Churches of Peace – witnesses to history

The Reformation initiated by Dr Martin Luther in 1517
sought to cleanse and transform the Church and the
response of the Catholic Church, primarily resulting
from the Council of Trent in the years 1545-1563,
did not prevent the escalation of violence and
human hatred which resulted solely from a different
understanding of God and His revelation.



The Church in Jawor


The first half of the 17th century was extremely tragic for the countries and societies of Europe, including Poland and Silesia, since between 1618 and 1648 the continent was engulfed by the terrible so-called Thirty Years’ War, which erupted and was conducted against the backdrop of religion.
Peace Treaty
According to the provisions of the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, and in accordance with the principle of cuius regio, eius religio (Latin: „whose realm, his religion”), the Czech king and at the same time the Emperor, Ferdinand III, granted to Silesian Lutherans (Silesia, together with the city of Wrocław belonged at that time to the Habsburg Empire) the right to build three churches in duchies directly dependent on the crown. These were located in Świdnica, Jawor and Głogów.

It should be noted here that from the very beginning the new confession found fertile land in Silesia and in a short time most of the inhabitants of this area together with the capital in Wrocław had adopted the new faith following the teachings of Martin Luther.
All three of these churches were called „Churches of Peace”. They were connected by general principles concerning their construction and location: materials other than brick and stone had to be used in their construction and their silhouette was to exclude towers characteristic of churches. The new churches were to be erected at the distance of a cannon shot from the city walls. The first two of these churches survive to this day. They are the largest wooden buildings on our continent, which have religious functions. In 2001, they were inscribed into UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.

The Church in Świdnica

The Church in Jawor
The church in Jawor was built between 1654 and 1656 according to the design of the Wrocław architect Albrecht von Säbisch. Construction continued until the beginning of the 18th century.
It is a half-timbered building, i.e. the skeletal structure is made of wood, and the plane surfaces are filled with clay and other non-durable materials. It is built on a rectangular plan. The interior, decorated in Baroque and Rococo styles, is surrounded on three sides by impressive, wooden, richly painted galleries for the faithful – so-called matronea (those on the north and south sides have up to four balconies) – so that the church can accommodate 6000 people. The polychrome interior, painted in 1710, presents scenes from the Old and New Testaments. In the church we can admire the 17th-century main altar with its sculptures of Moses and John the Baptist and angels. Its creator was Silesian sculptor Mathias Schneider.
In the extensive interior of the church there is also a picture of Jesus at Prayer on the Mount of Olives, and the 17th-century pulpit is the work of Legnica sculptor Matthias Knote. On the north side is located the sacristy dating from the beginning of the 18th century, also serving as the baptismal chapel. On the south side, the church has a low, square tower, dating from the same period, with an interesting 8-sided structure at the top, topped with an onion helmet with a lantern.
The church in Jawor is a rare example of an adaptation of Baroque style in sacred Protestant art.

The Church in Świdnica
The Church of Peace in Świdnica is the largest wooden church in Europe – also built to the design of Albrecht von Säbisch. It was built between 1656 and 1657 on the basis of the same general principles, using only non-durable materials, i.e. wood, clay, and – according to the legendary tradition – without the use of nails. Interestingly, the church has remained almost intact and unchanged to this day.
It has a wooden skeleton. Its construction is laid out in the form of a cross. It has a three-nave, basilica form, surrounded by chapels and portals. Visitors to this church can also delight in its Baroque interior with multi-level balconies and its many box pews; that is, separate places for prayer for the aristocracy. These belonged to worthy, rich townspeople, craft associations, and the landowners of the Świdnica area.
Here we find four naves dedicated to: the altar, weddings, the dead and the field. Visiting the church in Świdnica, it is worth paying attention to the historic elements of the interior furnishings, such as the main Baroque altar from 1725 (created by Augustin Hoffman), a late Baroque pulpit from 1729, the great organ from 1666–1669 and the baptismal font from 1661 carved by Pankratius Werner.
On the ceiling, there is a painting with a scene from the Apocalypse of St John by Christian Süssenbach and Christian Kolitschky. The church in Świdnica can accommodate up to 7500 worshippers at a time.

Baroque interior of the Church in Świdnica