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UNITY WITHIN DIVERSITY

The area comprising the south-eastern region of Poland (with parts of the Małopolskie and Podkarpackie provinces), the north-eastern region of the Slovakian Carpathians and part of Ukraine, has long fascinated people with its mosaic culture typical of borderland areas. Here the Catholic Latin West met the Byzantine Orthodox East. This has always been an area of diverse ethnicities.

The meeting of the two civilizations initially resulted in mutual isolation. It was particularly intense on religious ground, on account of reciprocal dislike of the western and eastern churches. This found reflection in clear differences in religious painting and architecture; Catholic churches were modeled after Roman basilicas (two-part structures with a single- or multi-aisle body and a presbytery), whereas religious architecture of Ruthenia was based on Byzantine tradition with its typical three-part layout.

However, with time, and especially in the modern era, the two cultures started to blend, which left traces in the beautiful architecture of wooden churches of both rites. A typical for the Polish-Ukrainian frontier phenomenon of Latinization of Greek Catholic churches occurred and Latin churches started following eastern models.

With the intense settlement in the highlands of Poland and Slovakia between the 14th and 17th centuries, and particularly in the 16th c., Orthodox Ruthenians and Wallachians appeared. That shepherd community later became settled, forming the well-known ethnographic groups of Lemkos and Boykos.

The Lemkos, also called the Rusnaks, were a group of Ruthenian highlanders living in the Low Beskids and the Oslava valley in the east and a part of the Sącz Beskids reaching as far as the Poprad valley in the west.

The Boykos were highlanders from the Bieszczady mountains living in the northern part of the Eastern Carpathians, from the source of the River San up to the Limnitsa in Ukraine. In the east their settlements bordered with the Hutsuls.

The evidence of the Lemko and Boyko religiousness are beautiful wooden churches built according to strict rules. Originally the churches were not much different from the Orthodox wooden churches of Red Ruthenia. However with time, especially from the second half of the 17th c., the Lemko church tops took the form of hipped roofs crowned with slender onion-shaped domes with pseudo-lanterns, which was a reference to Latin steeples. The three-part solids started to obtain steeples with upper floors which served also as belfries, like in Roman Catholic churches. From then on steeples were an inseparable element of Uniate churches built in the Eastern Carpathians. In the architecture of the Lemko churches from the areas of the Sącz Beskids, the Low Beskids and Slovakia several types can be distinguished:

- the north-western one: three-part structures on a square plan, a large steeple with sloping walls, often with an annex. The churches were covered with tent roofs topped with bulbous cupolas;

- the southern one: apparently two-part structures where the presbytery and the nave are covered with tent-like rooftops. The steeple with vertical walls sits on the framework of the women’s room, not directly on the ground;

- the north-eastern one: two- and three-part structures, whose solid was often elongated by attaching a sacristy to the presbytery or a vestibule to the galilee; what is characteristic is that particular parts of the church are of even height and are covered with a pitched roof with splendid bulbous cupolas;

- the common and declining one: three-part structures with a steeple in the west, the nave and the presbytery covered with a pitched roof with bulbous cupolas. These were built particularly in the late 18th and in the 19th centuries.

In the Boyko churches, especially in the central part of the Boyko land, a characteristic style of piling up tent roofs resembling Chinese pagodas was developed. Perhaps the point was to harmonize the towering domes with the high mountain peaks among which they were erected.

Another ethnographic group of the Carpathian Plateau were the Pogórzanie (“the plateau people”). They were people of Polish origin mixed with German and Ruthenian-Wallachian settlers. They were a transitional group between the highlanders and the lowlanders.

Beside them a group called Dolinianie (“the valley people”) developed, of Polish-Ruthenian origin, inhabiting valleys around the towns of Sanok, Bukowsko and Lesko.

In the area of the Carpathian Plateau inhabited by the Pogórzanie the majority of wooden churches were Roman Catholic ones. The first of them were built as early as in the 15th century. They had walls of framework structure where the presbytery closed with a three-sided apse was connected to an almost-square nave. The steeples were attached somewhat later. Among the oldest churches of this kind are the ones in Hańczów, Blizne, Golcowa, Domaradz, Humniska and Iwonicz (the last converted in the second half of the 19th c.) The most beautiful of the extant 16th-c. ones can be seen in Trzcinica, Święcany, Binarowa, Sękowa and Libusza. Four of them have been registered as the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The diversity of styles has found reflection in the Pope John Paul II Ecumenical Culture Centre in the Myczkowce Caritas complex. It is a park of wooden architecture miniatures, exhibiting models of churches of both rites. One of the aims of creating the park was to show the diversity of styles of the rich wooden religious architecture, typical of particular ethnic groups in the area of today’s Polish-Slovakian-Ukrainian borderland.

That particular site was opened and consecrated on 16 October 2007 in the 29th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s election to the Holy See. It proudly bears the name of that great advocate of all-Christian reconciliation.

In the area of ca. 0.8 ha, on 10 hills, one hundred and forty 1:25 models of the oldest wooden churches (Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Orthodox) from south-eastern Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine have been placed. The models were made by a team led by Mr Janusz Kulig, a craftsman from Chmielnik near Rzeszów, and the land architecture was prepared by Mr Norbert Piekarski from Blizne. The exhibition is complete with religious music and songs, appropriate for particular religious and ethnic groups, and with a commentary in several languages available at the information point.

Displaying miniatures of religious architectural styles is a return to the past. Besides, the original wooden religious architecture is so frail, considering the recent fires of churches in Opaka, Komańcza and Libusza, that it is definitely worth preserving in this form.

Another reason for creating the Ecumenical Culture Centre (ECC) is an attempt to look back in a different way, especially in this difficult area of the Bieszczady mountains where social and political antagonisms used to translate into religion. The Bieszczady apart from educational and tourist values have a very complex and painful history which still leaves marks on the lives of the few ethnic inhabitants. In those who were forced to leave the land of their fathers after the Second World War, the memory of home evokes nostalgia, yearning and inconsolable grief. Often the sense of injustice due to the compulsory displacement arouses anger and reluctance towards those who took over their land. That turbulent past was often presented in a one-sided and biased way.

The task before the ECC seems then to promote a different outlook: that above everything which divided us, above all the problematic historical events true love should eventually reign. There can be no unity without Love. Let that Love be the fundament of all human relations then. All guests to the ECC are reminded of this truth by the inscription over the main gate: LET LOVE ENCOMPASS ALL.

The present generations have an obligation to preserve the disappearing cultures in memory and search for common grounds for dialogue, agreement and respect. That was also the aim of the academic session which accompanied the opening of the ECC. The following topics were raised:

- history of the church in the Polish-Slovakian-Ukrainian borderland;

- dialogue of the sister Catholic and Orthodox churches;

- ethnographic and cultural diversity of the area.

The idea of community beyond divisions has been implemented in the Caritas Centre for Recreation and Rehabilitation in Myczkowce, known as “the Love Town”. It organizes holidays for Ukrainian and Belarusian children, many of whom are of Orthodox or Greek Catholic faith. Games and picnics with Polish children are combined with lessons of history, culture, religion and tradition. The unique atmosphere of the Pope John Paul II Ecumenical Culture Centre favours creating true unity and ecumenism based on mutual understanding without prejudice or stereotype, and most of all on true Love.