I was in The Library of Congress archives looking for a picture to illustrate a post I was working on and I came across these photographs of the incredible interior of the Church of Elijah the Prophet in Yaroslavl, Russia.
This spectacular church was built 1647-1650 by brothers Anikey and Nifantey Skripin, who were extremely wealthy traders in Siberian furs. The merchants of Yaroslavl vied with each other in bestowing the city with elaborate churches built not only for the honor of God but also for the prestige of the family who commissioned the structure.
[T]he frescoed murals that were commissioned in 1680 by Ulita Makarova, the widow of Nifantey Skripin. They were painted by a team of 15 people headed by Guriy Nikitin and Sila Savin and they depict not only the life of Elijah the Prophet but also show domestic life in 17th century Russia with scenes from everyday life showing birds, animals, weddings, hunting and everyday work. One of the best preserved murals shows peasants working at harvest. This is a break-through, as earlier it was not allowed to illustrate peasants’ work on the walls of rich temples. These murals have been cleaned but have never been repainted .
The denseness of the decoration suggests to me a feeling almost of desperation to get it all down, to not leave anything out that someone later might think important.
It’s a little surprising to find some photos in the collection with a person’s body part accidentally intruding into the frame, but it’s a nice reminder that occasional cluelessness in pointing the camera lens is in fact universal through all strata of society.
The photographer, William Craft Brumfield, is a Professor of Slavic studies at Tulane University and also lectures at TU’s School of Architecture. He is the author and photographer of a number of works on Russian architecture and has numerous other publications on Russian architecture, photography, and literature.
The photo “interior, southwest corner” is a bit disorienting to look at but is a view pretty impressive and pretty much straight up.
Elijah the Prophet is deeply embedded in Russia’s religious and cultural history.
An interesting article I found describes just how deep Elijah goes:
According to ancient Russian folk belief, thunder is produced by Elijah’s chariot as it rumbles across the clouds and the fiery prophet flings down lightning bolts to remind mortals of the Last Judgment. Thunder, fire and lightning were believed to be the special provenance of Elijah, and people expected a thunderstorm each year on Elijah’s feast day (July 20, Old Style).
The author of the article goes on to talk about Dostoevsky‘s use of Elijah imagery and this particular Church of Elijah the Prophet in Crime and Punishment. I found this article about Dostoevsky and Kant also interesting.
I encourage you to click on the link and read further about Elijah in Russian life. It’s interesting stuff.
In the picture below (“interior, west gallery, west portal”), you can see one half of a double lace ironwork door in an open position on the door frame on the left of the photo.
The practical nature of the door is in sharp contrast to the phantasmagorical frescoes. Seeing that door closed in my mind’s eye, I more readily imagine people being at home there.
While the Russians were building the Church of Elijah the Prophet, Peter Stuyvesant was made director-general of the Dutch colonial province New Netherland and the Rhode Island Colony was formed by the merging of the four English settlements in Portsmouth, Newport,Warwick and Providence. That same year the Rhode Island Colony’s General Assembly drafted a constitution with separation of church and state a governing principle.
Pre-Americans were making a break with the past while Russians were continuing to make large monuments to very old and very traditional ideas. Now we are finding it difficult to make a break from somewhat old and somewhat traditional ideas.
These decorated walls bring to mind the body of a person thickly and completely covered in tattoos.