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St. George's Cathedral David, Kathryn


St. George's Cathedral in Ukraine has served as many things in the 20th century alone: the seat of the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the religiously diverse city of Habsburg Lemberg, the temporary headquarters of the Nazi-occupying regime in western Ukraine, and under the Soviets, a Russian Orthodox Church whose purpose was to promote Orthodoxy in a historically Catholic land. In the 1990s, it was the site of protests against the Soviet state, protests that called for this Church to once again serve the Greek Catholic Church and for Ukraine to not only have religious freedom, but also to be independent from the Soviet Union. A particular example of baroque Church architecture, the church in its current form was designed by the architect Bernard Meretyn (d. 1758) who combined elements of 18th century Habsburg architecture with his own interpretations of local Ukrainian churches. The Church architecture also reflects the hybrid nature of the Greek Catholic Church, with elements drawn from Latin-rite and Eastern-rite Christianity. St. George’s Cathedral was built as a joint venture between the Metropolitan of the Church, Metropolitan Atanasii Sheptytsky, and Habsburg patrons. The Catholic Habsburg monarchy was invested in raising the status of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the lands it had recently annexed from Poland. Raising the status of the Greek Catholic Church was thought to be an effective strategy to fight influence from imperial Russia and its Russian Orthodox Church as well as to create loyal Habsburg status out of Greek Catholics. This campaign of support for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church resulted in a growth in Greek Catholic seminaries and the construction of new Church buildings, including St. George’s. The Church’s Baroque style was crafted with the assistance of prominent European architects and its artistic elements, particularly its sculptures of saints and Church Fathers, reflect the architectural style of the day. Situated on a hill, the Church remains an architectural symbol of the city of L'viv, today located in Ukraine and a testament to the city’s character as a European city. Yet for powers that have occupied the city of L’viv throughout history, the symbolic importance of St. George’s and it sacred nature have made it a target for forcible occupation. During the Nazi occupation of L’viv (1939-1944), Nazi authorities used Church buildings to create their occupying regime and coordinated religious ceremonies to create the (false) narrative that Nazi power had the Church’s blessing. When western Ukraine was occupied by Soviet authorities, officially becoming part of Soviet Ukraine in 1945, St. George’s Cathedral was forcibly transferred to the jurisdiction of the Soviet state-sponsored Russian Orthodox Church, a powerful symbol of the USSR’s promotion of Russian Orthodoxy and suppression of the Greek Catholic Church in western Ukraine. Today, the Church is once again a Greek Catholic Church and while the seat of the Church is now in Kyiv, the powerful arch-eparchy of L’viv is represented by St. George’s.

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