The Church of St. John the Baptist

Bila Tserkva, Ukraine | C.1816

Photo Credit: Oksana Melnyk

Perched high atop Castle Hill in Bila Tserkva, The Church of St. John the Baptist can be seen throughout the city. However, it’s what’s hidden – and what was once believed to be underneath the Church – that has mystified archeologists for decades.

Believed to have been designed by Italian architect Domenico Botani, the Church was completed in 1816 in the architectural style of classicism. Constructed in the shape of a cross, it is made of brick, and has a large single dome with two bell towers. Inside, grand stucco ornamentation and mural paintings adorn its interiors.

For years, it was believed that the Church was built on the site of an ancient “white church”, a building that actually gave Bila Tserkva its name. In 1978, archeologists excavated remains revealing it was actually in the western area of Castle Hill. Several ancient tombs were even found, belonging to the Church’s first worshippers.

Apparently the original builders of the Church were aware of the “white church” and its location, too. Documents from 1844 list a theological seminary, hospital, abbots house, and stable on the Church grounds. These buildings were all placed in considerable distance from the foundation of the ancient church.

The Church enjoyed prominence on Castle Hill until the mid-twentieth century. By 1961, it had deteriorated significantly and the city launched a plan to convert the Church into an art gallery. A decade later, renovations and restorations began, but the plan to transform the Church into a gallery was abandoned. Instead, the Church has been turned into an organ hall.

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