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150-year-old church paintings discovered in Ukrainian village school attic

150-year-old church paintings discovered in Ukrainian village school attic
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Hopchytsya is a small village of 1,484 inhabitants located in Pohrebyshchensky Raion, Vinnytsia Oblast. During a survey of the abandoned school attic, village employees stumbled across an amazing find – the remains of paintings of the Holy Trinity Church, which had been destroyed in the 1930s.

For years and years, rumours and tales of materials from the old village church being used to build the roof of their school had circulated among the villagers, but never had there been any concrete evidence of this.

“From archival materials, we know that questions related to new school premises were discussed at a meeting of the village council on November 20, 1926. The old dilapidated barn that used to belong to the village priest was falling apart, so it was decided to build a new school on this land. The school opened in 1930. Three more classrooms and a narrow corridor were completed in 1939.” says Mykhailo Petrenko, head of the Hopchytsya history museum.

The archival materials did not mention details of the construction itself, and which materials were used for the school roof.

At the end of October, 2017, the village elders voted to repair the old school, including village head Roman Prylutsky, the director of the local history museum Mykhailo Petrenko, and Oleksandr Salizhenko and Vladyslav Prylutsky. The surveys and repairs were coordinated with the school principal Mariya Ivanivna Zhuravlyova and the groundskeeper Vitaliy Yarema.

During the investigation of the school attic, the village team discovered old beams, wooden nails, forged metal and, most importantly, the remains of beautiful church paintings.

“First, we saw some painted beams with colourful decorations, then we discovered the icons. Some beams are painted on both sides, which indicates that they were used to separate the porch from the church, or else they were part of the altar. The oil paintings are well preserved, and we can recognize certain stories from the Bible: The Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem, The Ascension of Our Lord, and vivid images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and the apostles. We really believed that everything had disappeared without a trace and they were just old wives’ tales. These icons and paintings are over 150 years old! This is an incredible discovery for our community!” remarked Roman Prylutsky.

“First, we have to figure out how we’re going to build the new school and move all the students there. Then, we’ll start thinking about the old school building, and how to preserve the paintings. Of course, we’ll have to get a new roof. I hope that professional restorers will be able to connect all the elements and recreate the old paintings. We’ll discuss their location with the community. Maybe we can transfer these relics to our new church, or we may organize a separate exhibit in our history museum.”

According to groundskeeper Vitaliy Yarema, the survey team discovered several paintings on the floor boards.

They also found old clay dishes and kerosene lamps, which were taken to the local history museum.

“This roof survived the Second World War. The Germans turned the school into a barn and didn’t see the treasures that were hidden just under the roof.” says Mykhailo Petrenko.

History of the church: The wooden Holy Trinity church was built by a local landowner, Ivan Stefanovych Riznich in 1855. In his book – Tales from Settlements in Kyiv Province, Lavrentiy Pokhylevych also mentions a bell tower and a fortified wall, built in 1850 under village priest Mayewsky. The church had 50 acres of land, and an elementary school for the children of parishioners. Eleven boys studied in one of the classrooms for three years; they were taught by a teacher called Chumak, who had also graduated from the parochial school. The children were taught to read the Holy Bible, write and count.

Memorial book belonging to Havrylo Petrovych Dybsky, parishioner of the Holy Trinity Church, 1894. From the Dmytro Salizhenko collection; transferred to the village museum.
Memorial book belonging to Havrylo Petrovych Dybsky, parishioner of the Holy Trinity Church, 1894. From the Dmytro Salizhenko collection; transferred to the village museum.
Memorial book belonging to Havrylo Petrovych Dybsky, parishioner of the Holy Trinity Church, 1894. From the Dmytro Salizhenko collection; transferred to the village museum.
Memorial book belonging to Havrylo Petrovych Dybsky, parishioner of the Holy Trinity Church, 1894. From the Dmytro Salizhenko collection; transferred to the village museum.
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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