What are Some of the Most Interesting Churches in Lviv?
THE ARMENIAN CHURCH
The Armenian Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the oldest standing structures in present-day Lviv. A small church modeled after the Cathedral of Ani in the ancient Armenian capital was built here in the years 1363–1370. It was founded by an Armenian merchant and established as the mother church of the Armenian community on the spot where a quince tree brought from Armenia produced fruit with a cross-shaped pattern inside.
The best point to view the church from the outside is by looking through the iron bars of the fence into the courtyard from Armenian street. Look at the splendid stone belfry to the right, which was erected after the church was damaged in a fire in 1527. And take the passage under the belfry to see the amazing statue of St. Christopher on a high pedestal. Look into the church courtyard at the wall of the adjacent building to see a wooden chapel from the 18th century representing Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. There was a cemetery around the church and even now you can see that the surrounding courtyard is paved with tombstones. According to the Armenian tradition, the sins of the dead are forgiven as their written names on tombstones wear out.
Now walk a few steps west down Armenian Street and turn the corner to get to the church entrance in an alcove behind the wrought-iron gate. You can distinguish a modernistic look of some of the interior decoration, which owes most of its present-day appearance to a remodeling carried out in 1908-1927. One of the artists who worked there was Jan Henryk Rosen of Polish-Jewish descent. Look at the left wall when facing the altar to see a stunning fresco showing St. Odilo, the Benedictine abbot of Cluny, patron of the souls of the deceased, being carried to his grave. The shadowy figures with candles are souls of the previous generations of Benedictine monks who accompany him on his final way. One of the monks carrying the saint’s body feels their presence and looks back astonished. Inside the cathedral also look for the two wonder-working icons of the Mother of God and St. Gregory the Illuminator.
THE LATIN CATHEDRAL
The Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is usually called simply the Latin Cathedral. The Latin Cathedral is one of the two churches in Lviv that weren’t closed or subjected to the Moscow Patriarchate during Soviet rule. Approaching the Cathedral from the Market Square, look at a cannon ball suspended from the church wall on a chain. It dates back to the Turkish siege of Lviv in 1672. An imitation of a projectile on one of the eastern buttresses in a bare brick patch is a reminder of the more recent Ukrainian-Polish war of 1918 – 1919. From there, walk clockwise around the church enjoying the beauty of the Boim chapel which has remained from the cemetery that ceased to exist here several centuries ago. The chapel with an astounding stone-carved facade is crowned by a figure of Jesus Christ sitting beneath his cross as the Rodin’s thinker. Take in the beautifully carved scenes on the facade and the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. You can distinguish an amazing mixture of different architectural styles combined in one building as you walk around the church, such as the baroque statues and vases of the belfry roof, the renaissance character of the adjacent structures, and the gothic look of the main bulk of the church. The church was constructed over 138 years and later rebuilt absorbing different styles in the process. Cast your eyes up standing in front of the main facade of the cathedral to enjoy the elaborate dome of the bell tower. Its sister-tower was never completed.
Sense the splendor of the high-vaulted structure by going inside the cathedral. The stained-glass windows of the presbytery cast a dim light on the stone knights at the tombs of Polish aristocrats from the 16th century. Look around for the icons decorated with silver hearts, limbs, ears and medals – these are gifts from parishioners who prayed for healing.
THE DOMINICAN CHURCH
A Museum of Atheism in the Soviet days, the Dominican Church in Lviv functions again as a church and presents one of the most stunning examples of baroque architecture in the city. By a play of words, the Latin word Dominicanus was interpreted as Domini canis, the Lord’s hound. You will find confirmation of this by looking at an image of a hound holding a burning torch in its mouth over one of the windows of the first floor to the left of the main church entrance. “Glory and Honor to God Alone” are the Latin words over the main entrance to the church. Before going in, look at the play of light and shade on the main facade enhanced by many protruding and recessed architectural elements.
The elliptical shape of the church and its entire volume yield excellent acoustics, and the church is a regular venue for concerts of classical music. Sixteen wooden sculptures decorate the upper level of the church interior halfway up to the dome. Look towards the baroque altar to see another four powerful 18th century sculptures of saints. To enjoy the work of the most renowned Danish sculpture Bertel Thorvaldsen, approach the gravestone of Countess Dunin-Borkowska on the wall of the chapel on the left if you are facing the altar.