Catholicism at the Eastern Border of Europe

Vukoszávylev Zorán

2010. április 30. és május 01. között nemzetközi konferenciát tartanak Washingtonban (USA) a Catholic University of America szervezésében: “A Living Presence – Extending and Transforming the Tradition of Catholic Sacred Architecture” címmel. Alább olvasható Vukoszávlyev Zorán absztraktja, mely elfogadásra került és a konferencia kezdőnapján, az első panelben került bemutatásra a szerkesztett előadása.


Construction works by the Catholic Church in the post-communist countries at the turn of the millennium

Middle-Eastern Europe is on the historical ridge of Catholicism. In the history of the lands now consisting of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary the presence of Catholicism is dominant. For centuries, these most eastern countries of the Roman Catholic Church have been the combatants of faith located in the close vicinity of orthodoxy and Muslim states. The constructing activity of the Church was unbroken even in the changing state-formations. In the 20th century the international modern architecture of Europe has been enriched with outstanding compositions in the church-architecture of these countries. The progressive architectural style animated the new functional approach of the catholic reform movement as well: the composition of churches followed the functional arrangement of early Christian sacral space even between the two world wars. The dynamically developing Church employed the most well-known architect, in this way the national styles could also appear beside modernism: the romantic buildings emerging from secession and using traditional vernacular forms.

However, this enrichment in architecture was followed by an extreme decline after the end of the 2nd World War. In the countries of the “eastern block”, getting under the influence of the Soviet Union, church construction activity approached zero. It was more shocking than the wartime damages and socialization that in the socialist era a church could only be built at the site of a demolished former church – the construction of a new building was only possible as the representative manifestation of the communist state. In the once prosperous East-European catholic countries ideological oppression and even physical pogrom reigned for 40 years. In this atheist dictatorship Christianity was considered as something to be concealed.

Political changes have started with the election of John Paul II as pope  – Karol Józef Wojtyła coming from the communist Poland preached for peace, and his consistent forgiving attitude made more permissive not only the leaders of his own nation but the political leaders of Czechoslovakia  and Hungary as well. The building activity of the Church slowly became tolerated, but the real break-through was the fall of the socialist block and the start of democratic changes. Beyond financial rehabilitation, the new freedom of soul was much more important – the gates of churches could be wide opened again, the houses of God were crowded for masses. The religious communities of the extensive building estates pulled up during socialism intended to build churches for their own and the worker-colonies of the industrial areas aspired to a home as well. After 1989, several churches were built trying to compensate for the decades-long backlog.

In an architectural sense, we can talk about the continuation of architectural activity of the 20th century being interrupted in the 40’s. The definition of a national character is even more forceful in these countries, since at time of the constructions in this re-gained freedom, the results of the Second Vatican Council have had a very old perspective. The turn of the millennium can be described with the search for architectural status and with the re-definition of lost identity. In Poland, the homeland of John Paul II, the pope’s great spiritual work has always been a great power – so the self-identification of the Church could become unbroken on the basis of the believers’ strong faith. In the former Czechoslovakia the challenges are more complex: the different cultural characters of the two nations require unique solutions to the continuation of the construction works. In the middle of the 20th century the suppression of the Church was the most shocking in Hungary, the country where the order of St. Paul was founded, but maybe this gave strength for the resumption.

The accelerated construction works in the first decade following 1989 were typical for their search for style: to find the desired national character has led to several errors, while the traditions of modernism seemed to be a misunderstood language for a long time. Beyond all question, the ideological oppression has broken a tradition, which previously had meant the most adequate architectural attitude due to the continuous development of the Church and the culture of the given nation. Nevertheless, the constructions of the new decade show a more clarified picture.

Presently we live in the era of tradition being fulfilled. The recognized tradition addresses the believers in a contemporary language of forms, and they feel at home again in the churches. The goal of our study is to present these different languages. We consider the self-identification found in historical forms as well as the contemporary way of clear/minimalist architectural formation, manifested in abstraction. Are the quotations from vernacular architecture, the forms of classicism or the engineering aesthetics of modernism the most effective from the aspect of historical continuity of the Catholic Church? The catholic churches of the European post-communist countries built on the turn of the millennium represent the revival of tradition.

Samples for presentation:

Hungary, Budapest-Pasarét, franciscan monastry, 1931-1934. Architect: Gyula Rimanóczy

Slovakia, Rárósmulyad, catholic church, 1908-1910. Architect: István Medgyaszay

Slovakia, Bratislava-Lamač, crematory, 1962-1968. Architect: Ferdinand Milučky

Poland, Cracow, The Ark of the Lord catholic church, 1967-1977. Architects: Wojciech Pietrzyk and Jan Grabacki

Hungary, Paks, catholic church, 1988-1992. Architect: Imre Makovecz

Hungary, Budapest-Lágymányos, catholic church, 1994-1996. Architect: Ferenc Török – Mihály Balázs

Bohemia, Novy Dvur, trappist monastery, 1999-2004. Architect: John Pawson

Hungary, Gödöllő, catholic church, 2001-2007. Architect: Tamás Nagy

Poland, Tarnów, chapel, 2009. Architects: Marta Rowińska & Lech Rowiński


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