The Church of Peace was founded by virtue of the Peace of Westphalia (hence its name) which ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Before the war, the townsfolk of Świdnica were free to follow Luther’s ideas and Lutheran services were held in the town. When the war broke out, the Protestants were deprived of the right to have their own faith and their own churches.
However under the Peace of Westphalia, the Catholic emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg was obliged by the Swedish to allow the Protestants in the hereditary duchies of Jawor, Głogów, and Świdnica to build one so-called Church of Peace in each duchy. Although the consent of the Habsburgs had many severe restrictions – the Protestants could only build their place of worship outside the town walls, it could not have any towers nor a belfry, and it could only be built from non-durable materials like wood, sand, straw, or clay. The building could not look like a church and the construction works could not last longer than a year.
Against all odds, the Protestants at the time displayed extraordinary resourcefulness. Even the poorest of the community brought something to the table, if only one wooden board. All social classes were involved in the construction process – the nobility, the burghers and the peasants. One inhabitant of Świdnica, Christian Czepko, even set out on a journey to European Protestant courts to ask for money for the construction. The hard work paid off, as construction was completed on time and in 1657 the first service was held in the Church of Peace in Świdnica.
Two similar churches were built in Głogów (which was burned down after 100 years), and in Jawor (which is still standing today).
The Church of Peace in Świdnica is a half-timbered church (the timber frames are filled with wattle and daub) based on a cross-shaped plan.
Later, the main body of the church was extended to make room for the Hall of Baptism and sacristy in the east, the Hall of the Dead in the west, the Hall of Weddings in the south, and the Hall of … in the north.
The 1090 m2 church can accommodate 7500 people. The exquisite 18th century wooden altar dominates the Baroque interior. The relief above the altar stone shows the Last Supper. Above the relief stand sculpted figures of Moses, arch-priest Aaron, Jesus, John the Baptist and the apostles Peter and Paul. The central scene between the figures shows the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan. The frieze above the six Corinthian columns holds the inscription: “Dies ist mein geliebter Sohn, an dem ich Wohigefallen habe” (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” – Matthew 3:17). The altar is surmounted by a book with seven seals, a lamb and a banner.
The other dominating element is the 18th century pulpit. The body of the pulpit is supported by Faith with a cross, Hope with an anchor and Love with a child. The pulpit is crowned by the figure of an angel with a trumpet announcing the Last Judgement. The stairs leading to the pulpit are decorated with reliefs showing the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Golgotha, and the Paradise. The hourglass on the lectern was divided into four half-hour parts that measured the length of the sermon.
17th century pipe organs, decorated with moving figures of angels, with a wonderful Baroque casing supported by two Atlases, have just been thoroughly renovated. Due to numerous reparations, the large organs have often been out of operation. Therefore a second set of smaller organs were built in the topmost gallery over the altar. There are several levels of galleries inscribed with 78 fragments from the Bible and 47 allegoric scenes. These are richly decorated with epitaphs and guild shields of the bakers, brewers, butchers, cloth traders, etc., as well as portraits of the townsfolk and nobles.
The most privileged families had their own boxes, the most impressive of which is the one belonging to the Hochbergs. It is a token of gratitude for the family of count Johann Heinrich von Hochberg, who donated two thousand oaks – two-thirds of the wood needed for the church’s construction. The paintings on the ceiling show the Holy Trinity, the Last Judgement, the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Fall of Babylon.
While in the Baptism Hall, make sure to pay attention to the wooden polychrome baptismal font from 1661, the portraits of clerics who delivered sermons during the 300 years of the church’s history, and their lush liturgical robes.
The church is situated in the central part of the Square of Peace, surrounded by a wall one kilometre long. Among the historic stand of trees, one can find 17th and 18th century monuments – the belfry, the old Evangelical high school (now a boarding house Barokowy Zakątek, i.e. BarocCorner), the Bell-ringer’s house with the lavender garden (now the Centre for Promotion and UNESCO Partnership), the Gatekeeper’s House (Baroccafe) and the cemetery that served as the sole burial place for several thousand Evangelicals for 250 years. Following its renovation, the parish house will become the seat of the Lower-Silesian Evangelical Institute. Here the valuable collection of the parish will be made available to the visitors, including the 300-year-old Bibles and old prints form one of the largest Lutheran archives in Poland.
After World War II, the Evangelical parish in Świdnica dwindled from over twelve thousand to around one hundred faithful. The church is still their home today, but at the same time it also functions as a monument of growing esteem – the church is one of only three monuments in Lower Silesia inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is also a symbol of reconciliation: in 1989, prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and German chancellor Helmut Kohl prayed for peace here on their way to Krzyżowa. In 2014, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Ewa Kopacz, the Prime Minister of Poland, participated in an ecumenical prayer for peace. In 2011, the church was also visited by the Swedish royal couple King Gustav XVI and Queen Sylvia.
The fact that this building, which is made from non-durable materials, has survived for 350 years, displays an astounding endurance that is nothing short of phenomenal. The renovation of the church was supported by the following organisations: The German Centre of Craftsmanship and Conservation of Historical Monuments in Fulda, the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology in Bonn, the Federal Foundation of Environmental Protection in Osnabrück, the Foundation of Polish-German Cooperation, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, EEA Grants, Norway Grants, and many others.
For more information about the revitalisation see: www.luteranskaenklawa.pl