Necessity is the mother of invention (not macht erfiderisch) – this international proverb is perfect when describing the Church of Peace in Świdnica. It is the largest wooden temple in Europe, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It all began with the strict policies of the Catholic Habsburgs of Austria, who ruled Silesia in the 17th century. Under the Peace of Westphalia, local Protestants were given the right to build three churches throughout the region – outside the city walls, with no towers or bell tower, and only made of perishable materials: wood, sand, straw and clay.
On the outside, the huge half-timbered building resembles a stud farm or barn, which was also a fulfillment of the rulers’ expectations – the Peace Churches could not resemble temples. The unobvious packaging conceals an equally unusual interior, which, like in a Shakespearean theater, is filled with galleries and balconies piled on top of each other. To meet the needs of Protestants from all over the region, the Churches of Peace were designed to accommodate as many worshippers as possible. The Świdnica church could accommodate as many as 7,500 of them – long before the pandemic restrictions, of course!
We can stare at the elaborate Baroque altar or pulpit for long time and convince ourselves that they are carved from wood and not hewn in stone, like all Baroque altars in the world. You can only be absolutely sure if you walk around the structure from behind, seeing its hollow interior and the metal connections between the wooden elements.
It is especially worth visiting the Świdnica temple in July, when the Johann Sebastian Bach Festival takes place there. The event was inaugurated in 2000 to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. The brilliant scores of the master from Leipzig, one of whose pupils was the cantor of the Świdnica church, Christian Gottlob Wecker, resound especially beautifully in the wooden interior of the temple. The excellent acoustics of the interior, combined with the participation of notables of the contemporary early music scene, produce an unforgettable effect.
After the tour, it is worth stopping for coffee in the cozy restaurant located in the old farm buildings near the entrance gate to the church grounds. The wooden floors of the building creak pleasantly, and the café’s cheesecake or apple pie (a close relative of strudel) stay long in the memory.
The second, twin Peace Church is located nearby, in the town of Jawor.