The church of the Holy Trinity was one of the oldest and most important Ukrainian churches in the region. The wanton destruction of this and many other historical and cultural monuments in the 1930’s by the Soviet regime was one of the darkest moments of Ukrainian history. Between 1931-1933, the Kremlin starved to death six million Ukrainian men, women and children, while at the same time the Soviet Union was exporting wheat to pay for Russian industrialization. No new buildings were constructed on the now empty lot, but in the years immediately following World War II, a cement fountain was built over the nave of the former church.
In the year that preceeded the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian community gathered over the now buried ruins of this this former church to celebrate Divine Liturgy.
In spite of financial hardships and economic dispair, the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil the Great (OSBM), which had acquired the church in the 18th century and built a monastery adjacent to the property, wanted to construct a new church on the old foundations. In order to locate the exact position of the church within the property, as well as explore the condition of the stone foundations, it became necessary to conduct large scale excavations at the site.
Excavations during the 1993 field season focused on locating the exact position of the church on the site, and on tracing the degree of damage brought about by the laying of two water lines for the fountain. In spite of the fact that two architectural plans of the church were known, not only did each plan indicate different dimensions for the structure, but both plans indicated right-angled walls, a feature not present in Ukrainian Orthodox architecture. Existing photographs of the church are quite common, but as is seen in the photograph above, the church is always shrouded by trees. Following the completion of the 1993 field season, the dimensions of the church were noted, and the two exposed water lines, which had been located during the course of the excavations, showed that they had caused only limited damage to the stone church foundations.
Architectural analysis of the foundations during the winter indicated that they could support a new structure, and plans were laid for construction to begin soon after. Continued excavations during the 1994 field season focused on unearthing evidence of the church’s earliest history.
Unfortunately, the historical record for the Ukrainian churches in the city is almost nonexistent. In addition to the damage brought about by the Turkish occupation of the city in 1672-1699, in 1700 all the former Ukrainian Orthodox churches were forcefully converted to the Latin Rite. While we know that the church historically served as the residence of the bishop’s representative, and that a number of properties were owned by the church – both within the city, as well as one entire village – the date of its founding remains a mystery.
Excavation of the church during the two field seasons provided a doorway into the past. While the archaeological investigations into churches relies upon the interpretation of minute changes in soils, excavations within Trinity provided a text-book illustration of floor use. As illustrated in this photo of an excavation unit within the church apse, the micro-stratigraphy clearly indicates a series of two floors, and a stone lined post mold (seen as a dark spot along the bottom of the right hand balk) is from the scaffolding which was used in the initial construction of the stone church. Analysis of the coins recovered from the two preserved floors indicates that the lower floor dates to the early to mid-17th century, while the second floor, with its predominance of Arabic coinage, is thought to date to the Turkish occupation of the city (1672-1699).
These excavations also provided the first direct evidence for the existence of an earlier church at the site. Along the northern and eastern limits of the later church, individual human burials, presumably from the earlier church, were cut through during the placement of the new stone foundations, while excavations within the southern half of the church nave uncovered traces of an intensive fire which is thought to have destroyed the original building. While little structural information about the older church is known, both the in situ burned clay deposit and fire-damaged ceramic tiles suggest that the earlier church dates to the 16th or perhaps even to the 15th century. While C-14 analysis will provide a firm date for this earlier church, the stone church is believed to have been built following the city-wide fire of 1616, which was particularly fierce in this part of the city.
Directly beneath the burned deposit a stone sarcophagus burial was encountered. The undistrubed burned clay deposit indicated that the coffin had been intered before the time of the fire which had destroyed the earlier church. Knowing that the coffin would not have survived through the night without being vandalized by modern grave robbers, a unanimous decision was reached by the local authorities to open the grave. The undisturbed remains of a three year old child were found within the stone tomb without any accompaning artifacts. Presumably some time after burial, a rodent had crawled into the stone slab coffin, became trapped, and expired.
While the materials from these excavations are still undergoing analysis, perhaps the most interesting artifacts recovered to date are the two burial icons recovered from individual graves. While no discernable image was noted upon the icon recovered during the 1993 field season, the second icon, recovered during the last days of the 1994 season has miraculously preserved its image, which continues to haunt all those who have gazed upon it. Cleaned and stabilized by the L’viv Institute of Art Restoration, the artifact shown was recorded within hours after it came out of the field. While more of the image was exposed during its cleaning, the icon will remain for another year undergoing further stabilization.
As a result of these excavations, not only were pressing architectural questions resolved, but analysis of these remains has furthered our understanding of the once central church. The reconstructed drawing shown here is based upon the archaeologically derived plans of the church and has used contemporary illustrations of similar structures to suggest what the church might have looked like in the 17th century.