Wooden Church of Urși Village
This wooden church, found in the cemetery of the small village of Urși, has been carefully restored with the close involvement of many partners including the local community. “This is the outcome of an exemplary interdisciplinary conservation of a painted wooden church in a rural setting. Made from materials from its surrounding landscape, it is of outstanding value and beauty”, the Jury said.
The main partners involved were the Pro Patrimonio Foundation, the Art Conservation and Restoration Department of the National Arts University of Bucharest, the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, the National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering “IRASM”, the National Chamber of Romanian Architects, Asociația 37 and the owner of the church, the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The project would not have been possible without the voluntary work of Urși’s community, who provided food, accommodation, access to electricity, labour and transportation, as well as the in-kind work from national and international volunteers who helped with the conservation works. The funding for the project was provided by the International Music and Art Foundation, the World Monuments Fund, the Headley Trust, Holcim Romania, online crowdfunding and the European Investment Bank Institute along with several private donors.
The Wooden Church of Urși Village, dedicated to the Annunciation and the Archangel Michael, was built between 1757 and 1784. Though it survived a fire in 1838, after which it was repaired and decorated with frescoes, the church was later abandoned following the construction of a new church in the village. On its rediscovery in 2007, the church lay without a foundation and was at risk of collapse while its shingle roof was in urgent need of repair. The frescoes, painted in the Post-Byzantine tradition with Western influences and of remarkable artistic value, faced serious decay. In 2009, the church of Urși was included in the “60 Wooden Churches programme” in Romania by the Pro Patrimonio Foundation, and thus later nominated to the 7 Most Endangered programme 2014.
From 2009 to 2020, the restoration works took place each summer following months of fundraising efforts in the preceding year. The Jury found the restoration quality to be commendable: “This is an example of vulnerable architecture and an endangered monument that has been restored fully in accordance with conservation principles, with the original elements closely examined and reintegrated wherever possible. Sustainability was also central to the project, with trees planted to provide materials for future restoration work”.
The restoration site itself was an open one, functioning as an educational space to raise awareness about the value of the church, its wooden construction technique, the fresco technique and the content of the mural iconography, icons and iconostasis.
“The conservation of the Wooden Church of Urși took place in a remote area, with limited resources and with the close involvement of local society. Over the course of the project, many opportunities for the exchange of knowledge were created. The project also led to a deeper local understanding of the value of the heritage and a sense of stewardship among the local community. This is an exemplary approach to the conservation of vulnerable buildings such as this one”, the Jury stated.