May 01, 2014

Window on Europe

Window on Europe
Grigory Gusev

Every weekend, tourists stream toward the Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God* in Dubrovitsy, a village outside Moscow. Usually they are intercepted by a female acolyte, who takes them on a quick walk around the church's extraordinary gray tower, sharing intriguing facts from the history of the area's main attraction.

After pointing out the intricate spirals of stone molding that cover virtually the entire exterior of the structure, as well as the sculpted figures that adorn its exterior and interior surfaces (apostles, saints, and cherubim with the implements of Christ's passion), she announces that nowhere else on earth can such a miracle be found. Often, just when the tour guide's inspired narration is reaching its climax, a woman from the regional museum appears, an atheist and expert on local history, to the consternation of the Orthodox acolyte. Antonina Kolosova is a historian of the Soviet persuasion with no patience for talk of miracles. When she gives a tour, she takes pleasure in deconstructing popular myths.

Indeed, it was not miracles that fashioned the intricate molding or monumental sculptures of saints that seem so out of place among the region's other houses of worship, although to the European eye there is nothing terribly surprising about the church's design. But even Kolosova admits that the Dubrovitsy church is absolutely unique, both in terms of its architectural details and its history.

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