To express his thankfulness to the (Virgin)
"Queen of the heavens' for the victory over the Bulgars in 1164, and to
commemorate the memory of his son, Izyaslav, who lost his life in that war,
Andrei built the charming little church of the Intercession of the Virgin on
the Nerli the following year. The church is located just about a mile far from
the village of Bogoliubovo. Its fine and delicate lines that tend toward the
sky, the whiteness of the stone structure that reflects into the nearby pond,
the simplicity of its decor and the quietness of the Russian landscape that
surrounds it, and even its loneliness, give the little church of Pokrova an
exceptional look that pleases the eye and the mind. The church is, despite
later changes, one of the most charming architectural monuments of ancient
Russia. There is nothing grandiose in it and nothing luxurious, either and yet
everyone who sees it will agree that he experiences some extraordinary
pleasure, and that the church deserves to be called "The white swan"
of Russian ancient architecture. Four piers support the single dome. On the
eastern side three apses, small but long, and the middle one higher than those
on the side, makes this church reminiscent of the cathedrals Bogoliubovo and
Saint Dmitri (guardian of Thessalonika) in Vladimir and even of the cathedral
of the Assumption in Vladimir, though it is smaller and much more graceful.
Here again we see under the windows the blind ornamental arcatures on three
sides (except the eastern) that horizontally divide the facades into two parts,
then the same type of semicircular pilasters with similar bases and capitals,
and similar decorations on the cupola drum. The tympanums and the space around
the upper part of the windows on all three sides are decorated with the same
stone carved ornaments. In the middle is the seated figure of King David
playing the psaltery. Beneath him on both sides are doves and lions. Further
down are three female masks representing traditional symbols of the Virgin
found on the walls of the churches dedicated to her, followed by another pair
of lions. The side tympanums contain griffins, each devouring a lamb,
representing symbols of evil spirits.
Archeological excavations around the church in the mid-nineteen fifties
supported the theories of some Soviet historians that three sides of the church
were surrounded by open arched galleries and that the slopes of the embankment
were covered with the same white stone used for the construction of the Church.
Inside, all walls were covered with frescoes in the already established
traditional manner. It is difficult to believe that such a remarkable monument
was condemned in the 17th century merely because the monastery authorities
needed stone blocks for the construction of a new bell-tower. The legend says
that when the workers tried to pull the stones away they suddenly became
blinded and a voice coming from inside the church told them not to do it.
Regretfully, there was not such a voice in the eighteen seventies to tell the
painters who came to renovate the church not to take off the old frescoes, nor
after the revolution when the church was vandalized by Bolshevik militants. An
old man who witnessed the event told me that in 1926 the last service was
celebrated in the church, (but even before that many valuable church items were
taken out) and then the pillaging began. Many icons and other items that the
Soviet officials considered worthless were burned on the spot, and the rest
were taken away, including the metal tiles that covered the floor. Everything
was taken out or destroyed, leaving only naked walls, and the church locked and
left to rote, until the mid nineteen-fifties when it was hurriedly cleaned, and
the roof repaired. The bare whitewashed walls remind us that not only Tatars
and Germans destroyed Russian Orthodox churches.
We have photos of this church in the section on Vladimir.