The Churches of Peace in Jawor and Ś widnica, the largest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe, were built in the former Silesia in the mid-17th century, amid the religious strife that followed the Peace of Westphalia. Constrained by the physical and political conditions, the Churches of Peace bear testimony to the quest for religious freedom and are a rare expression of Lutheran ideology in an idiom generally associated with the Catholic Church.
Historical Description :
The Thirty Years' War in Europe ended with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which upheld the principle of cuius regio eius religio, ie the faith professed by the ruler was obligatory for his subjects. At that time Silesia was a part of the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. In most of the province Protestants were persecuted and deprived of the right and possibility to practise their faith. Through the agency of the Lutheran king of Sweden, the Emperor finally allowed (1651-52) the erection of three churches, henceforth known as the Churches of Peace, in Silesian principalities under direct Habsburg rule in Glogow (Glogau), which ceased to exist in the 18th century, Jawor (Jauer), and Swidnica (Schweidnitz) in the south-west part of present-day Poland. The Emperor's consent was, however, given upon conditions that were difficult to comply with. The churches had to be built exclusively of perishable materials (wood and clay), located outside city walls, and built in a limited period of time. These restrictions, together with the need to provide adequate space for large crowds of worshippers, forced the architect, Albrecht von Sabisch (1610-88), a prominent master-builder and fortification designer active in Wroclaw, to implement pioneering constructional and architectural solutions of a scale and complexity unknown ever before or since in wooden architecture. The timber-framed structures of enormous scale and complexity were assembled. The Churches of Peace, as they are still called today, were to be as inconspicuous as possible in the townscape; they were to be the refuge of a legally disadvantaged and only reluctantly tolerated minority, whose role as outsiders should be evident in the location of the churches outside the protective city walls.
The first permit was given to Glogow (1651) and the site was located 300m outside the city walls. Building started quickly and the first service was held in October 1652, but the church was destroyed by a violent storm in the summer of 1654. A new church was built the following year, but this burnt down in 1758 and was then replaced by a brick building. The permit for the other two churches was given in 1652. The church of Jawor was built in 1654-55. In Swidnica a temporary structure (Gotteshüttlein, God's Hut) was built in 1652 and the actual construction was able to take place in 1656-57, thanks to the donation of Count Hans Heinrich von Hochberg and support from the Lutheran magistrate of Swidnica. A new sacristy was erected in 1695 and private pews were built by noble families in the early 18th century. Several auxiliary buildings were added to the ensemble, including the residences of the pastor and the vicars, a Latin school, and a German school. The two churches were designed as basilicas with built-in galleries but their plans and spatial arrangements differed. In their décor, integrated into the architectural framework, exuberant Baroque forms and complex imagery were used in a truly unique way to convey concepts of Protestant theology. During the Silesian War, Swidnica was under siege on several occasions, and the hostilities resulted in the destruction of the sacristy and structural damage to the northern wall. All the damage was repaired by 1763.