As the war rages across Ukraine, two young Orthodox Christians from Latvia have recorded a touching Ukrainian hymn. The piece is the “Kyrie Eleison,” or “Lord have Mercy” and one of the most beautiful Latin prayers in Christendom.
The song is steeped in the Ukrainian musical tradition, which developed from that of the Byzantium. While it is not known who composed this sweet, lilting melody, we do know that it dates back to at least the 15th century.
According to Aleksandra Špicberga, the soloist who also posted the video, this is a hymn that came from the early Ukrainian monastic tradition. Kievan Rus (the territory now known as Ukraine) was Christianized in the 10th century, when Byzantine culture spread throughout the region.
Along with Orthodoxy, they also brought their millennium-old musical tradition, which was soon to be mixed with the remnants of “archaic layers of Ukrainian folklore and melodies.” This rendition of “Kyrie” is the result of this cultural mingling.
In a Facebook post, Aleksandra went on to explain that the recording was taken from within the Jersika Christ Transfiguration Orthodox church. This beautiful structure is also known as “The Iron Church,” as the walls, window frames, roof rafters, roof, lower part of the cupola and the cupola itself are all iron and cast iron.
The coating of iron that pervades the sanctuary may be part of the reason why it has such thrilling acoustics. Aleksandra’s excellent vocal style really shines on the high notes, which reverberate well in the sacred space.
It is also known as the “Traveling Church,” due to its history. It was constructed in the early 19th century, in Ukraine, but it was eventually moved to Daugavpils, Latvia, and later it changed locations again to the town that is now called Jersika. It fell into disrepair during the Cold War era, but it was fully restored in 2005.
Aleksandra went on to note that she was inspired to record this hymn by a recording of the same piece performed by the Kyiv Chamber Choir. Listen to this fantastic hymn below.