First "skyscraper" in Uzhgorod

Natalia Ternavskaya, "Stary Zamok"  20 June 2012 09:48  99915010 015488
First "skyscraper" in Uzhgorod

Each city has its own special, unique structures, which largely determine its spirit, atmosphere, charm. Former Basilian monastery in Uzhgorod (now the Department of Physics of UzhNU) belongs to such buildings. It is situated at the intersection of Voloshina and Olbrahta streets. Its clear skyline with Neo Gothic elements are recognized unmistakably when enjoying the view of Uzh.

Although it does not appear on tourist postcards and booklets as often as Holy Cross Greek-Catholic Cathedral, or Uzhgorod castle, many visitors are not indifferent to this building, situated in a secluded corner of Uzhgorod.
This summer, the building of the former Basilian monastery celebrates the 100th anniversary. At the front door of UzhNU Physics Department there is a date - 1912. Old walls keep the memory of a great number of events, facts, and human destinies. And it can be felt directly on the energetic level, walking around or entering into the cool halls with high windows, long rooms and steep stairs.

 For spiritual needs, and ... administrative ones
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the need for construction of a large Basilian monastery in Uzhgorod was due to the time and circumstances. The first and foremost monastery of the rank of St. Basil the Great in our region was founded in the XIV century by Prince Theodore Koryatovich on Chernecha Hill in Mukachevo. Subsequently, the Basilian monastery appeared in Maria-Povcha, in Malyi Bereznyi (now there is a boarding school there), in the villages of Imstichevo and Boronyava. However, almost all of them were located in rural areas and mainly served to meet the spiritual needs of believers during vacations. Therefore, in the XIX century, the leadership of Mukachevo Greek Catholic diocese got the idea to build a large monastery of Basilians in Uzhgorod, which could prepare the staff for the spiritual (theological) and teachers' seminaries, high schools and other educational institutions, to educate the intelligentsia of the region.

Transcarpathian regional specialist Ludvig Philipp in his research says that fundraising and donations for the monastery in Uzhgorod began in 1906. Then, at a very short time the initiator, Padre Joachim Foma collected 40 000 kronas. Great support of the construction was provided by the bishop of the diocese Juli Firtsak. However, the most money for the construction (nearly 300,000) was allocated by the state. On October 29, 1907 the consecration of the foundation of the future monastery took place. The project of the building had been developed by Uzhgorod architect Ernev Kolosh. The erection of the building began in late 1911.

The highest building

The building initially consisted of three floors in the side parts (they had the so-called hanging gardens) and 4 floors in the central part. Later, in the interwar period, the side parts of the monastic building were covered, and it obtained a modern look. It consisted of 56 rooms and several halls.
What is particularly interesting: there was also a chapel with frescos of Joseph Bokshay inside. Today, according to Ludvig Philipp, they are covered with layers of plaster. Uzhgorod art critic Mikhail Sirohman believes that it is still unlikely that they would succeed to return these unique frescos.

In the building there were separate rooms for monks and students, at that time there were about 80-100 of them. It also housed classrooms and libraries. In 1925 at the monastery there was a typography, which published not only religious books, but books in history and culture of Transcarpathia too. By the way, paradoxically, it is in the walls of the former Basilian monastery the newspaper "The Soviet student" was published in communist times...
In prewar days at the monastery there operated a boarding school for priests’ children, and it also housed the court (the latter significantly reduced the area originally reserved for the boarding school). In the early twentieth century it was the only Orthodox church in the modern Transcarpathia. It belonged to the community of rich Greek merchants. But since their religious community gradually decreased substantially, the building was sold to the Bishop Julius Firtsak, who passed it into the possession of the Greek Catholic Diocese. It also had one of the most remarkable works by Bokshay "St. Basil the Great - the founder of monasticism".

The Communist "reconstruction"

Ludvig Philipp in the review material of the Transcarpathian Basilian monasteries, placed in an edition of "Good News" for 1993, says that after the establishment of the communist regime the monastery suffered the same fate as the whole Mukachevo Greek Catholic diocese. Having eliminated it, the monastery was also closed. The monks were expelled and the building itself was given to Uzhgorod State University. In the 60s the church of Basilian was destroyed (it was "converted" into the offices of Physics Department). Inside, the building was reconstructed, the chapel of the monastery was destroyed, the property disappeared and beautiful frescos were whitewashed.

The restoration of the Greek Catholic Church in the former Soviet Union started in 1989. "But full recovery, which we fought for, did not happen," - said Ludvig Philipp. The ethnographer observes that, despite the declared intention of the state to return all communities their religious buildings and property, there still have been no plans for the Basilian Monastery yet.

"As the revival began, we found all the archival materials, the history of the building, but it turned impossible to evict the university from it. For the university it is a significant loss in the material sense and the need to find or build new, more modern premises", said Ludvig Philipp.

With a great difficulty and many years of delay, the buildings of Holy Cross Cathedral and the bishop's residence (former library of UzhNU) have been returned to Transcarpathian Greek Catholics. Bishop of Mukachevo Greek Catholic diocese, the bishop Milan Shashik said that attempts of the Basilians to get back the building of the former monastery have not stopped either, beginning from the 90s of the last century. "Now we are making every effort to at least get back the church. I personally addressed the late rector Slyvka with such a request. After all, despite all the signed declarations, this religious building is still being used for other purposes. Everything can be done, one just needs to have the will and desire"- said the priest.

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