. In the 1770s, the tserkva returned to its former name - the church of St Michael. The present church was built in 1789 and was accompanied by a masonry bell tower. In 1834, an iconostasis was installed inside the tserkva; five years later, the parish converted back to Orthodox Christianity. In the years 1860s, a number of renovation works were carried out, including the cupola and roof repairs, replacement of the floorboards, the wooden ceiling cladding as well as the window and door joinery. A pair of side iconostases was added, while the main iconostasis was replaced by a new one in 1875. In 1878, the interior was redesigned in the Russian-Byzantine style; the alteration works performed at that point included the addition of decorative wooden wall cladding, ornate window sills and headers as well as sumptuous embellishment of the choir gallery. The bell tower rising above the vestibule, added in the years 1913-1915, was designed in the same style. Subsequent renovation works were carried out in 1926 and 1936. The brick bell tower was demolished in the 1960s. In the years 1987-1989, a trio of new chancels was added to the tserkva, their design being the work of Aleksander Grygorowicz.

Description

The tserkva is situated on the eastern side of Mickiewicza street; it is surrounded by a fenced cemetery. The building is oriented towards the east. It was designed in the eclectic style.

Its silhouette consists of a few distinct sections, namely the octagonal nave, the three-storey bell tower with vestibule as well as three pentagonal chancels connected by an ambulatory which also incorporates a small vestibule. The nave is covered by an eight-sided roof surmounted by a cupola positioned atop a polygonal tholobate. The two lower sections of the bell tower are designed on a quadrangular plan, while the uppermost storey is octagonal in shape and features an eight-sided spire surmounted by a small cupola. The entrance is protected from the elements by a small gable roof. The chancels take the form of polygonal turrets, with the middle one also being the tallest; they are covered with pyramid-shaped roofs surmounted by small cupolas. The ambulatory is covered by a multi-pitched roof with projecting eaves.

The nave and the bell tower are wooden log structures positioned on brick foundations, their walls reinforced with wooden clamps; the chancels and the ambulatory are made of brick. The roofs - including the cupolas - are covered with sheet metal. Both the outer and the inner surfaces of the walls are clad with weatherboards. The nave and the bell tower feature wooden ceilings and floors, while the chancels and the ambulatory come equipped with fire-resistant ceilings. The windows and doors are made of wood; the bell tower features wooden window shutters.

The lower section of the façades features a socle separated from the rest of the walls by a wooden cornice; this section of the walls is clad with horizontally positioned weatherboards and adorned with panels featuring a Greek cross motif set against the background of a rhombus. Above the wall base, the walls are covered with weatherboards forming a herringbone pattern which extends all the way to the eaves, with the corners of the structure being clad with vertically positioned boards. The window openings are rectangular in shape, mostly adorned with decorative surrounds with window sills and headers. The walls of the ambulatory are punctuated by a row of small, segment-headed windows. The boards running beneath the eaves feature decorative, serrated edges. The walls of the nave and the bell tower are partitioned by vertical supports designed to look like columns. The second storey of the bell tower features a vertical weatherboard cladding, with an alternating arrangement of weatherboards - horizontal and vertical - used for the third storey. The corners are clad with vertical boards, while the rectangular bell openings are concealed beneath wooden shutters.

The interior is divided by six quadrangular posts arranged in two rows and supporting the flat ceiling above. The walls of the nave are clad with weatherboards arranged in a herringbone pattern, whereas those of the chancel feature a vertical arrangement. The windows are framed with wooden surrounds and adorned with fretwork window headers and sills. Similar decorative flourishes are also present around the doorway leading from the vestibule to the nave. The aperture between the choir gallery and the nave is partitioned by decorative pillars and features a panelled parapet.

The fixtures and fittings include a trio of 19th-century iconostases.

The building is open to visitors.

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

Bibliography

  • Jaroszewicz J., Miasto Bielsk, Studziwody 2007, pp. 111-117.
  • Mazuruk K., Fionik D., Bielsk Podlaski. Miasto pogranicza, Białystok 2004.
  • Sosna G., Fionik D., Dzieje cerkwi w Bielsku Podlaskim, Białystok 1995, pp. 121-147.
  • Zieleniewski J., Powstanie i rozwój układu przestrzennego Bielska Podlaskiego w XIV-XVIII wieku, “Studia Podlaskie”, vol. I, pp. 47-70.

General information

  • Type: tserkva
  • Chronology: 1789 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Mickiewicza , Bielsk Podlaski
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district bielski, commune Bielsk Podlaski (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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