Located within a spectacular setting of pristine natural beauty, Kenozero National Park has been recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2004 due to the unique relationship between its exceptional natural values and its relevance as a cultural area.
Kenozero National Park is wealthy in historical remains scattered throughout this cultural landscape, with distinctive monuments of wooden architecture which attest to the passage of time in this rural region of northern Russia. The Park is the only Protected Area of Russia which owns architectural monuments; these masterpieces of wooden architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries include ten churches and a bell tower, thirty three wooden chapels and two water mills. Traditional cultural landscapes such as this one have preserved the features of rural land management and planning of that era which have been lost in other industrialised areas of Russia.
Kenozero National Park is known throughout Russia for its well preserved painted “heavens” in churches and chapels. Known as “the seventeen heavens”, these are unique patterns of decorative religious art which do not have any equivalent in the world.
For this reason, the National Park’s mission consists in the preservation, exploration and promotion of the tangible and intangible natural and cultural heritage of the Russian North. When Kenozero National Park was established most of monuments were in a poor condition. It required several years of hard work to remedy their state. However there is still much to be done.
Kenozero National Park has a long tradition in working with volunteers. Since 2012, volunteers were supporting the conservation and restoration of the heritage sites as well as the maintenance of chapels and churches located in Kenozero National Park.
The project focused on conservation and restoration works at the chapel of St. Apostle John the Evangelist from the 18th century and a water mill from the late 19th century, both located in Zekhnova village.
The Chapel of St. Apostle John the Evangelist has been mentioned for the first time in 1846, but it dates originally back to the 18th century – the exact date of its foundation is uncertain.
In 1982, a volunteer student’s team performed series of accident-prevention and conservation works in the region, among them also at the Chapel of St. Apostle John the Evangelist. In 1998 and 1999, a team of Russian and Norwegian carpenters restored the chapel using a dedicated lifting technology. In 2008, a team of local carpenters performed a series of restoration works on the bell tower and the roofing.
In 2019, a first European Heritage Volunteers Project took place in Zekhnova. During the project, work on several parts of the chapel was carried out: the roof construction as well as the supporting beams for the dome were partially replaced, corrective action was taken on the porch, and finally, the wooden shingles on the main roof and the roof of the porch were partially replaced.
Most of the works at the chapel were finished in 2019, but at the bell tower there were still some final interventions needed. The task of the project in 2020 was to finish the work at the top of the structure by putting the last lemekh in place, which are small shingles or wooden boards made of aspen wood that cover the head of the chapel.
The second worksite was the water mill in Zekhnova village, which exists since the 19th century on record. By the end of the 1940s, local carpenters restored the watermill; however at the end of the 1970s it was abandoned. The restoration of the mill began in 2004 and was completed in 2008, but the 390 meter long water channel was still in poor condition.
During the project in 2020 the participants undertook corrective actions on the damaged parts of this water mill’s water channel. The work consisted in replacing the damaged logs that formed the trench of the drainage channel. The whole structure was disassembled in order to assess the state of all wooden elements. The damaged logs were then removed and new parts were laid in place. Finally the channel was reconstructed and is now functional again.
During the project, participants had the opportunity to obtain knowledge about using traditional carpentry tools and to learn basic techniques of working with axes. They learned ways of marking and replacing logs as well as other wood processing technologies. In addition, volunteers got an understanding of how water mills in this region of Russia worked and had an important role in the lives of the communities.
The projects’ programme was completed by excursions to exploring the magnificent surrounding cultural landscape.
The project has been organised by Kenozero National Park, in partnership with European Heritage Volunteers.