-the world as I see it
If you have been following my blog, you must know that I am quite interested in half-timbered structures. Last week, I was taken on a site visit to the two largest timber-framed churches in the world. The churches are just as significant to historians as they are to architects and structural engineers. Their construction dates back to the 17th Century, in the aftermath of the Thirty Years war. This long-drawn-out series of wars, fought between 1618 and 1648 in Central Europe, remains one of the biggest and bloodiest conflicts in European history. The denouement of the Thirty Years war called for harmony and concord between Roman Catholic and Lutheran Europe, which was brought about by the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. This peace settlement allowed for the construction of three Lutheran churches in the Polish towns of Jawor, Glogow and Swidnica. Although the treaty paved the way for religious tolerance, it did not grant a full sense of freedom to the Protestants. To ensure that the churches could in no way surpass or even compete with the grandeur and the stateliness of the existing Catholic churches, the following conditions were put forth-
Timber and clay being less durable than stone, were not typically the materials of choice in buildings of importance. Despite this, the architect, Albert von Sabisch, managed to create imposing buildings, two of which have lasted for more than four centuries now. The church at Glogow, built in 1651, was the first of the three churches to be built but only lasted until 1758, when it was destroyed by a fire that occurred as a result of a thunderstorm. The church at Jawor was erected in 1655 and the one at Swidnica was completed a year later.Considered to be ‘outstanding testimony to the exceptional coexistence of Baroque art and Lutheran Theology’ (Protestant churches usually don’t have very decorative interiors ), the two churches were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in the year 2001.
The shingle-roofed churches at Jawor and Swidnica are similar in their overall external and internal appearance with the exterior framework of orthogonal and diagonal reddish-brown timber elements encaging the straw and clay composite walls and a highly decorative polychrome interior.
The interior of the Church of Peace at Jawor is painted predominantly in blue and white. The worshippers can be accommodated in four galleries. In the original structure, only the second and the fourth galleries existed. The first and the third galleries were added a few decades later. The galleries are decorated with scenes from the Old and New Testament. The coat of arms and shields on the first level belonged to the aristocratic families of those times.
Like the church at Jawor, the church at Swidnica has four tiers of galleries, a gilded pulpit at the side and a high altar. Its layout, however, resembles a Greek cross and its interior is more ornate and colourful. The church at Swidnica is larger and can accommodate more people. The pipe organ still functions and has a rich sound.
If you look at the pulpit in the church, you will notice that there is an hourglass installed. Our guide told us the reason behind it is to avoid long sermons 😀
Both the churches had bell towers added in the 18th Century. While the bell tower of the church at Jowar forms a part of the main structure, the one at Swidnica stands separately in the church complex.
In view of all the constrictions placed on their construction, one would expect that the churches at Jawor and Swidnica would have never managed to stand the test of time. It is remarkable how the architect, the builders and the carpenters managed to erect these marvellous and structurally complex buildings with their limited resources and time.