Church Motifs


Church motifs can often be found on the pysanky written in the Carpathian regions of Ukraine, primarily Hutsul and Bukovynian. They may be a truly Christian motif, unlike most of the others, which were adapted from earlier pagan motifs (crosses, grapes, fish, etc.).

Churches can be highly abstracted or fairly realistic.  They can be quite simple or be highly complex. They may be big central motifs, or they may be small motifs on the margins.  And not only are churches expressed on pysanky, one can also find the dzvinytsia, or bell-tower, there.

One characteristic common to all the churches is the number three.  All the churches have things in threes: three towers, three domes, three levels, three crosses.  It is by this trinitarian symmetry that we recognize them as khramy.

Simple Churches

Simple church motifs are very common on older pysanky, and are very abstracted depictions of wooden Hutsul and Bukovynian churches, like the one below (which has been covered with shiny metal plate).

The motifs are composed of simple geometric figures, often a a series of triangles or quadrangles piled one atop the other, sometimes with a simple cross on top.  Often the roof tiles are represented by resheto.

The pysanky below contain examples of these traditional, simple church motifs.


“Realistic” Churches

More recent folk pysanky have included larger and more intricate churches. These generally have three towers, sometimes with onion domes, and each tower has a cross at the top. 

The woodwork is sometimes shown in detail, and there are usually windows and central doors.  You can often see steps leading up to a church.

This type of church motif is quite realistic, and it is obvious what is being portrayed.

Below are a few examples of church motifs, taken from actual Hutsul pysanky (drawn by Arnie Klein):



Here are several examples of pysanky with fancy “realistic” churches, all from Bukovyna; these pysanky are in the collection of artist Ivan Balan (Chernivtsi).


Bell Towers (Дзвіниці)

Another common church-related motif is the bell tower.  In Ukraine, this was usually a smallеr building next to the church, and it was called a «дзвіниця» (dzvinytsia). A country church might have a small wooden or stucco dzvinytsia, like the one on the right, while a city church might have an elaborate, multistory (and multi-bell) structure of brick and stucco with a golden dome.

A dzvinytsia on a pysanka, though, is of a simple sort, and is represented by a three-cornered motif of this sort:

You can see these sorts of towers in the pysanky shown below, and the one at the top of the page; all are from Bukovyna.  A bell tower motif might have a “window” in the middle, as in the pysanka on the right.


Tiny Churches and Bell Towers

While churches, when present, are usually the main motif on a pysanka, they can also be small, secondary motifs. If you carefully at some pysanky, you may find small churches incorporated into larger motifs.  An example is this small, three-domed church:

It has all the hallmarks of a church: domes, crosses, central door.  And it has three domes, three crosses.

Even more minimalist representations can be found: the dzvinytsia is stripped to its essentials, gives us a triangle (usually cross-hatched) with a simple cross on top.  An example is this tiny bell tower:

Can you find the small churches or bell towers in these pysanky?




Below, in the photo album, are examples of pysanky containing various types of church motifs. The pysanky are mostly my work or from collections I have photographed.


Churches and Bell Towers


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