Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica, Poland

Two unparalleled masterpieces of skilled handicraft which bear testimony to a historic quest for religious tolerance

The Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica, in southwest Poland, are the largest Baroque timber-framed religious buildings in Europe. They were built in the 17th century to a scale and complexity which was, and is still to this day, unseen in European wooden architecture.

The Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The churches were built as a consequence of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia treaties, which ended the Thirty Years’ War. The defeated Evangelicals were denied the right to profess their faith and have their own churches, so began negotiations to better their situation.

The Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

They were eventually granted permission to erect three new churches, however strict conditions were imposed: they had to be built outside the city walls using non-durable materials (wood and clay), they couldn’t have a tower and they had to be completed within a year.

The Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The architect and engineer, Albrecht von Säbisch, was given the challenge of reconciling these requirements with the expectations of the region’s extensive Evangelical community, for whom these were to be the only churches. His ideas and designs were successful.

The galleries in the Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

Given the traditional materials and techniques that were used, the large three-aisled churches were an extraordinary feat of engineering. Each with a capacity for 6-7,500 worshippers, the untypical use of multi-level galleries compensated for the limited volume of the interior.

Side elevation of the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The Church of the Holy Trinity in Świdnica was built between 1656 and 1657 on a Greek-cross ground plan. The church features a polygonal vestry on its eastern side, as well as entrance halls of varying architectural projections and sizes.

The Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Jawor was built from 1654 to 1655 as a rectangular, three-nave basilica with a three-sided chancel. 
Unfortunately, the third of the Churches of Peace, built in Głogów in 1652, burned down in a fire in 1758.

The bell tower of the Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

In line with the restrictions that had been imposed, the Churches of Peace did not initially have a belfry. Over time, however, they were erected: as a free-standing structure in Świdnica, and adjacent to the body of the church in Jawor.

The interior of the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The baptismal font, ambo and altar are all essential elements of any Christian church: baptism is an initiation, the introduction of a new believer to the church community; from the ambo, the sermon is preached to encourage faith; and the Eucharist is celebrated at the altar.

The altar of the Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

Both of the churches are furnished with Baroque altars which were crafted in local workshops. The altar in the church in Jawor dates back to 1672. 

The baptismal font in the Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

In the church in Jawor, the baptismal font was the first of the decorative elements to appear here, having been installed in 1656.

View of the loge and galleries in the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

Galleries are also an integral part of a Protestant church. Traditionally, however, they were single level. The multi-level galleries in the Churches of Peace are a unique example of the change in the interior design of Protestant temples.

Świdnica – Loge of the Hochberg family (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The most privileged families had a private loge, in other words, their own separate seating area.

The most impressive of them is the Hochberg Loge, which was given as a gesture of gratitude to the family of Count Johann Heinrich von Hochberg, who had donated 2,000 out of the 3,000 oaks that were needed for the construction of the church in Świdnica.

The interior of the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The rich, Baroque décor found in the churches in Świdnica and Jawor is far removed from the traditional simplicity of the interior of a typical Evangelical house of prayer, but consistent with the all-European artistic currents that were prevalent at that time.

The 17th-century Baroque organ screen in the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The sheer abundance and diversity of the decorative elements found within their interior are precisely what make the Churches of Peace unique compared to the purist interiors of typical Protestant churches.

The vault of the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The painted scenes which are depicted on the sills of the galleries, on the structural elements and on the ceilings are educational. They allowed those members of the congregation who could not read to learn the contents of the Scriptures.

The interior of the Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The galleries, which are located on several levels, are covered with biblical texts and allegorical scenes, and are richly decorated with epitaphs, emblems of professional guilds—bakers, brewers, butchers and clothiers—and portraits of burghers and members of the gentry.

A Baroque epitaph from the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The churches’ epitaphs along with the painted and carved decorations are an exciting combination of Baroque forms with themes referring to Protestant theology. They also reflect the social and material status of the Evangelical communities’ members.

An epitaph from the Church of Peace in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

Unlike in Catholic temples, many epitaphs were placed outside the buildings, with the intention of saving space inside the church.

A Baroque coat of arms in the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

Painted and sculptural representations which depict the founders and benefactors of the churches can be found on the sills of the galleries, on structural elements, and the ceilings.

View of the loges and galleries of the church in Jawor (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The construction of the Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica should be recognized as an extraordinary technological achievement: given the limited volume of the interior due to the construction options and the building materials that were available, the result was impressive. 

The cemetery of the Church of Peace in Świdnica (2001) by Churches of Peace in Jawor and ŚwidnicaUNESCO World Heritage

The churches’ original architectural form and their function as Evangelical-Augsburg houses of worship are today unchanged, as are the spatial relationships between them and the parish buildings and cemeteries in their vicinity. They were granted World Heritage status in 2001.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland: https://nid.pl/en/ and https://www.gov.pl/web/kultura

More on the Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica and World Heritage:  whc.unesco.org/en/list/1054

Photos: National Institute of Cultural Heritage (Iwona Dziuk and Piotr Ostrowski), Jaworzanin

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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