Typical Architectural Characteristics of Ukrainian Church Styles

Log Construction in Early Ukrainian Churches

Pioneer Ukrainian home in Saskatchewan

While churches generally are never constructed from logs today, this was once the norm for several styles of Ukrainian churches. When Ukrainians first came to Canada many of the pioneer churches were made with logs that had a mixture of clay and straw packed into the crevices. This was how they had built both their homes and their churches in the old country.

While there are many log churches from the pioneer period in Canada, they have all been covered with some type of commercial siding. Therefore, the picture used to demonstrate log construction is actually of a pioneer Ukrainian home that is no longer in use. Note how the logs have been dovetailed to fit together at the ends. Between the logs is a mixture of mud, straw, and manure.


An apse is an architectural element found in many Christian churches throughout the world and it dates back to the earliest days of church building. An apse is a projecting part of the church that is semicircular or polygonal in plan and usually vaulted with a splayed roof. It is most frequently found at the very end of the church and forms all or part of the sanctuary. However, in some instances the transepts of a cruciform church may also be apsidal (i.e. ending with a semicircular or polygonal wall).

In Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church near Meath Park, Saskatchewan, we see an example of a church with a rounded apse. The parish built this structure in 1917 and replaced it with a larger church in town in about 1960. In Canada, the rounded apse is not as common as polygonal apses and particularly unusual in a pioneer church. This may be because it would have been more difficult for carpenters to construct.

Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, near Meath Park, SK

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Rural Municipality of Rossburn, Manitoba, displays a typical polygonal apse. While the roof over the sanctuary is splayed in both these examples, clearly a roof over the polygonal apse would be easier for carpenters to construct.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church near Rossburn, MB

In the Bukovynian style of church, it is not uncommon to see both the front and the back of the church ending in an apsidal structure. In other forms of Ukrainian church styles, one may observe that neither the front nor the back of the church are apsidal shaped.


The hipped roof is a common element in found in both the domestic and ecclesiastical architecture of certain regions of the Ukrainian homelands. In a hipped roof we see an exterior angle fashioned by the coming together of two pitched sides of the roof that have their wall plates extending in different directions. During the period of early immigration to Canada, Ukrainian settlers continued constructing roofs such as these on both their homes and their churches. A house located in the L’viv Museum of Folk Architecture looks the very same as thousands that were built on the Canadian Prairies prior to World War I.

Thatched roof house with a high-pitched hipped roof – L’viv Museum of Folk Architecture

Roofs were high pitched on both churches and houses so that they could better shed snow and rainwater. This was particularly important if the roof was thatched rather than shingled. We find an example of a church with a hipped roof in Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Mamornitz) located 10 miles southwest of Buchanan, Saskatchewan. The church was built in 1910 and enlarged in 1989.

Hipped roof – Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church near Buchanan, SK

A gabled roof has two sloping sides that form a triangular end called a gable. This type of roof is particular common in the Ternopil regional styles of church. Note the photograph of St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church located 5 miles north of Wishart, Saskatchewan. The roof over the porch is gabled. The roof at the front of the church is gabled and the north transept, also shown in the photo, is gabled as well.

Gabled roof – St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church near Wishart, SK

A splayed roof is one that spreads downward to accommodate an apse that is rounded or polygonal. See the examples above.

Drums, Domes, and Lanterns

One of the most prominent architectural elements associated with Ukrainian churches is the dome. In particular, there is a tradition of placing a dome over the centre of a church that dates back to the early Byzantine times. The Hagia Sophia, built in Constantinople between A.D. 532 and 537, was crowned by a magnificent semi-circular dome that remains a wonder to this day.

Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Beausejour, Manitoba has a semicircular dome that is rather like the type that the Greeks introduced to the Ukrainians of Kievan-Rus. The parish replaced an older building with this one in 1964. In all other respects the design is fairly modern looking.

Semicircular dome – Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Beausejour, MB

While the Greeks introduced the semicircular dome to Kievan-Rus, it eventually evolved into a more elongated parabolic shaped dome. We see an excellent example of this in the domes of St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton, Alberta. The church dates from the early 1980s, however, the architects designed it to resemble a church from the medieval Kievan period.

Parabolic domes – St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton, AB

The placement of domes has spiritual meaning in the Eastern Rite. A single cupola over the centre of the church represents Christ; three cupolas symbolize the Holy Trinity; five cupolas represent Christ and the four evangelists; seven cupolas stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; nine cupolas correspond to the nine ranks of angels and thirteen cupolas symbolize Christ and the twelve apostles.

Sometimes the word “cupola” is used to describe a small dome or a tiny dome-like embellishment on the roof of a church. There is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes a dome and what constitutes a cupola in Ukrainian architecture, other than that the word “cupola” is generally used to refer to a small dome.
A dome may be further raised above the roofline upon a drum. This is an architectural devise that looks like a circular or polygonal cylinder. In effect, the drum connects a raised dome to the roof.

Open Domes are ones that you can see into from the interior of the church. An open dome with windows in the drum is a great vehicle for allowing natural light to enter the church from above, thus enhancing the beauty of the interior. The drums supporting domes have become higher over time in Slavic architecture and this is one of the features that distinguishes a Ukrainian church from a Greek one. Holy Ascension Orthodox Church (OCA) in Wassel, Alberta, demonstrates a cupola supported by a particularly high drum over the hipped roofed sanctuary.

Cupola on a high drum – Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, Wassel, AB

A closed dome may or may not have a drum. Either way, it rests on the church with its interior closed off by the roof and is more of a decorative than a functional element.

Eventually there evolved different shaped domes, with the onion dome being most associated with churches in Ukraine and many other Slavic countries. The onion dome developed because it was better at shedding snow, which could add unwanted weight to the roof in winter. This was particularly so in some areas of Kievan-Rus, such as Novgorod, where the snowfall could be exceptionally heavy at times. The photograph of the domes over St. Ivan Suchavsky Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor in Winnipeg demonstrates this.

Onion domes shedding snow – St. Ivan Suchavsky Sobor, Winnipeg, MB

An onion dome is a bulbous structure that is larger in diameter than the base on which it rests, and its height usually exceeds its width; although, this is not always the case. Such a dome tapers smoothly to a point where it is generally topped with a cross or further embellished with a lantern. While no one knows exactly when the first onion domes appeared in Eastern Europe, historians speculate such domes were not constructed until after the Mongols invaded the area.

While functionality had its place in the development of domes on Ukrainian churches, the multiplicity of domes seen today undoubtedly has a lot to do with artistic taste. What other building, other than a Christian church, is worthy of being crowned so beautifully.

Bulbous onion dome with lantern - Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church, Montreal, QC

As time progressed other embellishments, such as “lanterns”, were added to the Ukrainian dome. A lantern is an architectural embellishment that rests at the very top of the dome. They frequently crown the tops of domes in both Eastern Rite and Western Rite churches. A lantern is usually surmounted by a small cupola that is in turn surmounted by a cross. In some churches all of the domes are topped with lanterns; however, in some cases only the central dome has a lantern. Adding lanterns to domes became popular as the Kievan style evolved into the Cossack Baroque style. Descent of the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church in Montreal demonstrates a splendid bulbous onionshaped dome that is much wider than its drum.

With the progression of Cossack Baroque style, came the bud dome. St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor in Winnipeg is one of the better examples of this style in Canada.

St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor with bud domes

Another type of dome that developed during the Cossack Baroque period was the pear-shaped dome. With this style sometimes the lantern and dome seem to come together to form a single unit. The historic Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canora, Saskatchewan, is has good examples of such domes. Holy Trinity parish built this church in the 1920s and built a larger new church in the 1960s. They recently restored the older church, which is still occasionally used for services. I took this photo, featuring two of the three frontal domes, not long after they restored the domes.

Pear-shaped domes – Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Canora, SK

There are instances in certain regional styles of Ukrainian churches where the centre of the church is crowned not so much with a dome as with a polygonal pyramid. This is particularly common with churches that draw inspiration from the Hutsal and Boyko styles. Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church (Chekhiv) located 6 miles southwest of Preeceville, Saskatchewan, exhibits exactly this type of polygonal pyramid. The structure dates from 1906.

Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church near Preeceville, SK,
has a polygonal pyramid for a dome


Some regional varieties of Ukrainian wooden churches employ the use of wide eaves. Eaves are important for keeping rainwater off the log walls, thus reducing potential weather damage.

Frequently, the logs of the upper part of the walls were also extended to support the wide eaves. This is demonstrated in the belfry of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Demetrius (Kyziv-Tiaziv) located 8 miles south of Rama, Saskatchewan. In the picture, note how the logs in the upper part of the wall are extended to support the wide eaves.

The belfry of St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church, near Rama, SK

Piddashshia are wide-hanging eave-like structures that are frequently supported with brackets. Often the piddashshia would go around the entire perimeter of the structure midway between the top of the wall and the ground. While some of the earliest Ukrainian-Canadian churches may have had them, it is now very rare to see them in Canada. St. Elias Orthodox Church (OCA), located north of Rheine, Saskatchewan, is one of the few pioneer churches left that has a clear example of piddashshia.

St. Elias Orthodox Church (OCA), with piddashshia around its perimeter

Sometimes, the piddashshia were extended and supported by posts or columns in a structure resembling a gallery known as an opasannia. There are not many examples in Canada of this type of structure, but one can see an opasannia on St. Volodymyr Chapel at Camp Morton located just north of Gimli, Manitoba. Completed in 1962, the chapel was a project commissioned by the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg and it demonstrates many elements of western Ukrainian mountain styles of architecture. Services may be celebrated there during the summer months.

St. Volodymyr Chapel at Camp Morton, MB

The use of eaves began as a functional means of protecting the church but eventually they became very decorative and, in some cases, multilayered. The degree of this type of ornamentation seen in the Old Country was never reached in Canada but there are examples churches and, particularly, belfries that hint at this fascinating style. For example, the belfry of Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Rosa, Manitoba, has piddashshia around its perimeter, even though the actual church has none. Holy Eucharist parish built the belfry in 1926, two years after they built the church.

Belfry of Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Church, Rosa, MB

The belfry of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church (Vesna), near Arran, Saskatchewan is now covered in modern siding; therefore, not requiring the protection of piddashshia. However, the eaves were nicely left in place and covered with modern shingles at some point of the parish’s history. While the parish built the current church in 1961, this belfry was built in 1910 at the time of the construction of the first church of the parish.

Belfry of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, near Arran, SK

To see these architectural elements in their native setting, note the picture of Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church located in Roztoka Poland. It is an interesting example since it has influences from both the Boyko and the Hutsul styles. Around the front of the building where the main entrance is located, one sees the opasannia. On the remainder of the perimeter of the building one sees the piddashshia.

Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Roztoka, Poland


The pendentives are the four triangular structural forms that are required to support a dome over a square space. In the interior of a church, the pendentives are frequently decorated with images of the four Evangelists. St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ottawa, Ontario, demonstrates this tradition. In the photograph one sees St. John the Evangelist in a triangular space directly below the interior of the central dome.

Pendentive – St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, Ottawa, ON