Rushnik is a ritual cloth embroidered with symbols and cryptograms of the ancient world. They have been used in sacred Eastern Slavic rituals, religious services and ceremonial events such as weddings and funerals. Each region has its own designs and patterns with hidden meaning, passed down from generation to generation. This beautiful piece can be used as an altar cloth or for other ritual use. In the home, rushnyky are usually draped around the icons in the icon corner or draped around pictures, from family photographs or images of important persons.
An embroidered or woven towel 20–50 cm wide and 1–4 m long, it was used usually for a decorative or ceremonial purpose. In medieval times it was used as a basic piece of dress, covering the front and back of the body, or as a monetary unit. In Ukraine the rushnyk accompanied a person throughout his or her life: a newborn was placed immediately on a rushnyk. The rushnyk played a prominent role in the wedding rituals: in the engagement ceremony and the church wedding the rushnyk was used to tie the hands of the young couple; at the shower the bride-to-be and her bridesmaids wore the rushnyk across the chest; the engaged couple or their attendants carried the rushnyk when they invited guests to the wedding; at the wedding it was the bride’s chief gift to the bridegroom, her in-laws, and the matchmakers; the rushnyk was worn across the chest by the most important, if not all, wedding guests; at the departure from the bride’s home and during the church service the couple stood on a rushnyk; and at the wedding the wedding bread was placed on a rushnyk. As a component of the bride’s dowry the rushnyk represented her wealth and talents.
The Hutsuls hung a rushnyk in the window to inform others of a death in the family. At funerals the deceased were covered with a rushnyk, the oxen pulling the hearse were decorated with it, the coffin was lowered into the grave with rushnyky, and the cross over the grave was draped with a rushnyk. A rushnyk was the most common gift made to churches. It was used in various folk rituals and celebrations—to decorate the ice cross on Epiphany and the birch tree on the Feast of the Trinity.
During the Kupalo festival rushnyky and flower wreaths were used for decorating roadside crosses. The final sheaf of #grain gathered during the harvest festival was tied with a rushnyk. At Saint Andrew‘s festival girls hung rushnyky outside their windows at night to learn whether or not they would get married. Rushnyky were also widely used in domestic life. When a house was constructed, the final beam was hoisted into place with rushnyky, which were then given to the workmen as gifts. Special rushnyky called bozhnyky or naobraznyky decorated icons or favorite paintings in the house. The rushnyk was also a symbol of the family hearth, a link between the living and the dead. A young man leaving home received a rushnyk from his mother or betrothed.
A Rushnyk has many uses. The very basic rushnik is colloquially called the utyralnyk or wiper and serves as a towel. The utyralnyk either has no designs on it or it has very narrow strip on the edges. In contrast, a nabozhnyk is a highly decorated Rushnyk composing of embroidery and of lace. Nabozhnyks, also called nabraznyks or nakutnyks are used to decorate icons and icon corners in homes.
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