Świdnica – the complex of the Augsburg Evangelical church of the Holy Trinity, also known as the Church of Peace, Świdnica
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Świdnica – the complex of the Augsburg Evangelical church of the Holy Trinity, also known as the Church of Peace

Świdnica

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The complex of the Church of Peace in Świdnica is notable for its immense historical, artistic and research value, forming an important, tangible manifestation of the historical and cultural legacy of both the region of Silesia and Europe. Along with the Church of Peace in Jawor, this church bears testimony to an exceptional act of tolerance on the part of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg, who was forced to make concessions to Protestant communities in Silesia for political reasons when, following the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Evangelicals - who accounted for most of the local population - have been deprived of their religious freedom, losing nearly all of their churches in the process.

The imperial building permits, granted after a period of prolonged and costly efforts on the part of the local community, provided for the construction of three churches in total - the church in Świdnica, the church in Jawor and the third, now-defunct temple in Głogów. The constraints imposed under the building permits in question - the Churches of Peace were to be located beyond the city limits on a site designated by the imperial officials, built using nothing but timber and clay over the course of a single year and were not allowed to feature any towers whatsoever - were exceptionally stringent and had a direct impact on the unique solutions used in the course of construction of these churches. The need to reconcile these requirements with the expectations of a very numerous Evangelical community resulted in the construction of the largest Baroque timber-framed ecclesiastical buildings anywhere in Europe. Using traditional materials and construction techniques, Albrecht von Säbisch, an architect and engineer, designed buildings that pushed the boundaries of the technological capabilities of their times, while the proficiency of their builders in the field of carpentry, drawing on the centuries of tradition of erecting timber-framed structures, allowed them to survive for many centuries despite the inherently ephemeral materials used during their construction. The lavish interior fittings (which were constructed and installed over time) add to the value of the church in Świdnica, forming an example of the cross-pollination between Baroque art and Lutheran theology and bearing witness to the social hierarchy of the days gone by.

The Church of Peace in Świdnica has retained its original form, including the overall shape, structure and materials. All of the architectural components of the church which were added at a later date (galleries, dedicated loges for members of selected families or guilds) as well as the interior décor and fittings remain compatible with the original form of the church, with the final result being stylistically consistent.

The church in Świdnica is the only surviving early modern Evangelical church complex in the historic land of Silesia which retains its original function, architectural form and construction techniques, comprising buildings erected from the mid-17th century to the late 18th century as well as a cemetery with headstones and sepulchral chapels from the 17th-20th centuries and the accompanying gardens, the latter performing both decorative and utility functions. The boundary wall erected back in the 18th century allows the entire complex to retain the nature of an enclave. The buildings linked to the Church of Peace are of great historical significance, demonstrating the way in which the Lutheran parish operated in an age when a numerous group of people have suddenly found themselves in the position of a diaspora that was barely even tolerated by the state authorities.

The inscription of the Churches of Peace in Świdnica and Jawor on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001 (dec. CONF 208 X.A) further emphasises the value of this church.

History

The site for the new Evangelical church in Świdnica was designated on September 22, 1652. Initially, due to the shortage of funds, a small, temporary structure known as “God’s Cottage” (“Gotteshütten”) was erected in the middle of the square. The funds for the construction of the proper church were collected from the faithful from all over Silesia as well as from other lands of the Empire; some of the collectors have even made it as far as Sweden to ask for donations.

The cornerstone for the construction of the church was laid on August 23, 1656; a mere ten months later, on June 24, 1657, the very first church service was held at the church of the Holy Trinity. On November 7, 1657, the building was officially handed over to the local parish. The construction works, based upon the design by Albrecht von Säbisch, an architect from Wrocław, were conducted by the master carpenters Andres Gamper (a.k.a. Kempner) from Jawor and Kaspar König from Świdnica as well as by the master brickmason Hans Zöllner. Following the completion of construction works, the church received its first interior fittings - the altarpiece, the pulpit and the baptismal font, which, after a few decades, have been replaced by new, much more lavish items. Initially, the church featured two levels of galleries in its side naves and transept; later, however, additional galleries located between the existing storeys as well as special loges for noblemen and guild members were added. During the Silesian Wars, when the Prussian armies mounted a heavy siege of Świdnica in both 1758 and 1762, the church - which was located within the fortified section of the city - sustained substantial damage, its northern side bearing the brunt of the attacks. The damage was repaired in 1763, at which point the existing sacristy was also added. Yet, soon afterwards, the church faced another threat as the city was besieged by the French in 1807. In 1852, on the 200th anniversary of the designation of the construction site, the church underwent comprehensive renovation works which also included the addition of the southern vestibule. On the 250th anniversary of the construction of the church, in years 1900-1902, the first series of restoration works was performed, with two vestibules designed by Hans Poelzig being added to the southern façade, alongside the entrance doors.

A number of buildings necessary to ensure the continued operation of the parish were erected around the church itself. Their number increased even further following the Treaty of Altranstädt in 1707. It was at that point that the bell tower, parish school and residential buildings for the teaching staff were erected. During the Prussian siege of 1758 and 1762, the wattle-and-daub parish buildings located by the northern border of the complex have been destroyed; the buildings on the southern side, however, have survived the hostilities. The buildings which were lost during that period have never been rebuilt (with the sole exception of the rectory), with the cemetery and gardens now spreading on the site on which they had once stood. The cemetery was extended in 1852, incorporating the site of the former parish gardens in the west. Despite the opening of a new Evangelical necropolis outside the city limits in 1889, the cemetery surrounding the church was still in use and would remain so right until the 1940s .

Description

The complex of the Church of Peace in Świdnica is located in the northern part of the city, outside its medieval defensive walls. It is located in the former fortification belt - an area which was subject to an obligation imposed upon landowners which provided that all buildings located there were to be demolished at the owner’s expense should the land be needed for military use. The site of the church itself - known today as the Square of Peace - is a walled enclave designed on a trapezium-shaped plan. At the very centre of the entire complex stands the church, surrounded by a cemetery. Small gardens serving both decorative and utility purposes can be seen next to each of the surviving parish buildings.

The Baroque church itself is a wattle-and-daub structure with plaster infill panels and a wooden interior. The church features a three-nave basilica layout and was designed on a floor plan approximating the shape of the Greek cross; the individual arms of the cross all have different names, with the eastern arm being known as the Altar Hall, the western one - as the Hall of the Dead, while the northern and southern ones are referred to as the Field Hall and Hall of Weddings respectively. The interiors are surrounded by two-storey galleries with additional loges for guild members (carpenters, glaziers, furriers and weavers), the latter being half the width of the galleries themselves. In addition, the church also features another gallery positioned between the main storeys, the so-called students’ gallery and special loges for cloth makers. The surrounding balustrades are adorned with various Biblical scenes, inscriptions and coats of arms. Lavishly decorated loges designed for individual noble families, such as the von Hochberg family loge in the Hall of Weddings, are positioned between the galleries. Painted ceilings above the nave incorporate the portrayals of angels playing various musical instruments, with the Holy Trinity in the centre. In addition, the nave ceiling also features oil paintings depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation: the Heavenly Jerusalem above the Altar Hall, the Fall of Babylon above the Hall of Weddings, the portrayal of God the Father surrounded by twenty-four elders above the Hall of the Dead, and Judgement Day above the Field Hall.

The interior fixtures and fittings include the Rococo architectural altarpiece with a canopy supported by six Corinthian columns and incorporating a group of sculptures portraying the Baptism of Christ, flanked by the figures of Moses, Aaron, St Peter and Paul as well as the image of the Holy Trinity, the pulpit adorned with the sculptures of Cardinal Virtues projecting out of the pulpit sides, a figure of an angel standing atop the sounding board, and reliefs depicting scenes of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Golgotha and Paradise on the balustrade of the stairs leading up to the pulpit itself; in addition, the church also features a large pipe organ in its western section and another, smaller pipe organ above the altar. The entire interior decor is further enhanced by wooden, painted epitaph plaques and suspended guild symbols on the piers supporting the galleries.

Stone epitaph plaques originating from the 17th and 18th century have been placed outside the church in an upright position in front of the façades. The cemetery surrounding the church features numerous headstones from the period between the 17th and the 20th century, some of which feature lavish architectural forms and sculptural decorations. The western section of the cemetery features three sepulchral chapels from the period between the 18th and the 19th century, abutting the boundary wall.

The site also features a number of surviving, early modern auxiliary buildings, including both wattle-and-daub and brick buildings: the free-standing bell tower, the rectory (one of the wings of which may actually form the remnants of the original rectory that had stood here even before the Church of Peace itself was built), the house of church servants, the pensions office building and the bell-ringer’s living quarters (currently serving as the UNESCO Centre for Promotion and Partnership), the former Evangelical Latin school, later used as a secondary school (and known as the Lutherheim - the Luther House - from 1854 onwards) as well as the former residential building for vicars and cantors. The complex is supplemented by the former building of the college for teachers of the Latin school, located in the north-western corner of the complex and separated from the rest of the site by a brick and stone wall. The building later served as the house for confirmands; today, it is used, inter alia, as the Polish-Catholic parish church of St Anthony of Padua). The paved alley lined by lindens, leading through the cemetery grounds, links the former Latin school and the former teachers’ college.

compiled by National Heritage Board of Poland, 2017r.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1656 r.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Świdnica
  • Location: Voivodeship dolnośląskie, district świdnicki, commune Świdnica (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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