Adventures in Lemko Land

Discovering Lemko Land
Discovering Lemko Land

Inspired by what I had read and researched for a recent post, I decided to grab my bike and head down south to deepest, darkest Lemko Land. I decided to pick a place (or places) that were close to water. My destinations were the villages of Łosie and Klimkówka (the latter being created after the old Klimkówka had been cleared and flooded to make way for a reservoir). Armed only with my 15-year-old bike and mobile phone (with which to take pictures) I decided to attack this lost part of Europe and discover what hidden treasures this multicultural mountain land had to offer.

Kwiatoń Cerkiew
Kwiatoń Cerkiew

On my very first full day in the Low Beskids, in the heartland of what was once the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, I decided to go in search of signs of the Greek Catholic culture which was once so rich in Poland. What remains of Greek Catholic (and indeed Orthodox) culture in Poland is a sprinkling of wooden cerkiews (churches) around south-eastern Poland. In Polish there is a distinction made between Roman Catholic kościół and Greek Catholic/Orthodox cerkiew. Also, Roman Catholics refer to their priest as ksiądz whereas Greek Catholics often refer to their priest as jegomość.

Leszczyny Cerkiew
Leszczyny Cerkiew

I began my 60km biking marathon in search of Poland’s wooden (Lemko) Greek Catholic and Orthodox cerkiews starting with Łosie, followed by the picturesque Leszczyny, Kunkowa, Uście Górlickie, Kwiatoń (reckoned to be the most beautiful wooden cerkiew in Poland owing to its perfect proportions), Skwirtne, Gładyszów, Przysłup (high up on a hill) and Nowica (hidden in a forest). What struck me was that in many of these villages, the local cerkiew actually catered to three different parishes: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Orthodox. A real religious melting pot.

Road-side Cyrillic
Road-side Cyrillic

Certainly, evidence of this bubbling religious and cultural hotpot lies in the cerkiews dotted around the gorgeous landscape high upon the Beskid hilltops or in glades deep within the Beskid forests. But we can also see it in the numerous patriarchal (three-bar) crosses strewn across Lemko Land. These (Eastern Orthodox) stone crosses can be seen every few kilometres on all of the village roads in the Beskids. On closer inspection, the patriarchal crosses bear witness to the linguistic diversity of this region with inscriptions almost exclusively written in the Cyrillic script.

Bilingual Poland
Bilingual Poland

Language is often seen as one of the chief factors that define a nation. Likewise, the Lemkos also have their own language: Rusyn. There are now decidedly fewer speakers of the Lemko dialect of Rusyn than before the war but the language is seeing somewhat of a revival with many villages taking a vote on whether they wish to introduce bilingual signs. Several villages have already decided to do so. With such a small number of Lemko inhabitants, this can only be undertaken with the goodwill of the Polish majority. Bielanka is such an example where the decision to introduce bilingual signs was passed with a one-vote majority.

Land of Legend
Land of Legend

Łemkowszczyzna is not only a rich cultural, religious and linguistic mix but it is also a land full of stories, myths and legends. Every cerkiew on a hill, cross by the side of the road or wellspring has a story to tell – a reason for being there. Perhaps a demon was thwarted by a farmer, the Virgin Mary appeared to a young peasant girl or a spring burst out of the ground after an apparition had been seen wandering around the nearby field.  One thing is sure in Lemko Land: that cerkiew, that cross and that mountain spring is still there and can still be seen.


13 thoughts on “Adventures in Lemko Land

  1. Interesting article. I often think that, compared to countries like Spain and Britain, Poland is a rather homogenous place with no real differences between regions but this piece reminded me not only about Lemkos but also Silesians, Kashubians etc..

    You can find Orthodox churches, chapels and cemetaries in most of Poland, not only in remote eastern areas, but the Cyrillic roadsigns were a surprise to me i had no idea they did that.

    Is the Rusyn language very similar to Ukrainian or Belarussian or is it more similar to Western Slavic?

    Do you do these trips without a car? I should really get a bike but I haven’t ridden one for years, guess i’m more of a walker…

  2. Czarny Kot,
    Thanks for the kind words.

    Lemko Rusyn is related to Ukrainian but a Pole can quite easily understand it. Many linguists (although I don’t subscribe to this view) believe it to be a dialect of Ukrainian. In essence, (Lemko) Rusyn is an East Slavonic language. Here are three articles about Rusyn you might find of interest:



    As to your car/bike question… I didn’t take my car. I got the train to the Beskids and then biked everywhere. Hard work but VERY rewarding and exhilarating. 🙂 The main places to head for on the train are Krynica Zdrój and Nowy Sącz.

  3. Well done, lord Rafster, good exploring. 🙂 How do they use ‘jegomosc’ – is it with the third person? Is it masculine gender? (words ending -osc tend to be feminine, as I recall) There are so many interesting places to see which aren’t accessible by public transport… I may have to buy a funky moped or something. :]

  4. As far as I remember (and I could be completely wrong) it’s “Wasza Jegomość”.

    As to your moped – not a bad idea, especially if it’s funky. 🙂

  5. Hmmm–I was recently reading about the Crimean War and how the pretext for it was a conflict between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests. Of course the real reasons for the war had to do with competing imperial ambitions between Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Britain. At any rate, it’s interesting to see that the same religious divisions are still going strong, along with their cultural associations—though maybe it’s boiled down to a linguistic divide. But nevertheless it sounds as though you had a lovely ride through some interesting country.

  6. Sorry for not replying sooner, Jenny. I’ve been busy running an intensive course for interpreters. Phew!
    Interesting what you say about Catholic and Orthodox priests. I wouldn’t say the divisions are marked in Lemko Land, but I’d rather focus on the fantastic diversity of this part of Europe. 🙂

  7. Raf, you mention that a new Klimkowka has been created? I thought all the families moved to Losie or Gorlice…perhaps some returned? (My Grandpa left Klimkowka in 1905; my Grandma was from Losie.) Fascinating to hear some “current” news of the area. Catherine

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