Sacred Spaces: The Churches of Kizhi Pogost

Photo by MatthiasKabel. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Located just 300 miles northeast of St. Petersburg in Russia’s Lake Onega is Kizhi Island, home to two of Russia’s most unique and impressive churches: the Church of the Transfiguration and Church of the Intercession.

Kizhi is home to over 80 wooden structures, but the most spectacular – the Churches of Transfiguration and Intercession – reside in the Kizhi Pogost enclosure.  The Pogost is also home to an 18th century octagonal, wooden clock tower.  “These unusual constructions, in which carpenters created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate an ancient model of parish space and are in harmony with the surrounding landscape.”

“Built side-by-side, the 22-dome Church of the Transfiguration and the nine-dome Intercession Church both seem to gleam silver in the sun. But it’s a trick of the light: each structure is made entirely of interlocking wood, with no metal involved — not even a single nail.”  These two churches stand as a testament to the impressive skills of their builders. Both structures were erected from fitted logs with interlocking corners.

Inside the Church of the Transfiguration. Photo by MatthiasKabel. Via Wikimedia Commons

The Church of the Transfiguration was completed in 1714 (it replaced an earlier church that was burnt by lightning).  Although a replacement, it was built in honor of Peter the Great’s recent victory over Sweden.  This was used as a “summer church” on the island as it had no heating (and Russian winters are notoriously brutal).  According to legend, Master Nestor used only an axe to build it.  Upon completion, he is said to have thrown the axe into Lake Onega, declaring that there will never be another one to match it.

Later, in 1764, the Church of the Intercession was built.  With “[i]ts elegant crown of eight cupolas[,]” it served as the island’s “winter church.”

“In the 19th century, the churches was decorated with batten and some parts were covered with steel. Some of the original iconostasis was also replaced and lost. It was restored to its original design in the 1950s.” “In spite of these interventions, the structures have not been significantly reconstructed and have preserved a substantial part of the original elements and material.”  In 1990, the Kizhi Pogost was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tour the Kizhi Pogost

National Geographic has a wonderful video tour of the Kizhi Pogost and the interiors of the Churches.  Check out the video below or click here to view directly on YouTube.

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow)

Main image: Eloquent Light/Creative Commons. Via
Kizhi Pogost –
The Intricate Wooden Churches of Kizhi Island –
Kizhi Pogost: 300 Years Old Multi-Dome Church Built Without Nails –
The Churches of Kizhi: Russia’s Sacred Island –
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