Church of the Tithes

Image - A reconstruction of the original Church of the Tithes (drawing). Image - A floor plan of the Church of the Tithes. Image - A floor mosaic of the Church of the Tithes.

Church of the Tithes (Десятинна церква; Desiatynna tserkva). The first and largest stone church in Kyiv and the burial place of the Kyivan princes. Dedicated to the Dormition, it was built by Byzantine and Rus’ artisans between 989 and 996 amid the palaces of Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great, who set aside a tithe of his income for its construction and maintenance (hence the name). The church was besieged and ruined in 1240 by Batu Khan's Mongol horde. In the early 17th century, under Metropolitan Petro Mohyla, the smaller, wooden Saint Nicholas's Church was built on a portion of the site. Between 1828 and 1842 the Russian administration leveled the remaining ruins and erected a new stone church that occupied half the original area. Its Russian style had nothing in common with that of the original structure (photo: Church of the Tithes, early 20th century). In 1935 Soviet authorities dismantled the 19th-century church.

Excavations of the foundations of the original church indicate that it was a three-nave structure with six pillars and wide, covered galleries on the sides. It occupied an area of approx 1,700 sq m. Its numerous cupolas in cruciform arrangement—a feature recorded in a 14th-century source—distinguished it from Byzantine prototypes and made it a model in the further development of Ukrainian architecture. The plan and surviving fragments of the mosaic floor, marble column, capitals, ceramic tiles, ornamental slate, frescoes, and sarcophagi (eg, of Volodymyr the Great and his grandmother, Princess Olha) testify to the artistry of the early period of Ukrainian architecture. The artifacts collected on the site of the church are preserved in the Saint Sophia Museum in Kyiv.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

Image - An 11th-century sarcophagus found near the location of the Church of the Tithes. Image - A helmet from the Kyivan Rus' period found in the Church of the Tithes.

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