Lost and newly acquired city church

Zamkovaya Church — Minsk’s oldest church building — came to light only last century
By Valentina Smirnova

In 1944, during archaeological digs in the eastern part of Minsk Citadel, archaeologists discovered the stone foundations of a small church. Amazingly, the site is unmentioned by ancient chronicles and city acts — most probably because it was never finished.

Construction began between 1069 and 1073 and, according to famous Belarusian historian and archaeologist Eduard Zagorulsky, finished no later than 1071-1085. Minsk itself was first mentioned in the Tale of Bygone Years in 1067, so the site is likely to have been the first stone church in Minsk. Built in the centre of the city, it should have become its architectural basis and a major sight and would have been unique in its construction, being unrivalled across Ancient Rus.

The church’s construction began before Minsk belonged to the Polotsk dukes, so its architectural features are unconnected with the traditions of Polotsk masters in any way. The church would have measured 16 x 12m (triapsidal) and would have had four pillars, with walls and foundations made from cobblestones, covered with lime mortar. Its walls were to have been up to 1.5m thick and the stone would have been lined inside with lime brick tiles.

However, it seems that the church walls reached only 1m in width, so some problems may have arisen. Probably, endless civil discord halted construction. However, that which had been assembled remained intact until the mid-12th century, used as a burial site: investigations unearthed 21 wooden coffins and bodies. By the first half of the 13th century, the church foundations had also fallen into ruin, and a wooden, paved road had been constructed above.

The stone foundations are located near the top of Minsk’s Pobediteley Avenue, at a depth of 1.5m: a memorial plaque has been installed on the spot.
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