Everything is bigger, grander and incredibly imposing in Russia. Anything of importance either reflects the sheer decadence of Tsarist opulence or the Soviet penchant for the grandiose. So, when we travelled through the countrysides of this vast, vast country, it was refreshing to stumble across the simple beauty of Russia of the yore, in parts of the land that is eternally stuck in time.
The journey to the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl is almost as whimsical as its name. After taking a bus from the nearest town of Vladimir to a village called Bogolyubovo, we walk past a blue-domed monastery, along little wooden houses, through tiny alleys, cross a railway bridge and reach a green flowering meadow.
These are the floodplains of the river Nerl. If you are lucky enough to reach here right after a rainshower, the plains are transformed into a shallow pool of water that perfectly reflects the skies. We walk through the meadow to see a pretty church in the distance. Everything is almost too lyrical. Open blue skies with puffy white clouds, a refreshing afternoon breeze that had the long grass dancing gracefully to a rustling rhythm. We walk past picnicking locals, little children swimming in the river and other happy summer scenes. The church is sheer poetry in white stone, located on a small mound at the end of the grassy trail. There’s great beauty in the simplicity of this 800-year-old church.
Legend has it that this 12th century church was built by Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky in memory of his favourite son, Izyaslav, who was killed in battle against the Bulgars. It is known to be the golden standard of traditional Russian architecture with its slender structure, clean lines and its symmetric proportions. The carvings are delicate and whimsical too, depicting King David surrounded by birds, beasts and mythical creatures.
The natural serenity of this place draws you in. We sat outside the structure in a shady spot, for hours together, almost as if in prayer. I guess, it doesn’t matter if you are a believer or not. Nature has a way of becoming your temple.