The Armenian Cathedral in Lviv, Ukraine

The Armenian Cathedral in Lviv, Ukraine

The Armenian Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Vіrmensky Cathedral), one of the oldest Armenian church buildings in Europe, is located in the heart of the most beautiful city in Western Ukraine, Lviv. It is the geographical location of this city (on the border of Ukraine and Poland) and, consequently, the cathedral that allowed the unique religious and architectural history of this building.

Throughout 6 centuries, this unparalleled cathedral has been restored, rebuilt, repainted, as well as survived a fire and the change of ruling dynasties. But it’s nonetheless a functioning church to this day.

The Armenian Cathedral is located in the center of Old Lviv on Armenian Street (Vіrmenskaya St). According to tradition, its design was based on the Cathedral of Ani. And to this day, despite numerous restorations, the building bears a striking resemblance to the Cathedral in Ani.

The central dome of the Armenian Cathedral in Lviv is very similar to the restored drawings of the dome of Ani Cathedral. In other words, the Cathedral in Lviv makes it possible to vividly imagine what the Cathedral in Ani had been like before its almost complete destruction.

The Lviv Cathedral was built in 1363-1370 thanks to a large donation from an Armenian merchant from Feodosia. Over the next 6 and a half centuries, the building underwent numerous reconstructions, and some of its parts were even rebuilt. The changes affected not only the cathedral’s appearance but also its religious purpose.

Until the end of World War II, the cathedral has been under the control of the Armenian Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv. From 1945 until the collapse of the USSR, the building has served as a repository for exhibits banned by the Soviet government from the National Museum of Lviv. In 2000, thanks to the efforts of the Armenians, the Cathedral came under the control of the Armenian Gregorian Church. Both Catholic Armenians and Gregorian Armenians can now use the building for religious events.

Today, you don’t see Armenians in this cathedral often since the building is a well-known attraction for many tourist routes, and it is easier to encounter a crowd of tourists in it than a praying Armenian.

Interestingly, despite the outward similarity of the Cathedral with the Armenian churches, from the inside, it is far from being similar to the traditional Armenian religious interiors and rather resembles a Catholic church. The reason for this difference is the bright coloring of the building’s interior, as well as the numerous icons and statues that make the cathedral look more like brightly decorated Catholic European churches than modest Armenian ones.

However, if you look closely, you can see murals of Armenian four-winged crosses on the walls and windows of the building, as well as images of cherubs in the Armenian style. Khachkars (cross-stones) standing at the entrance of the building and in the courtyard recall the origin of the creators of this amazing building. Filled with sand like in other Armenian churches, candle stands also remind you about the creators of the cathedral.

Due to numerous restorations, the building in addition to its original Gothic features has also acquired elements of the Renaissance, Baroque, as well as modernist architectural styles. The latest interior elements are wall murals by artist Jan Henryk Rosen painted in the 1920s.

The frescoes depict various religious scenes and give the building an exceptionally bright color. Rosen, who at that time was a little over 20, was a rather brave artist and used living people as prototypes for the saints depicted on the walls of the cathedral. This step entailed a wave of criticism but made the frescoes unusually lively and impressive. As a result, the Armenian cathedral has become one of the “brightest” religious buildings in Lviv.

Original article in Russian prepared by Anna Pambukhchyan

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