Residents of the Ulyanovsk region, Russia, are accustomed to seeing abandoned churches since there are more than a hundred of them in the area. They are all pretty similar to each other in terms of design, but there is one old church in the small Russian village of Smolkovo that is quite eye-catching.
The settlement of Smolkovo was founded at the end of the 17th century. According to the census, in 1913, there were about 800 residents.
Local amenities included a school and the two churches we examine in this article. Currently, the village is home to about 170 people, and the round stone church with its associated wooden temple is the main attraction for visitors.
An Orthodox stone church in the form of a rotunda is quite a unique architectural structure in Russia. In fact, it is rare to see a circular Christian church at all. This Orthodox place of worship was built in honor of Our Lady of Kazan, the Virgin Mary.
The expense of building this church was covered by a local landowner called Pyotr Dmitrievich Samarin in 1809. It was relatively small because it was just supposed to be a place of worship for Samarin and some of his wealthier friends.
However, there were rumors that Samarin was a secret member of the Masonic order in Russia and he’d decided to build a place for Masonic rituals, disguising it as a church. Nobody knows if this is true, but it seems unlikely. Not only was Samarin not mentioned in any Freemasonry documents, but the church lacks any of the usual Masonic emblems and symbols.
The church is situated at a slight elevation in the very center of Smolkovo. The columns inside, necessary to hold up the domed ceiling, have a very Roman feel to them. Overall, the architecture has the feel of the classicism style to it.
In addition to its round shape, many visitors are intrigued by the fact that the church was built without an external bell tower. Instead, the bell was housed inside the dome at the top, hidden from the congregation below. Another point of interest is that there are no decorations on the facade and no murals on the walls within either.
A third and final feature that distinguishes this church from other Christian churches is the large number of windows it possesses. This would have meant that, when in use, the room was always flooded with light.
Over the years, Smolkovo developed into a relatively bustling community. By 1875, a local school appeared. Due to the growing population, it became necessary to build an additional church because not all the believers could fit into the existing one. A separate building was needed, but one that would nevertheless be connected with the old church.
Consequently, a second church was constructed about 200 meters (656 feet) east of the stone church. The new church was dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, and it consisted of only a main room and a spacious vestibule.
The exact date of the construction is unknown, but the wooden structure was most likely erected during the second half of the 19th century.
In the 1930s, with Stalin in power and intensifying his attack on organized religion, the churches of Smolkovo were closed and plundered. Later, the upper tiers of the bell tower were demolished. For a while after that, they were used as warehouses.
Over time, these buildings were left to be destroyed by nature as they were deemed unnecessary to the dwindling community.
In 1996, only about 190 people lived in the village. The churches remained abandoned, and attempts to rebuild them failed. The extensive windows which had once lit up the congregation remained boarded up.
Initially, both buildings were listed as cultural heritage sites of regional importance. Sadly, the decision was later made to exclude the wooden church from this list.
Today, both churches are empty and quite badly damaged by time and the elements. However, they are a real draw for intrepid urban explorers and photographers. The unique appearance of the circular church encourages travelers on the nearby road to stop and learn more about the history of this place.
Alexey Marakhovets is a traveler and photographer who dreams of visiting every country around the world. So far, he has visited 40 countries.
Alexey runs his own blog, which not only contains the information he collects during his trips but also showcases the impressive photos he’s taken. You should definitely check out his LiveJournal account via this link.
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