hidden europe 38

Russia’s wooden churches


Many books cross our desks. This year, one particular volume has struck us more than any other. Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North is a remarkable volume. Superb photography by Richard Davies complemented by evocative prose by Matilda Moreton make for a winning combination. The book is truly an object to treasure, just as the churches it describes are aspects of Europe's heritage that should be treasured.

It took us a while to twig that the Richard Davies who so brilliantly photographs the finest modern architecture in western Europe is the same Richard Davies who runs a blog devoted to wooden buildings in Russia. Holy Rus’ Log Blog is how Richard dubs his occasional online musings on the woeful state of fragile Orthodox churches in remote areas of north-west Russia.

We have never met Richard Davies. But we would like to. We have long admired the way his lens captures the boldest of modern buildings — like his iconic shots of Jan Kaplický’s daring curves of the Selfridges complex in Birmingham. Daring is perhaps the key word. We sense that Richard is drawn to buildings that push at the boundaries. He likes architecture of extremes. So it was a delight recently to discover that Richard shares our enthusiasm for rural Russia. And that, as a sideline to his mainstream photography of western cityscapes, Richard Davies has photographed the wooden churches of northern Russia.

The result is a truly magnificent book called Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North. The book itself is as much an object of beauty as the churches it depicts. The volume showcases Richard Davies’ images of places made sacred by the patient faith of others — the faith and skill of architects and builders who dared to push timber architecture to extremes, and the faith of the generations of villagers who have worshipped in those churches.

The wooden churches in the region south of the White Sea are often the most conspicuous buildings in largely barren and inhospitable landscapes.

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