In addition, I also introduced AN, a longtime resident of Petrozhavodsk who has revisited the site several times across the decades. Let’s continue.
It’s easy to imagine a site such as Kizhi Pogost being conceived as it now stands; appearing on the island as a complete project without precedent.
It seems solid, durable, and intricately designed enough to be someone’s grand plan, at least on first glance. That’s our perspective as tourists, though the generally messiness of history has other viewpoints.
Tracing Kizhi’s true origins leads back to ancient, pagan Karelia, completely at odds with the location’s later theistic role. There, slavic tribes gathered to celebrate their rites until the Christian church took hold under the patronage of Vladimir 1st.
The modus operandi of incoming Christianity was to acknowledge that sacred locations and ceremonies are too ingrained within the lives of the heathen populace to be erased, so instead, processes of over-writing and modification are employed.
A newly converted congregation can still celebrate during the winter solstice, but now the event is called ‘Christmas’ and dedicated to the birth of Christ – though his birth is highly unlikely to have occurred at that time.
Similarly, former pagans can continue to visit and worship at their familiar sites; but now they will find a church built there instead of monuments to the old gods.
So it was with Kizhi, though the name remains a clue to its purpose in that ancient era. “Kizhat” in the region’s archaic dialect translates to “social gatherings” – a term that is somewhat euphemistic, incomplete and tantalisingly suggestive, all at the same time. Just what did occur there?
Look, no nails
One of the often repeated facts about Kizhi is that it was built without the use of nails to secure construction. In this it represents the crowning achievement of traditional russian woodworking methods and the skills of those who employed them.
In simple terms, the structure relies upon the strength of interlocking wooden beams held in place under their own weight. Nails were a relatively expensive commodity in any case, being hand forged throughout most of their history.
It was only in the early 1700s that tentative processes of bulk nail manufacture started to appear, about the same time that the altar in Kizhi’s largest Church of the Transfiguration was laid (1714). Even this date does not provide a true insight into Kizhi Pogost’s origin, however – as we’ll see below.
Additionally, can also question the wisdom of using nails of the period in any case; the expansion and contraction of wood over the seasons would have been completely at odds with the metal employed, aside from issues of corrosion. Metalwork does however play an important role in Kizhi’s maintenance, as the World Monuments Fund states:-
“…The remarkable longevity of wooden architecture depends on the periodic replacement of decaying timber elements. Thanks to regular repairs, the Church of the Transfiguration survived into the twentieth century …a steel scaffold had to be erected in its interior to protect the building from collapse.”
Essentially, the church now has a metal skeleton, leading to the removal of the external scaffolding that embraced the exterior during recent years..”
Lost to time
The earliest reference to a religious pogost (compound) on Kizhi dates to 1496 and refers to two churches plus a nearby bell tower. The date of this medieval assembly’s completion (or inception) is unknown.
Even if we knew it, perhaps an earlier structure existed on the same site beforehand? This is often the case with sites of religious importance. The earliest date that we can speculate on, for any post-pagan place of worship, would be circa 900 AD; when Christianity had already arrived in Russia -and looked like it was going to stay.
More next time.