Szansa, której nie zaprzepaściliśmy
A chance not squandered
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You are being handed a golden key and it is up to you how you use it — this is what the hosts of the Church of Peace in Świdnica heard in 2001, when the building was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Fifteen years after it was inscribed on the list, they admit that the key has turned out to be valuable indeed: it translates into extra points when renovation applications are submitted and into excellent promotion. The church has become more recognisable and more admired: it generates the largest amount of tourist traffic in the town (80 thousand people a year) and is being visited by more and more people every year; it was named the Tourism Product of the Year 2016 at the Tourism Congress, and National Geographic has listed it as one of the new seven wonders of Poland. This means increased tourism earnings and thus provides a greater potential for collecting their own funds for future projects. It enhances the image of the church, but not only of the church. – Doubtless, as a building entered onto the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Church of Peace attracts large numbers of tourists from all over the world, from Japan to the United States. Our town has benefited from having a historic monument of this rank; it has become an important place on the cultural map of Europe – admits Beata Moskal-Słaniewska, Mayor of Świdnica. The inscription enhances the site’s prestige and causes the Church of Peace to be more and more frequently associated with major events, such as the visit of the Swedish royal couple — King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, the joint prayer of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Prime Minister of Poland Ewa Kopacz, and a meeting of representatives of four religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism (Dalai Lama XIV). The word “UNESCO” is more and more noticeable at Pokoju Square. The UNESCO Promotion and Partnership Centre was established in the former bell-ringer’s house, and in 2010 the church hosts prepared a Lower Silesian UNESCO Trail: they visited a number of towns and cities listed by UNESCO — Toruń, Zamość, Kraków, and Wieliczka — presenting Lower Silesian monuments there. – The UNESCO brand is unassailable; without it, we would not be invited to participate in many important projects. We would not be where we are now – believes Rev. Waldemar Pytel, the parish-priest of the Church of Peace in Świdnica and bishop of the Wrocław Diocese of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland. – As its administrators, we shoulder a greater responsibility due to the fact that the site was inscribed on such a prominent list. We realise that this is also a commitment to future generations, and that we not only need to preserve the Church of Peace, but also the whole enclosure that surrounds it. What makes this task even more difficult is that according to conservators and restorers, the site requires urgent restoration works” he adds. A testimony to this responsibility is provided by the works carried out on the church and its surroundings (Square of Peace): we managed to save the altar, the pulpit, a large organ with a Baroque casing, part of the cemetery, the rectory, the bell tower, the bell-ringer’s house, and the watchman’s house. Some of these 300-year-old buildings were given completely new functions: the bell tower is going to be converted into a gallery and the rectory is going to house a Lower Silesian Evangelical Institute with invaluable Bible and old print collections, which are now being digitised and will be made widely available. Dr Maciej Małachowicz, an architect and one of the co-developers of the design of the renovation, emphasises that the wattleand- daub buildings associated with the church are the only complex of this type in Poland and one of the few in Europe. Throughout its history, which goes back to the 17th century, it has never undergone renovation on such a scale as that carried out in recent years. – I am impressed by the scale of the works and by how the church has been promoted and how recognisable it has become – says Maciej Bator, cantor of the Church of Peace, who is also associated with the Artistic Summer event, i.e. film, ceramic, and theatre workshops and the annual Bach Festival. Bach was not a random choice: in the 18th century, the church’s cantor was Christoph Gottlob Wecker, Bach’s student. In his letter of recommendation, the master stated that Wecker participated in cantata performances in Leipzig and that he greatly appreciated his participation. The manager of the festival, Jan Tomasz Adamus, says that pieces of Bach’s music and the music of later Leipzig cantors were regularly performed in the Church of Peace throughout the whole of the 19th century. The high level of musical culture is an element of the identity of this place. Due to its unique acoustics and atmosphere, it has been a special source of inspiration for artists for nearly four centuries, a place attracting philosophers, historians, aesthetes, and sensitive persons. Aficionados of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music come to Świdnica from all over the world, finding the local cultural context extraordinarily favourable to Enlightenment music, and the world of opera considers the interior of the Church of Peace in Świdnica to be the most beautiful theatre in this part of Europe. All the changes that take place here are immediately noticed by the parishioners. Asked about their first associations when they hear “the Church of Peace”, they answer with one accord: “my place”. They form a small community, with only 150 members; to them, the church is not only the sacred, but also a space, which unites them. They meet at services and at Bible study sessions held each Thursday, while their children come here for RE classes and Sunday school classes. – We are like one family, we all know one another’s first and last names – says Ewa Gajdzińska, a parishioner. A sense of pride, integration, identity – these are words that frequently appear in conversations. – We are a small parish, yet we take care of a worldclass historic monument – emphasises Stanisław Zabielski, one of the parishioners. – When I brought my Italian friends from Milan here, they were astonished that a small town like Świdnica boasts a building of this class and beauty – says Władysław Heinrich, member of the parish community. – The church surprises us because as opposed to other Evangelical churches, it has an unusually rich interior that contrasts with the austere front façade. This “surprise effect” makes a strong impression on everyone. However, its genius loci do not rely exclusively on its architecture. The atmosphere of this place combines the past and the present. It is people who create it. Along with the parish-priest there is also our small community and the history behind us: the great determination of our predecessors, 17th-century Lutherans, who were able to complete the construction of their church in less than a year using non-durable materials in adverse conditions – believes Paweł Żak, one of the parishioners. That strength of faith and of their religious community provided, alongside pioneering architectural solutions, the factors which were decisive for the inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List: “The astonishing uniqueness of the Churches of Peace also lies in the fact that, despite the widespread scepticism towards the durability and solidity of the buildings, they have survived to this day. [They] bear exceptional witness to a particular political development in Europe in the 17th century of great spiritual power and commitment”. – The value of our church lies in its exceptional continuity – claims Annemarie Franke, a parishioner and a historian. – After the war, many Evangelical churches fell into ruin or were taken over by Catholics. Little has remained of the religious and cultural wealth of the Silesian Evangelicals. However, services in the Church of Peace have been held continually since 1657, and the local archives are a priceless collection. This is something truly exceptional. Wiesław Łabęcki, a historian who only moved to Świdnica several months ago and who is a member of the parish, emphasises that this is a real-life history lesson and important cultural heritage. The heritage is embedded in a special historical and social context. After World War II, a nearly unique situation developed in Lower Silesia since the population was nearly completely replaced. The new inhabitants came from various places, bringing their own traditions, beliefs and religions with them. Such encounters were not always easy. Evangelicals were in a minority and they were equated with the Germans. Many of them did not openly admit they were Evangelicals for fear of antipathy on the part of the local environment. Their heritage was associated with the German legacy, which was perceived as strange and for many years associated with the horrors of war. – When I was appointed to serve in this parish 30 years ago, the most difficult challenge for me was to change the consciousness of the parishioners and residents of Świdnica. I wanted to show that although we are only a minority in this parish, we do not confine ourselves to our own community, that we are hospitable and that we have a magnificent church that is open to everyone – says Bishop Waldemar Pytel. – The odium towards “Germanness” haunted Evangelicals and the Church of Peace for a long time – admits Stanisław Zabielski, who has lived in Świdnica for 60 years. He remembers the gloomy, empty church, the plundered cemetery, and the over-300- -year-old buildings around Pokoju Square, which were falling into ruin. Not many inhabitants of Świdnica visited this area; it seemed strange to them. – The new hosts, Rev. Waldemar Pytel and his wife Bożena, brought this place to life – Zabielski adds. – They organised meetings for adults and for children, they held discussions. Year by year, the church was becoming more and more open to the locals and to tourists. It is this change of approach, as well as the renovation works and the prestige of this place, that seem to be of particular importance here. The inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List and the intensive activities of the church’s hosts turned something that used to be “post-German”, abandoned, into something that is “ours” and valuable. What used to divide now unites and is a source of pride for Świdnica’s inhabitants, regardless of their religious beliefs. – We are no longer a church of a small community, but a place which is more and more prominently present in social consciousness. The inscription on the World Heritage List was a chance that we did not squander and that we still use – say the parishioners.
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