Monday, April 5, 2010

A place to experience in the Northern Russia.

I first visited Kenozyorsky National Park almost by accident. Ten years ago I went into a photo expedition driving away from my home in Bryansky forest towards Karelia, where I wanted to see Lake Vodlozero.
I was driving custom-made motor home that I specifically prepared for this type of expeditions. And by the time of the third sunset on the road I was somewhere on a historic route between old Russian towns Kargopol (in Arkhangelsk Oblast) and Pudozh (in Republic of Karelia). It was not far from my final destination, only four hours of driving, but it was getting late, so I opened my road map to see where I can stop for the night.

As it turned out my current location was very close to Kenozyorsky National Park - I stopped almost on its border. In several minutes I drove into a historic village Orlovo on the banks of the Lake Lekshmozero. Bright sunset colors reflecting in a mirrorlike calm waters of huge lake... large, ancient fur trees on the banks... Northern peasant houses build from logs, naturally blending with the environment... It was the first "white night" I have ever experienced - so I was overwhelmed with new emotions. (White night, a night of the midnight sun, on which it never gets completely dark, in these latitudes it was twilight all through the night).

Of course, as a result, I never made it to my original destination, Lake Vodlozero, till now. And I do regret that. But on the other hand I discovered the land of Kenozyorje. The fairytale like land of northern forests and lakes, where in the first part of XIX century many of the traditional Russian oral epic narrative poems (Byliny) were recorded. Here there still live people who remember those poems, learned not from books but from their grand parents.

Kenozyorsky National Park is located in the south-west of Arkhangelsk region. There are appoximately 300 lakes in the park, the largest of which are Kenozero with surface area 35 sq mi (9,000 ha) and Lekshmozero - 21 sq mi (5,400 ha). Humans have been living on the shores of these lakes for long time. Kenozero, despite its large surface area, does not feel like a huge lake. Its surface is covered with tens of large and small islands and the shoreline is sinuous - therefore it is not perceived as a single lake, but rather several connected. The second, smaller in size, Leshkmozero really looks just like a sea - the opposite shore is barely visible even on a clear day.

Slavic people appeared in this area almost a thousand years ago. Here they met Finno-Ugric tribes and Scandinavians, whom they called Chudi, that meant queer and strange people. Novgorodians came across the Ken Portage on their path to the North; this portage connected basins of Baltic and White seas. Slavs brought agriculture to this northern region, and the current landscape was formed: cozy villages at the waterfront, large crop and hay fields on the surrounding hills, dark-green silhouettes of “sacred” groves, heritage of the pagan times, pine forests on the numerous capes, ancient road crosses at the road intersections… And, famous wooden chapels…

Nikolskaya chapel (beginning of XIX century) in Vershnino.

Chapels are different from churches. They don't have altar, so the liturgy cannot be served there. The chapels are intended for reading of “hours”, the prayers and psalms tied to a specific time of day. Anyone, who has sufficient resources, can build a chapel; there is no need for permission from the bishop as it is needed for the church construction. Most of the chapels in Kenozero region are built in XVIII-XIX centuries “by the will of the local people”. Up to this day local people exhibit similar will: there is a new chapel in Misa village build less than 10 years ago. Nowhere in Russia can you find such a concentration and variety of wooden chapels as in Kenozerje. There are 35 ancient chapels saved in the region, but there used to be 65!

Chapels remain active spiritual centers of the villages of Kenozerje up to this day; this is what helped them to survive the harsh XX century. Local people were secretly renewing rotten roofs and were protecting the interior objects. In 1970s the government started a program of transporting the most interesting landmarks of wooden architecture to the museum of Malye Kareli near Archangelsk. It was ruining the chapels; they were taken away from the landscape they were built for, from the people who served in them, from “sacred” groves that surrounded them over centuries. These chapels were converted to soulless museum pieces.

People of Zikhnovo village managed to save their John the Apostle chapel, build in XVII by their ancestors, from the museum workers: “Even the helicopter landed that was supposed to transport the church, but we defended it”. In 1998-1999 this chapel was carefully restored by national park. The last resident of Mamont island, 100 years old Nikolay Fillipovich Nozhkin, was the churchwarden of the Elijah the Prophet chapel over the course of fourty years. He tried to fight for his chapel to be left in its original place, but it was moved and the old churchwarden died soon afterwards. Now his daughter, Pelageya Nikonalevna Nozhkina, is a churchwarden of Nikolskaya chapel in Verchinino.

Pelageya Nikonalevna Nozhkina.

Chapels were not favored not only during the Soviet times: in 1707, during Peter the Great reign, the building of wooden chapels was forbidden. However, in faraway northern lands, where chapels often replaced churches, these bans were not readily abided by. Chapels were constructed on different occasions, in honor of religious holidays and others.

Vershinino during the "white night".

Vershinino village is a «capital» of the Kenozero Park. Nikolskaya chapel is set on the top of the hill in the village that is considered to be sacred by the natives. The builders have found a perfect form, such a shape for the roof top that you feel the urge to take off your hat and look towards the northern sky when you are near this chapel. For me it is difficult to take my eyes away from it, I can spend hours walking around and admiring it from every angle. The purity and perfection of the Nikolskaya chapel is one of the main reasons that Kenozero area has attracted me so much. This chapel spreads its beauty all around to many villages across the lake and on islands: it is visible as far as from 10 miles away. Thirty years ago the chapel was literally saved from collapsing by students of Archangelsk Pedagogic University – they replaced rotten wood in the roof and rows of beams. Thanks to their, maybe not the most proficient effort, the chapel was able to hold up until the first professional restoration in 1995. It is interesting that during the restoration work in the interior of the chapel a white piece of cloth with embroidered cross was found between the walls, as if it was a present from the masters who build the chapel around 200 years ago.

Kenozero national park was born in difficult times, in the middle of collapse of USSR. If the park did not have such an energetic and efficient director as Elena Flegontovna Shatkovskaya, the list of cultural losses of Kenozero region would have been growing exponentially. As a principal keeper of the national park she was able to pass a tremendous energy and dedication to her team, unite locals in order to preserve the richest heritage of the North. Restoration is not cheap, but through the years of park efforts many chapels, churches, peasant houses and traditional landscapes were restored.

Kenozero chapels are not museums up to this day. The prays are heard in them and the candles are lit. Near the village of Tirishkino, in the chapel of Paraskevy Pyatnitsy, the patroness of all women, I have seen new scarves, towels and baby clothes – this is a traditional way people worship God in this area. In road chapel Kirika and Ulity, which is passed by tens of cars every day, I have seen a metal dish filled with donations – and even the drunkest people do not attempt to steal this money.

Porzhensky churchyard. XVII century.

Glazovo village with the chapel of Holy Spirit, XIX century.

Glazovo in winter.

Glazovo in Spring.

Glazovo in Summer.

Glazovo in Fall.

Ancient granary in Guzhevo village.

One of the coves on Kenozero lake..


A fisherman on Lekshmozero lake.

Kenozerje is a place definitely worth experiencing!