A Summer House In the Middle Of Paradise – Rynok Square’s Eastern Side (Lviv: The History of One City Part 32)

Rynok Square is the touristic heart of Lviv. In the spring, summer and fall it is packed with thousands of visitors. Most arrive by walking up from Katedralna Square, approaching the southwestern side of Ploscha Rynok. Visitors are magnetically attracted to the towering presence of the Ratusha (Town Hall). From there they begin strolling around the western and southern side of the square, but a much better place to start a walking tour is at Rynok Square’s northeastern corner, with a walk down the eastern side. Here can be found four magnificent palaces, the iconic Black House and history covering a wide swath of Lviv’s glorious Renaissance, imperial and nationalist pasts. When the 16th century German traveler Martin Gruneweg referred to Lviv as “a summer-house in the middle of paradise” he may well have had the Eastern side of Rynok Square in mind.

The Black House - Rynok 04

The Black House – Rynok 04 (Credit: Юрій Кононенко)

The Black House – Appearance of Deception
Looking at the buildings on the eastern side for the first time, there is a noticeable aesthetic symmetry, despite their differences in color, size and shape, as though the structures were meant to be a cohesive whole. Much of this has to do with the Renaissance architectural style that is common among them. The most eye catching structure stands at Rynok 4, the iconic Black House. After many centuries of exposure to the wind and rain, the building’s sandstone brick façade has turned a grayish, charcoal black. This gives it an ominous appearance, as though there might be a medieval torture chamber inside.  Historically it was a much happier place, at one time home to Lviv’s first pharmacy. The facade also displays a sculptural composition of St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar. Who would have thought that the Black House correlates with the ideals of charity and benevolence? A sublime and revealing benevolence. While the exterior facade is distinct, within its interior the Black House has much in common with several other buildings on the eastern side of the square. The Black House is home to a branch of the Lviv History Museum. Uniquely, the museum’s exhibits are located in several buildings centered around the square, including five on the eastern side.

Korniakt Palace in Lviv

Korniakt Palace in Lviv (Credit: Maciej Szczepańczyk)

The Korniakt Palace/Royal Townhouse – The Past Comes To Life
The most famous branch of the museum can be found within the Korniakt Palace/Royal Townhouse at Rynok 6.  The structure itself contains examples of nearly every building style found in Lviv prior to the 20th century. From the Gothic vaulted ceiling of the cellar to Baroque elements in the attic, the Renaissance and Empire styles on the façade and the grand splendor of the reconstructed neo-Renaissance Italian Courtyard, the palace is a veritable house of architectural history. Its human history is no less fascinating. This was once the home of Lviv’s richest man, the Greek trader Konstanty Korniakt, who moved to the city and made a fortune dealing in wine, cloth and fur. He had the palace constructed upon the foundations of two buildings, this accounts for the fact that there are six windows on each level of the structure, rather than the usual three to be found on most of the townhouses surrounding the square.

The palace was a place fit for royalty, quite literally as it came into the ownership of Jakub Sobieski, father of famed Polish King John III Sobieski whose military prowess helped defeat the Turks at the siege of Vienna in 1683. King John III inherited the palace and spent many days in the maze like rooms sprawling across all three floors. These recall the era of Polish royalty with palatial furnishings in the King’s and Queen’s rooms. The refined and stately decoration of the Audience Hall was where the controversial Eternal Peace Treaty of 1686 was signed between Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In return for Russia agreeing to join the anti-Ottoman Turk alliance, Poland ceded left bank Ukraine (east of the Dneiper River) along with the city of Kiev to Russia. Poland kept control of right bank Ukraine (west of the Dnieper River). Today, over three hundred years later, echoes of this division still resound, in the vast political and cultural differences between eastern and western Ukraine. Within the walls of the Audience Hall history becomes present and palpable.

Interior of former Archbishops Palace at Rynok 9

Living space – Interior of former Archbishops Palace at Rynok 9 (Credit: Aeou)

Former Archbishop’s Palace – A Poisoned Situation
Of the nine buildings that line the east side of Rynok Square, four are now residential, including the former Archbishop’s Palace at Rynok 9. With 68 rooms it is easy to see why the palace is now used as residences. Though the building was constructed during the Renaissance, its façade is covered with a rather bland neoclassical décor, a product of a mid-19th century reconstruction. Like the Korniakt Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace was also built on the foundations of two buildings, thus it also has six windows on each of its upper levels. While the architecture is interesting, the human stories that took place at the palace are nothing short of fascinating. This is a place where the past and present intersect in everyday life. Imagine what it must be like for those who make Rynok 9 their home today. An individual or family goes to bed each night in the same place where Polish Kings Sigismund III Vasa and Wladislaw IV once slept. Residences also inhabit the area where King Michael I was poisoned to death in 1673. This well planned conspiracy was carried out by his erstwhile supporters. It led to fatal food poisoning. After he died, King Michael’s remains were parceled out to places near and far with his heart buried in Warsaw, his body in Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral and his bowels within the walls of the nearby Latin Cathedral, a few hundred meters from where he had expired. What other tales, past and present, lurk within the walls of the former Archbishop’s Palace that might serve to stimulate the imagination.

Lubomirski Palace - Rynok 10

Lubomirski Palace – Rynok 10 (Credit: Kugel)

Lubomirski Palace – The Art of Possibility
The final building along the eastern side of Rynok Square is most certainly a product of the imagination. The Lubomirski Palace was where successive owners imagined and reimagined the palace for their own imperial, national or provincial needs. The palace’s namesake was a powerful Polish noble, Stanislaw Lubomirski. He commissioned a two decade long overhaul of the existing structure during the mid-18th century that recreated it as a Baroque magnate’s palace. The partition of Poland in 1772 changed the buildings history. For the next fifty years the palace served as a residence for the Austrian governors of Galicia.  In 1868 the Prosvita society was founded in Lviv to promote Ukrainian language and culture. Soon thereafter the Society purchased the palace where efforts were undertaken to raise Ukrainian national consciousness. Prosvita was a key player in the slow, fitful progression of Ukraine’s movement toward statehood. The movement reached a false summit on June 30, 1941 when at the former palace Yaroslav Stetsko proclaimed a Ukrainian state. It would soon be shut down by the Nazis. A new era of tyrannical totalitarianism would take hold. This was just the start as the Soviet would eventually occupy the city and attempt to transform its history, but Rynok Square’s architectural wonders would outlive another empire.

Eastern Side of Rynok Square

Looking down from the Ratusha (City Hall) at Eastern Side of Rynok Square (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

Bringing It Back To Life – Rynok Square
Ukrainians would have to wait until 1991 for an independent Ukraine. The nation is now home to the heritage symbolized and memorialized by the remarkable buildings that line the eastern side of Rynok Square.  Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture is alive in these structures, as are the stories of the multiple cultures that have infused Rynok Square with so much of its beauty and history.

A Spiritual Fire Burned Into The Heart of Lviv – St. John of Dukla, The Bernadine Monastery & the Church of St. Andrew (Lviv: The History of One City Part 30)

One might think that fire, the great destroyer of medieval Lviv, would have been feared above all else. One fatal spark could lead to the entire city being reduced to smoldering ruins.  Fire performed its destructive work without prejudice. Whether it was houses of worship or the houses of merchants, flames consumed the city on multiple occasions. The majority of these fires were the product of accident or conflict. A rare exception to this rule was the burning of a monastic complex in Lviv during the year 1464, only four years after it was first erected. When several monks at the monastery succumbed to plague, the citizens of Lviv burned the wooden monastery and adjoining chapel of the Bernadine order in an effort to combat the spread of this loathsome disease. Yet a different type of fire also turned out to be a great sustainer of the Bernadine Monastery, specifically the fires of faith. Like so many other religious complexes in Lviv, the monastery was resurrected in new and improved form, as much by the power of belief, as by the works of man. It would eventually grow to be the Bernadine Monastery and later transformed into the Church of St. Andrew, which still stands today. It is here that a spiritual fire burns in the heart of Lviv.

Bernardine Church in Lviv - Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew

Bernardine Church in Lviv – Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew (Credit: Aeou)

Miles From Normal – The Path To Asceticism
Monasteries bring to mind devotion, austerity and asceticism. These very qualities helped the Bernadine order to thrive in Lviv.  Such traits were bolstered by a fiery faith that burned brightly throughout the centuries. No member of the order better symbolized this passion better than John of Dukla, a man who made the monastery his home and would eventually be venerated inside the walls of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Andrew (today the Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew). John of Dukla was born in 1414 in what is now southeastern Poland, on the edge of the Carpathians Mountains. His family was middle class family and said to be religious. It is always difficult to imagine a saint as a normal person, often due to the exalted status given to them retroactively, but John of Dukla was anything but normal from the start. He spent part of his youth as a hermit in the thick, mountainous forest near his home, pursuing a hermetic existence during his youth. At the age of sixteen he joined the Order of Friars Minors (Franciscans – also known in the region as Bernadines), first moving to the monastery in Krosno, Poland before attending theological school in Krakow.

In 1440 he moved to Lviv, where he would spend most of his life. John was noted for his ability to settle schismatic disputes between those of widely varying beliefs. This helped him attain several positions as an officer within the order. When he did venture further afield to preach outside of the region, his trilingual abilities (he spoke Polish, Ukrainian and German) served him well in preaching the gospel. John was a man who practiced what he preached, to the point that he broke with one branch of the Franciscans, to join an incipient group known as the Observants. They practiced an extremely austere lifestyle, living in poverty while honoring their beliefs with an unyielding fervor. In this environment John thrived, he became a highly respected leader in the movement. Near the end of his life, John lost his eyesight, but this did not hinder his intellectual abilities. He learned his sermons by heart, presenting them to followers. In 1484 he died at the Bernadine Monastery in Lviv.

Statue of St. John of Dukla

Statue of St. John of Dukla (Credit: Henryk Żychowski)

The Afterlife – A Path To Sainthood
The spirit of John of Dukla’s life burned even brighter after his death, becoming synonymous with the Bernadine Monastery and what would eventually become the Roman Catholic Church of St. Andrew. His career as confessor and preacher took on an even greater significance. The first miracle attributed to John of Dukla post-mortem, occurred when freshwater springs were struck on the site of his burial. Later miracles were of such notoriety that a series of tempera paintings known as the Hundred Miracles of St. John of Dukla (he was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1733) were painted in the Church of St. Andrew. These can still be seen today and display healings that took place after appeals through prayer were offered to St. John. For example, a story is portrayed of a man who was thought to have drowned, but began breathing again. To the “enlightened” western mind the idea of such miracles seems dubious at best, superstitious at worst. Such healings must have been the product of coincidence. Conversely, they may also exemplify the miraculous power of belief endemic to the human experience. Belief in a higher power will forever be a commonality to John of Dukla and his followers past, present and future.

For a man who lived a life of asceticism it is hard to imagine what John of Dukla would make of the Bernadine Monastery’s transformation into the Church of St. Andrew and his resulting veneration within these walls? He would likely find it foreign, both figuratively and literally. The building’s mannerist architectural style comes from the Italian and Dutch Renaissance, the interior is filled with rich baroque decoration, evocative of Mitteleuropa. The cathedral is filled with lavish works of art, the very opposite of austere. The main altar is known as the St. John of Dukla altar. This is where portrayals of his many miracles take center stage. Within the cathedral walls John of Dukla has become Saint John of Dukla, raised to the status of immortality.

Interior of Bernadine Church in Lviv - Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew

Interior of Bernadine Church in Lviv – Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew (Credit: dmitrydesigner)

Miracle Workers
Perhaps the greatest miracle involving St. John of Dukla has been his transition from an ascetic life to a long and glorious afterlife.  He started out as a hermit seeking contemplation and solitude deep in the Carpathian woods. He then graduated to a life of devout monasticism within the walls of a wooden monastery in Lviv. In death he was raised to the level of reverential sainthood. Though the passion and preaching of St. John of Dukla has long since passed into history, the ideal he represented lives on. Today, he is more than a man, more than a monk, more than a saint. He is the fire of faith burning bright in those who feel the power of belief.

The Road To Lviv & To Ruin – Roberta Bandinelli & The Iron Laws Of Character (Lviv: The History of One City Part 27)

The novelist Sandor Marai once wrote, “It is not true that fate slips silently into our lives. It steps in through the door that we have opened, and we invite it to enter. No one is strong enough or cunning enough to avert by word or deed the misfortune that is rooted in the iron laws of his character and his life.” And so it was with Roberto Bandenelli, the first postmaster of Lviv. When he purchased the building at 2 Rynok Square in 1634 he was unwittingly beginning to move toward his ultimate fate, opening a door into a world that both physically and metaphorically led to his ruin. Ironically, several carved dolphins adorn the lower part of the façade at what has become known as the Bandenelli Palace. In the 17th century these were seen as a symbol of good luck, but Bandenelli’s luck ran out here. Yet it was more than just bad luck, it was also his poor moral character that brought him down. His fall from wealth and prominence was rooted in the “iron laws of his character.”

Lower facade of the Bandinelli Palace

Decorative carved dolphins are noticeable in this photo of the lower facade of the Bandinelli Palace (Credit: Kugel)

The Escape Artist At Home & Abroad  
Roberto Bandinelli was born into a famous Florentine family. Both his father and grandfather were noted artists, but Roberto did not follow in their footsteps. Instead he became a trader, a career choice that time and again revealed flaws in his character. In 1618, he made a dramatic career move from Florence to Krakow. Plenty of Italian traders came to Krakow for the economic opportunities offered in this eastern entrepôt. Bandenelli had other reasons as well. Rumors abounded that he was trying to escape lawsuits in Italy due to his nefarious business practices. It was also said that he feared for his life, as personal enemies were seeking revenge for his part in a duel. Bandenelli soon proved the truth of many of these rumors. He made a name for himself in Krakow and it was not a good one. Though he managed to make huge profits in the textile trade, his wealth was the product of illegal, underhanded deals. He was soon confronted with multiple lawsuits. Once again Bandenelli was forced to move, this time to Lviv, where he set himself up for ultimate failure.

He soon married. His new wife’s family connections helped him to acquire a royal license to run postal services from the city. Bandenelli also used his wife’s marriage dowry to turn what had been a Gothic style townhouse at Rynok 2 into a late Renaissance palace par excellence. He seemed to have finally found his place, but his personal and professional life was under the spell of his own flawed moral character. This first marriage was nothing more than a means to a business end. It was not long before he divorced and married another woman. As for Bandenelli’s foray into the postal business, it did not go well at first. His enterprise threatened the city’s existing messenger services. This in turn led to several legal actions against him. It was not a coincidence that wherever Bandenelli set up business he ran into problems. There was one constant in all of these business disputes and that was Bandenelli. He was neither trustworthy nor honest. No matter where he lived, Florence, Krakow or Lviv trouble soon followed. For much of his life Bandenelli was something of an escape artist. He was able to sidestep financial scandals and legal woes up until the point that he finally trapped himself. He could never really escape his own duplicitous dishonesty.

The Bandinelli Palace in Lviv

The Bandinelli Palace in Lviv at 2 Rynok Square (Credit: Константинъ)

Going Postal – Bandinelli In Lviv
During the 1630’s Bandenelli worked to gain a monopoly over postal services in Lviv and the wider region of Ruthenia. He was able to convince the Polish king to issue patents in his favor. These were badly needed, as Bandenelli struggled to make money in the postal business. The search for revenue led him to charge exorbitant rates. For example, to send a six ounce letter from Lviv to northern Poland cost the equivalent of a day’s wages for a skilled laborer. Bandenelli may have held the title of Royal Postmaster, but this meant nothing without a reasonable profit. The city’s merchants and burghers were not going to pay such expensive fees for mail service. Business declined and Bandenelli was overextended. Skirting the law would do him no good this time. His influence in Lviv business circles waned. No one wanted to invest in a losing proposition, especially with a man whose business dealings and character were highly questionable. Instead of cutting his losses, Bandenelli kept sinking ever greater sums of money into what had become a financial abyss.

The death blow to Bandenelli’s postal service was dealt by the Lviv city council when they voted to close down the post office. Its services were way too expensive for the locals. If a city as wealthy and prosperous as Lviv could not support the business, then Bandenelli, self-absorbed and greedy, must have raised prices to extortionate levels. There is little doubt that running couriers with fragile paper messages by horseback over hundreds of kilometers of Ruthenia and greater Poland was a costly undertaking. Bandenelli had made other ventures work in the past, so why not this one? A combination of bad business decisions, ego, greed and a city leadership that would no longer put up with him sent Bandenelli into bankruptcy. This was a financial situation from which he never recovered. Bandenelli bluffed and cheated his way out of many situations, but in Lviv he finally got himself into an impossible situation.

The Bandanelli Palace at night

Character illuminated – The Bandanelli Palace at night (Credit: Yarema Dukh)

A Prisoner To Himself
The seeds of Bandenelli’s decline and fall were based in “the iron laws of his character.” At every twist and turn of his life he obeyed them. This brought him great wealth at everyone else’s expense. It also led him to Lviv, where he brought about his own ruin. All of Bandinelli’s successes ultimately led to his final demise. Bandenelli could escape Florence, he could escape Krakow and he even ended up escaping Lviv. He fled abroad once again, this time to Vienna in search of another postal contract. His efforts were futile. Vienna is where he would die, away from everyone he had done wrong. The only person he was left with was the one he could never escape, himself.

The Outlier – Wealth, Power and Patronage: The Boim Chapel In Lviv (Lviv: The Story of a City #17)

The Renaissance was a cultural golden age with artistic activity flourishing across Europe. Today the movement is most often associated with Italy, the land where it began and also left the greatest legacy in building, sculpture and painting. While the Renaissance may have started in the Italian Peninsula, it soon radiated outward, influencing art and architecture as far afield as the eastern reaches of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in what is now western Ukraine. By the start of the 17th century, the Renaissance had given way to the Baroque movement in most of Europe. Yet it managed to live on in far eastern Europe, with this afterlife producing a true wonder of Renaissance architecture, the Boim Chapel in Lviv (in the 17th century the city was known by its Polish name of Lwow).  Many art historians say that this is the finest work of Mannerism in Central and Eastern Europe. Though the chapel is all but unknown in the west, to those who have stood gazing at its sculptural elements, frescoes and richly decorated walls, it is an unforgettable masterpiece. The chapel was built due to patronage. The wealthy patron who commissioned it came from a nearby land that strangely enough, exerted little cultural influence on Lviv other than the magnificent chapel.

Western facade of the Boim Chapel

Lavishly decorated western facade of the Boim Chapel (Credit: Oleh Zavadsky)

Commissioning Magnificence – Gyorgy Boim’s Gift
A strange oddity of Lviv’s history concerns the fact that there was very little Hungarian influence on the city’s cultural history. For many centuries, the Kingdom of Hungary’s border was only a couple of hundred kilometers to the south. During that time Lviv acted as a magnet for foreigners, with Jewish and Armenian traders, German and Greek merchants and Italian artisans moving to the city in order to ply their various trades. Each of these peoples emigrated from lands farther away than Hungary. One probable reason for a lack of Hungarian influence in Lviv was that the Hungarian Kingdom’s major trade routes centered on the distant Danube River basin. Conversely, Lviv was a trading nexus between the Baltic and Black Seas, both very far away from Hungary. Certainly Hungarians visited Lviv, but they did not leave much of a mark on the city, with one notable exception Gyorgy Boim.

Gyorgy Boim

Gyorgy Boim – patron and namesake of the Boim Chapel (Credit: Wikipedia)

Boim came to Lviv at the invitation of an ethnic Hungarian, one of the most famous Kings of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Stephen Bathory.  Boim was from the Hungarian-German border area. He had become wealthy as a wine trader and financier. His monetary resources were so considerable that he acted as a money lender to the King. After arriving in Lviv, Boim acquired citizenship along with the post of burgomaster, chief magistrate of the city. He was one of the most powerful people in the city. As such, he commissioned a spectacular burial vault for his family, the Boim Chapel. At the time of its construction, the chapel stood in the surrounding yard of the Latin Cathedral, where a city cemetery was then located. Though that cemetery is now gone, the Chapel still occupies the same position today. The chapel’s construction took six years and was completed in 1615. Unfortunately, Gyorgy Boim died before the chapel was finished. It was up to his son Pawel – a doctor who would also serve as mayor of Lviv – to oversee completion. The finished product was one of the last great Renaissance works in Europe.

Northern wall of the Boim Chapel

The northern wall of the Boim Chapel (Credit: Alex Zelenko)

Stimulating Spirituality – The Boim Chapel: From The Outside In
The architect, Andrezj Bemer, modeled the chapel after the design of Sigismund’s Chapel at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. Like other Renaissance works in Krakow done by Italian masters, the style employed for both the exterior and interior of the chapel lacks any sense of moderation. The sculptural elements are luxuriant in the extreme and bear one of Mannerism’s chief hallmarks, intellectual sophistication. Passion scenes carved in sandstone adorn the façade, along with statues of Apostles Peter and Paul tucked into niches. The building itself is in the shape of a square, topped by a dome with a cupola that holds a statue of a mourning Christ on the bench. This uniquely symbolic touch is one of many portrayed in the Chapel’s lavish design. Within the interior there is an image of the Last Supper where under the chair of the arch-traitor Judas is a grinning devil. A story relates that this may have been the reason the chapel was not sanctified for many years.

Mourning Christ atop the Boim Chapel

The mourning Christ atop the Boim Chapel (Credit: Wikipedia)

The chapel’s interior has many more decorative elements worth noting. Among these are elaborate sculptural works such as the four stone figures of prophets in the altar area. The interior of the chapel’s dome is configured with no less than 36 rectangular panels displaying holy figures with Christ, prophets, angels and saints all represented. The effect of all the images, carvings, stone and stucco work can be overwhelming. It is as though the craftsmen spent an excess of time, energy and imagination with the goal of fully assaulting the viewer’s spiritual senses. Gyorgy Boim willed that only three generations of the family could be buried in the chapel. Gyorgy along with thirteen other family members are buried inside. It is a shame that he never got to marvel at the completed chapel. What would he have made of it all? He would probably have been just as overwhelmed as visitors are today. Though the elder Boim never saw the finished product, his image, along with his Polish wife Jadwiga is represented. Mural portraits of both adorn the eastern exterior wall.

Interior of the Boim Chapel Dome

Interior of the Boim Chapel Dome – with 36 rectangular panels set in 3 concentric rows (Credit: Wikipedia)

The Last Legacy – Written In Stone
For all their wealth and power, the Boim family’s presence in Lviv was short lived. By the mid-18th century, they had vanished from the city altogether. They left behind the first and only real lasting legacy bequeathed to the city by Hungarians.  This legacy, in the form of the Boim Chapel held on. It escaped demolition at the hands of the Austrian authorities when they moved all cemeteries outside the city center after their takeover of Lviv in 1772. The chapel was left intact and in place. It had become a hallmark of the city’s architectural landscape, an aesthetic and spiritual tour de force, where an eternal faith was carved, sculpted and above all, written in stone.

Outliving Them All – Ukrainians & Lviv’s Dormition Church (Lviv: The Story of a City #16)

The majority of churches in Lviv’s Old Town seem to have one thing in common, namely that their wooden predecessors were reduced to ashes by fire. They were then rebuilt in stone, a material that could withstand both the ravages of fire and time. On multiple occasions, destruction by fire was followed by reconstruction. Later when the stone proved to be longer lasting, the churches would undergo restoration rather than rebuilding.  This was certainly the case for the Latin and Dominican Cathedrals. This was also true for the Dormition Church (Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary), but there was a notable difference. The stone one that survives today was also nearly lost to a fierce conflagration in 1627. The walls were so badly damaged that it was a minor miracle when the church escaped demolition.  The fact that the church still stands at present in the Old Town is a because of faith and devotion. The Dormition Church reflects the Ukrainian population it has served throughout the centuries in Lviv as a symbol of survival and perseverance.

Lviv's Dormition Church with the Korniakt Tower soaring above it

A view from above – Lviv’s Dormition Church with the Korniakt Tower soaring above it

The Old Believers – Ruthenians & Lviv During the Middle Ages
Many people believe that Lviv only really became a Ukrainian city following the Second World War. This was when the Soviets forced the majority Polish population out of the city. Moving them westward into lands that had been taken from Germany and would become Polonized. At the same time, tens of thousands of Ukrainians and to a much lesser extent Russians were moved into Lviv. By the late 1940’s Lviv had become a majority Ukrainian city. This was only new in a modern sense, as it actually hearkened back to the first century of the city’s history. Prior to conquest by the Poles in the 14th century, Lviv had been home to eastern Slavic peoples, ancestors of today’s Ukrainians, which historically were known as Ruthenians (the term was used right up through World War I). It was only after the conquest of the Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia by the Kingdom of Poland that large numbers of Poles and Germans, Armenians and Jews settled in the city. Prior to the conquest, a predecessor of the Dormition Church, the Most Holy Mother of God Assumption Church existed in the city. It was the presence of this church, in various forms and architectural styles through the centuries. that gave the Ukrainians a lasting foothold in the city.

Despite their marginalization, the Ruthenians did have a certain area allotted to them within the city walls that were built around Lviv following the Polish conquest. Unfortunately this area was exceedingly small. It was known as the Russin quarter, situated between the eastern city walls and Rynok Square. The most famous thoroughfare in this area was Solianykiv Street (present day Ruska Street) on which the Dormition Church still stands today. This was where Ruthenian merchants traded in salt, the community’s main economic engine. Even with the salt trade, the Ruthenians were often in desperate financial straits. For example, to build the immediate predecessor of the Dormition Church that stands on the spot today, the Ruthenian community had to solicit donations from fellow Orthodox believers abroad. A patron came forward, the Moldavian Hospodar (Lord) Alexandru Lapusnenanu, who donated the money for construction. The church is still referred to by many as the Wallachian Church, as Moldavia was then known as Wallachia (in present day Romania). Lapusnenanu also extended an invitation to Orthodox Lvivans to send young church singers for training in Greek and Serbian chants in Moldavia. The church served the community for two decades before it succumbed to fire in 1571.
This led to another call for funding.

A ground level view of the Dormition Church in Lviv and the Korniakt Tower

A ground level view of the Dormition Church in Lviv and the Korniakt Tower

A Creation of the Timeless & Eternal
Patronage for yet another Dormition Church, much more elaborate than any of its predecessors, would come mostly from funds donated by the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood. It was the most powerful pro-Ruthenian organization in Lviv. The brotherhood was formed in the 15th century as an Orthodox religious association at the Dormition Church. At its height during the Renaissance, it operated with a wide degree of latitude, only answering to the Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople. The Brotherhood oversaw the local bishops and clergy, while propagating a variety of capitalistic and charitable enterprises. It owned one of the first printing presses in Ukraine and operated schools, hospitals and even rest homes for the elderly. It provided the financial resources to build a new church that would become a hallmark of the city’s Renaissance architecture, a structure that could withstand trials by fire. The Dormition Church that was thus created and still stands today took forty years to craft out of white hewn stone. The time span of construction is irrelevant when compared to the finished product that turned out to be a timeless and eternal piece of architecture. This masterpiece is still in use and welcomes visitors today.

Interior of the Dormition Church

Interior of the Dormition Church (Credit: Wikipedia)

The design recalls traditional Ukrainian wooden churches with the structure being divided into three stories and three parts with three cupolas topped by lanterns. Reliefs frame high windows set into ultra-thick walls. Due to the height of the windows and thickness of these walls, it is believed that the church was also used as a fortification. The major donors were honored with their emblems decorating the central dome. The Chapel of the Three Baptists, adjacent to the church, is no less a feat of Renaissance style with its charismatic decorative façade. Soaring above the church and chapel is the Korniakt Tower. The entire ensemble of church, chapel and tower fuse the best of Ukrainian sacral architecture with the gloriously splendid style that exemplifies the western European Renaissance. From an architectural standpoint this is where Eastern and Western Europe merge stylistically to create an architectural feat for the ages. The Dormition Church is the cornerstone of this creation. A monument to faith that also symbolizes the Ukrainian people’s enduring presence in Lviv.

At the entrance to the Dormition Church

Hand in hand – at the entrance to the Dormition Church (Credit: Wikipedia)

Kindred Spirits – A People, A Church, A City
Today, Lviv is known as “the most Ukrainian city in the Ukraine.” For seven centuries, the city was anything but that. The power of persistence, the varying fortunes of history and an abiding faith allowed Ukrainians to overcome innumerable obstacles, whether political, economic or environmental, to make the city truly their own. The greatest symbol of their ability to rise from the ashes, to recreate themselves and their public space stands at 7 Ruska Street. The Dormition Church is the symbolic heart and soul of the Ukrainian people’s relationship with Lviv.

A Towering Presence: Konstanty Korniakt’s Achievement (Lviv: The Story of a City In Ukraine #4)

It seems that every great Eastern European city has a certain architectural landmark associated with it. There is Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate, Krakow with Wawel Castle, Prague’s Charles Bridge and Budapest’s with the shimmering Hungarian Parliament. The same can be said for Lviv, the only problem is there are multiple landmarks to choose from, both notable and noticeable. These include the grandiose Opera House, a handful of spectacular churches and the Austro-Hungarian era train station. These buildings all leave a lasting impression, but there is one structure that literally towers above the rest. This is the Korniakt Tower attached to the northern façade of the Dormition (or Assumption) Church. At 66 meters it is the tallest building in the Lviv’s Old Town area. The tower can take hold of wandering eyes, drawing them upward, skyward towards its apex, a cupola and four cornered obelisk. The tower brings together elements of the two most memorable architectural styles of the Old Town, Renaissance and Baroque.

The Korniakt Tower and Dormition Church in Lviv

The Korniakt Tower and Dormition Church in Lviv (Credit: Jan Melich)

The Wealth of Migrations – Lviv as an Economic Hub
The Korniakt Tower has stood the test of time, not only stylistically, but also physically. Though it suffered badly following a late 18th century fire, having to undergo substantial restoration, the tower has survived every trial of its structural integrity, whether from below (earthquakes), above (as a target for lightning strikes) or at ground level (numerous fires). The tower’s legacy has been lasting. That must have been what the man who commissioned it had in mind. Rightfully the tower goes by his name, a name that uniquely does not derive from any of the major ethnic groups that have dominated Lviv’s history. Konstanty Korniakt was neither a Pole, Ukrainian or Jewish and certainly not Russian or German, he was born and bred from an entirely different stock, Greek. Yet it was not so much Korniakt’s ethnicity, but the social class from which he came, the merchants, left a lasting mark on Lviv’s history.

Merchants such as Korniakt were creators of the wealth that made Lviv one of the great medieval European trading centers. There was a long tradition of mercantilism in Lviv hundreds of years before Korniakt’s arrival. Merchants created the wealth that made the city powerful, but they could not have done so without two key laws. The first was the Magdeburg rights granted to the city by a Polish king. These were special privileges that allowed urban communities to regulate trade to the benefit of local merchants. The Magdeburg rights fed into a second legal instrument, the so called “law of storage.” This banal sounding phrase was actually critical to making Lviv an economic powerhouse.  It required all merchants traveling the trade routes through Lviv to be quartered in the city for two weeks. They then had to offer their goods for sale to the city’s merchants. Having first choice on these goods placed Lviv’s trading place at a considerable advantage. Because of these privileges Lviv became a trading hub for among other things furs, wine, honey and wax. The merchants made fortunes. This in turn attracted traders from a wider geographical area to the city. Armenians, Germans and Greeks made Lviv their home.

Konstanty Korniakt - a man of great wealth and even greater devotion

Konstanty Korniakt – a man of great wealth and even greater devotion

The Outsider On The Inside – A Man of Wealth and Devotion
Konstanty Korniakt was born far away from western Ukraine (what was then the eastern reaches of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) on the island of Crete, he eventually made his way to Wallachia, in what is now present day Romania. There he collected customs duties and royal tolls for the Moldavian Hospodar (Lord) Alexandru Lapusneanu. Lapusneanu was the founder of the first Dormition Church in Lviv, which would succumb to fire. In 1560 Korniakt moved to Lviv where he boosted his already substantial wealth through involvement with international trade. He was the city’s wealthiest man at the time, but not the most trusted one. Local officials eyed Korniakt with suspicion and attempted to exclude him from city affairs. Because of his wealth Korniakt enjoyed the favor of the Polish king, Sigismund II Augustus, who also borrowed money from him. The upshot of this relationship resulted in Korniakt being given an official title of nobility, increasing his power and prestige. Befitting his outsider status, in a city ruled by officials of the Roman Catholic faith, Korniakt was instead an ardent follower of the Orthodox religion. He was a stanch supporter of the rights of the Ruthenian Catholic community. Korniakt’s devotion led him to support the construction of a great architectural wonder.

The same year that Korniakt received his title of nobility, a terribly destructive fire torched the Jewish section of the town and the first version of the Dormition Church along with it. As would happen so many times in Lviv’s ill-fated history with fires, rebuilding on the site began almost immediately. In 1572 construction started on the tower (also referred to as a belfry). About the same time, work on a magnificent palace for Korniakt on Rynok Square also commenced. The tower was designed and built by Italian masters Pietro Barbone and Paolo Romanus. Today visitors rightfully marvel at its beauty without realizing that the tower was built as much for protection as for spiritual devotion. In wartime it would act as a strongpoint when the city was under siege. The initial version of the tower built entirely in Renaissance style took six years to complete. It had three stories and a tent shaped roof that also consisted of three stages. It was grievously damaged in the Tatar siege of Lviv in 1695. This led to a restoration where Baroque elements such as a helmet and four pyramids surrounding a lantern now crowned the top of the tower. With these additions Baroque and Renaissance were now connected in a symbiotic structural continuity. Later the tower was attached to a second version of the Dormition Church, completing a harmonious architectural ensemble. A Renaissance masterpiece in its own right, especially its elaborately covered façade, unfortunately the Church often gets overlooked – as do other buildings in the immediate area – due to the towering presence of the Korniakt Tower.

The Korniakt Tower

Above all others – The Korniakt Tower soars above its surroundings (Credit: Богдан Репетило)

Living Proof – Korniakt’s Afterlife
It is interesting to consider the legacy of Konstanty Korniakt. For all of his fabulous wealth, scarcely anyone would remember him today if not for the tower that bears his name. He used some of his wealth to create, an object of reverence, a towering symbol not of money, but of devotion. The Korniakt name is spoken thousands of time daily by Lvivians and visitors alike. This is the only way anyone remember this man or his money. No one cares that he was once the richest man in Lviv, because there was and always will be another richest man in Lviv. Wealth and power are ephemeral, but great art and architecture are timeless, the one true thing that can defeat time and live on forever. The old cliché states that when it comes to money, you can’t take it with you. That is true. Yet a man can leave something behind. The Korniakt Tower is living proof.