Architects in shadow of king
Volchin is a small town in the Brest Region’s Kamenets District. Here, the last Polish King, Stanisław August Poniatowski, was born, and his mother, Konstancja Czartoryska’s, former residence was situated. Sadly, the mansion was severely destroyed during past wars, but the local Roman Catholic Church, which is a true architectural pearl, has a chance of revival.
By Irina Mikhalyuk
Game of fate
In the 1990s, the Volchin Roman Catholic Church was placed on Belarus’ List of Historical-Cultural Heritage and, in late 2007, it was assigned to the ownership of Pinsk’s Eparchy of the Roman Catholic Church. The building may have probably continued falling into ruin, even under the Pope’s guidance but, in mid-2013, Polish restorer, Wiktor Wilk, paid it special attention. This is truly a game of fate. Wilk means ‘wolf’ in Polish, and the specialist arrived in Volchin, which comes from the Russian word ‘volk’ and also means ‘wolf’.
This is not Mr. Wilk’s first visit to Belarus. He’s already restored Minsk’s Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, and repaired Pinsk’s Franciscan Monastery and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary’s Dormition. In the past, the specialist graduated from the Krakow Polytechnic University’s Architectural Department and has worked on restoration objects worldwide.
The Volchin Roman Catholic Church already has a new roof and a tower with a clock above. A fragment of the former clock-face and an hour hand were unearthed on the site, making it possible to almost precisely restore the clock, which was truly unique. Its 1.42m face was guided by four cardinal directions and was visible from any side. Meanwhile, a modern electronic mechanism was installed, and the clock has a different strike for each 30 and 60 minutes (from 6am to 10pm).
In the summer, a figurine of the evangelist Johann was erected on the roof. In the past, four figurines (representing the New Testament authors) stood there, but three of them fell and shattered. Belarusian sculptor, Nikolay Andreev, managed to restore the surviving figure of Johann.
On June 15th, 1938, a tin coffin, with the last Polish King’s remains, arrived in Volchin. Stanisław August Poniatowski had returned to his homeland. Historians believe he had a tragic fate, but his contemporaries viewed him as a king-reformer. During his rule the 1791 Constitution was adopted, which was the first major law of the kind in Europe. However, the Russian Empress, Yekaterina II’s support was fateful. Under her influence, Stanislaw became King August II, but he also demised under Yekaterina’s pressure (as Rzech Pospolita was thrice split during her rule). Stanisław died outside his native land in 1797, but, in the 1930s, the Soviet authorities suggested that Poland should take the coffin, with his ashes, back. As a result, he was moved to Volchin which was then a part of Poland. Local residents say that the coffin was accompanied by his crown, sabre, raincoat and a box carrying his embalmed heart, all of which were then walled into a crypt. In 1945, the Roman Catholic Church was closed but, forty years later the re-discovered remains of the coffin, raincoat and other belongings were moved to Warsaw for a symbolic reburial.
Interestingly, Belarus and Poland have injected no funds in restoring the Volchin Roman Catholic Church, as all works are possible due to private donations and money from European foundations specially established to protect and revive historical monuments. Mr. Wilk complains that around 70 percent of his time is devoted to the search for money. In the meantime, this restoration needs a systematic approach. Modern construction principles, when works can be delayed for a couple of years at a time, don’t work here. Despite this, the specialist believes he will fully realise all his goals.