As you see lonely bare white walls of the Orthodox church room, high up to the sky ceiling and left wooden footprints of icon frames you may easily build up in imagination a picture of this holy place former glory. I bet you’d look at that with no thought in your head but with a light dizziness in it. So massive, old, lost in time and not taken care of.
Spasskya church, 56 kilometers away from Kirov city (Russia) welcomes everyone standing gracefully just a bit aside of the main road connecting two big Russian cities – Kirov and Kazan. Built in 1692 the church itself used to be Oshet village centre – place of enlightenment with Zemstvo schools nearby and Sunday preachings it gathered and united people of that far land.
However before we get carried away with some marvelous historical facts let’s take a moment and have a look at the church itself. A place which we can safely say has been a portal through centuries.
Obviously back when it was just built – the end of the XVII century – it was a wooden church with only bricked altar base. Built out of love to God with sweat, money and true faith of sexton Dmitriy Vasnetsov. A man who was sent to the Oshet land to bring enlightenment and spread faith among people. It was he who dedicated his life to build a strong connection between the people and the church. Since then the Vasnetzov dynasty – old and famous in Russia and beyond – is tightly connected to the history of the church in particular and Russian history at large. 4 generations of Dmitriy descendants worked hard and tirelessly to make the village wealthier and its people more enlightened.
However it was only in 1742 when the church was rich enough to afford expensive reconstruction work – it was decided to replace it with a brink one and extend it by building a “warm temple” so it could be heated during severe Russian winter.
The Vasnetzov dynasty over two and a half centuries built two churches – one with wood and another built with brick, furthermore 4 schools and accommodations for peasants and church clerks were also added to the complex. The Vasnetzovs were a part of life of every single inhabitant: baptizing newborns, leading wedding ceremonies and burialling lated ones. Nowadays this name is worldwide famous thanks to two sibling artists – Viktor and Appolinarii Vasnetzov, whose ancestral nest is Oshet. Their dynasty sadly was forced to leave it in 1935 due to upcoming world changing events. And that was a crutial moment in history when the tight bound connection between the church and the dynasty was broken up. It would be years and years passed until one of this famous family sets a foot on this land again.
During dark years of Second World War when Russian leaders of that time turned back on the religion a great amount of old churches with unique basilicas were either destroyed or converted.
Spasskaya church suffered beastly, the bells were thrown down from the bell towers so anxiously that you may still see the hole. Beautiful iconostas of rare icons were barbarically stolen leaving behind lonely wooden icon frames.
Though, the severe irretrievable damage was yet to come. It happened during the years when it was converted to a warehouse of mineral fertilizer. Frescoes and wall paintings were “eaten” by the chemical elements.
By 1975 the destruction of not only the church but the village itself reached its high peak. Masses of people left their homes and headed to the city leaving their land drained with no hope for better perspective. Everything was massively abandoned. Decades passed until step by step the reconstruction work had started. In Spring 2001 local inhabitants and activists began the restoration of the church. With neither governmental help nor any sponsorship they cleaned the place out of massive piles of rubbish, built the door, made floor and fixed the roof.
Currently the situation is as follows the church is not registered to any of the nearby big city eparchies therefore it has neither outside financial income nor federal support. It is fully maintained by the local community which contains no more than 30 individuals mostly in their late fifties. However these people are active and driven by the passion to the place, which, as they believe, has a natural power to enchant and steal a part of heart so that people keep coming back to it.
That’s exactly what happened with one family – once visiting it stayed for good. Svetlana Shilova, an activist, owner of local eco-farm and Oshet lover at her heart, curiously studied the history of the village and fearlessly began working with such abandoned legacy.
Nowadays with a smile on her face this lady dedicates all her energy to restore back the fame of the village. She promotes it by giving tours: introducing the history of Vasnetsov dynasty, the church and the village itself. Her project “Vasnetzov paths” is highly successful and deeply valued. In 2012 It won mayor grand and thanks to this financial help it was possible to restore and reconstruct some things in the church complex and beyond.
Though, the complete restoration work is evaluated by enormous sum of money, there is a strong hope among inhabitants that one day the church will work at its former strength. So far when it looks unreachable the main task for locals as they see it is to preserve as best as they can and as much as they can.
The story of this place is terrifying though it is a pretty typical scenario of religious monuments across the country. Russia has been through severe years of revolution, Soviet regime and unstable years after it collapsed.
The core of this story still is not the bitterness of the situation but people who have chosen to get over it.
And that’s far more treasured.
Photo credit: Dmitry Lopnev
Special thanks to Svetlana Shilova for providing all necessary information.
Feel free to visit Oshet village site to go deeper in the topic