OWCZARY - Orthodox Church of the Protection of Our Lady (UNESCO)
This Greek Orthodox church was built in the place of a church which collapsed due to unstable ground. Its predecessor had been gathering the faithful since around 1420. Approximately half a century after the Protection of Our Lady Church was built, it was rebuilt extensively and in 1710 a sacristy was added and in 1783 a wooden tower. The traditional division of the building into 3 parts (women’s gallery, nave and presbytery) was preserved until 1870. This is when the vestibule and the women’s gallery were enlarged to the width of the nave. However, an expert eye will be able to see traces of the tripartite division in the structure from the outside.
With a population of 900 before the war, Rychwałd was one of the biggest centres of the Lemkos in the region. After the Vistula Operation, the church was taken over by the Catholics and became a branch of the parish in Sękowa. When those who were displaced started coming back in the 50s, the church resumed celebrating occasional Greek Catholic masses. Since 1988 they have been celebrated regularly.
The current shape of this oriented church is the outcome of numerous modifications of the original structure and of the loss of the original tripartite division. Today, the presbytery is smaller and contrasts with the wide nave. On the outside, the walls are secured with shingles and the lower parts are covered with boards.
Inside, you will immediately notice the floor made of stone tiles. The polychromy decorating the church was executed in 1938, on the occasion of the jubilee of 950 years of the Christianization of Kievan Rus’. When looking around the church, it is worth looking up, on the intrados of the domes, on which the Dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit was placed and four cherubs. The illusory oculus is equally interesting as it allows the light of heaven to penetrate the interior.
A big part of the iconostasis is most likely the work of Jan Medycki and comes from 1712. It is worth having a closer look at the icons, paintings and medallions that form part of the interior decorations. The remaining works have not been identified so far, although they most likely come from 1756. The side altars also contain interesting elements. The smaller one holds the icon of the Preaching Jesus from the 17th century and the others hold the icon of Our Lady with the Child (to the north) and the icon of St. Nicholas (to the south).
After visiting the church, it is worth going for a walk around it. This way you will see the old wall from 1928 and the bell tower made of stone.
This is one of the oldest Orthodox churches of the Lemkos. In 2013 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.