Foundations of Ruthenian Uniate Churches in Towns of the Western Part of the Brest Litovsk Voivodeship in the Eighteenth Century (Summary)

Dorota Wereda (PDF)

In the eighteenth century, there were 41 parishes of the Ruthenian Uniate Church in 29 cities in the western part of Brest Litovsk Voivodeship. The western part of the voivodeship belonged to the Eparchy of Volodymyr-Brest (about 210 parishes), and the eastern part belonged to the Eparchy of Pinsk (about 173 parishes). The basis of each parish was the right of patronage. It was a set of instructions relating to property rights according to a code of canon law and was not interfered with by state law. In the territory under investigation, the right of patronage of 21 (51 %) town parishes belonged to the ruler, patronage of one parish belonged to the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lutsk and patronage in other towns belonged to noble families and szlachta.

The region was dominated by wooden architecture, which reflected the prevailing socioeconomic situation. In the eighteenth century, among the believers of the Ruthenian Uniate Church, there was almost no nobility. Parishes were small, and the clergy were often supported only by the family. The main building material was wood, which was cheap, easily obtained and processed. The impermanence due to frequent fires or simply the temporary nature accompanying wooden architecture led to a lack of ambitious solutions in carpentry techniques. The church had first to fulfil a function for the poor and uneducated, and simple, unsophisticated wooden churches were suitable for that.

The churches built by the Radziwiłł in Dokudów, Hanna and Sławatycze are of the most outstanding architecture among the Uniate churches.

In the western part of the Brest Litovsk Voivodeship, five (12 %) masonry churches were built in the towns of Biała, Brest (St Nicholas), Międzyrzec (St Nicholas, St Peter and St Paul) and Kodeń (the Holy Spirit).

The Uniate St Nicholas Church in Brest performed the functions of a cathedral, and the Union of Brest was signed there. The oldest masonry church in the region was the Church of the Holy Spirit, built on the lands of the Sapieha family in Kodeń. The Uniate church in Biała Podlaska, benefited by the Radziwiłł, was built as an imperative to venerate the relics of Blessed (at that time) Josaphat Kuntsevych.

Each church housed between a few and several dozen icons. The right of patronage allowed the personal visions of the benefactors to be promoted. The cult of Bishop Josaphat Kuntsevych was promoted in the churches under the patronage of the Sapieha.

The churches in the Brest Litovsk Voivodeship reflect the process of assimilation of Western culture, which has led to the Uniate churches becoming more similar to the Catholic churches. The appearance of buildings, especially on the Radziwiłł lands, confirms these tendencies and shows the initiators of these processes.

Uniate churches built in private towns had richer architecture. Uniate churches with their altars and icons were more ornate in royal towns near major transport hubs. The analysis of the construction of masonry churches confirms the thesis that people outside the plebeian circle of people initiated the construction of exclusive Uniate churches.

Keywords: Ruthenian Uniate Church, nobles, Radziwiłł, wooden construction, Josaphat Kuntsevych