Many Polish villages boast remarkable examples of recent sacred architecture. Churches such as Świętej Łucji (St. Lucia) in the Warsaw suburb of Rembertów, Świętego Michała Archanioła (St. Michael the Archangel) in Kamion, in the township of Młodzieszyn in central Poland, and Świętego Franciszka z Asyżu (St. Francis of Assisi) in Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, might at first glance appear to be centuries-old monuments (Figure 1). Upon closer examination, however, they are clearly recognizable as examples of neohistoricist architecture, in which carefully chosen historical references have been combined with late twentieth-century forms and technology. This article makes the case that these buildings are best understood as constituting a localized variant of international postmodernism, related to diverse neohistorical or neotraditionalist critiques of late modern architecture ongoing elsewhere.1 This extended view of postmodernism corresponds to that found in recent historiographical publications, although not necessarily to the designers' self-understanding or to the debates on international postmodernism appearing in Polish architectural journals since the late 1970s.2

Figure 1

Ryszard Łapiński and Feliks Dzierżanowski, St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, 1972–93 (author's photo).

Figure 1

Ryszard Łapiński and Feliks Dzierżanowski, St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, 1972–93 (author's photo).

Like hundreds of similar houses of worship in Poland, these churches were not officially sponsored or sanctioned; rather, they were built in a “bottom-up” manner by local parishioners working under the guidance of parish priests. They were constructed in the two decades preceding the end of socialist rule in 1989, a period characterized by waves of political protest and the rising influence of the Catholic Church. They evolved with marginal authorization at best, built with informal resources and in defiance of socialist authorities, who often responded with repressive countermeasures. It would be too simplistic, however, to interpret these unauthorized churches as an architecture “of the people.” In addition to being expressions of popular discontent, they represent efforts on the part of Polish priests and bishops to increase the Catholic Church's spatial presence and social influence; further, they indicate tensions within the church's hierarchy, which was generally supportive of church construction but at the same time opposed unauthorized building and other similarly rebellious actions against state powers.

Not all of the hundreds of churches built in late socialist Poland included design elements readable as postmodern. But those that did were particularly effective in responding to the social and economic conditions of the era. While both the clients and the architects of these churches often rejected or were unaware of postmodernism, their concern with neohistoricism and its symbolic dimensions nonetheless aligned them with strands of postmodern discourse then present outside Poland. Their buildings employed traditional modes of construction and symbolic frameworks alluding to idealized visions of the past. They thus represented a form of postmodernism far removed from the better-known capitalist-commercial variety, which has recently been the subject of much scholarly research and point to an extended range of postmodern architecture.3 These churches point to an extended range of postmodern architecture.

Postmodernism in Poland has recently received increased scholarly attention.4 There is also a growing body of work on the surge of church construction in Poland during the late twentieth century, including an effort to take stock of all sacred buildings erected there in that period.5 Estimates of the number of churches built in Poland between 1975 and 1989 vary. Contemporaneous accounts mention about 1,500, while more recent research suggests more than 8,000.6 Many of these buildings were neotraditional or otherwise postmodern in style.7 The most famous, such as the Ascension Church in Warsaw-Ursynów and the Holy Spirit Church in Wrocław, are located in cities. However, the rural and semirural examples discussed here may provide a clearer picture of the specific sociopolitical contexts of such architecture.

St. Lucia in Rembertów (built 1972–93 by parish priest Ryszard Łapiński and architect Feliks Dzierżanowski, 1928–2015) and St. Michael in Kamion (built ca. 1978–90s by parish priest Paweł Flaszczyński with the help of engineer Tadeusz Bronowski) feature both modern and neobaroque elements. St. Francis in Mierzowice (built ca. 1977–90 by parish priest Franciszek Rozwód) is a modern adaptation of the late medieval stone-masonry church type found throughout Central and Eastern Europe. St. Lucia was built from scratch in a private garden, St. Michael replaced an early twentieth-century wood-frame church, and St. Francis evolved from the ruins of a late seventeenth-century church destroyed during World War II. New work was done on all three buildings after the end of the socialist regime in 1989, and all are still in use. They reveal a common approach to design and construction. Their builders made use of both formal and informal resources and to a great extent circumvented the official design and construction processes required by the socialist government's centralized planning institutions. This provoked varying official reactions. The construction of St. Michael resulted in legal prosecution of the parish priest, who was found guilty and received a suspended sentence (with no mandate to demolish the building), while in the other two cases repression was limited to threats and intimidation by the Służba Bezpieczeństwa, the Polish Secret Service.

In all three cases, the buildings' postmodern neohistoricism betrayed an antisocialist dimension, pointing to Polish patriotism and a nostalgic vision of a premodern society centered on the Catholic Church. These associations differed from those seen in Western European and North American postmodern architecture at the time, which was generally connected to an advanced stage of market capitalism. In the West, particularly during the 1970s and early 1980s, many observers understood postmodern architecture as a progressive critique of the modernist establishment and the architectural discipline as a whole; conversely, others saw it as reactionary and elitist.8 The Polish village churches discussed here give further evidence that postmodern architecture had no fixed or universal meanings, and that it was sometimes rooted in specific regional, cultural, and political contexts.

Sacred Architecture in Socialist Poland

The increase in Polish sacred architecture during the 1970s and 1980s was indicative of the socialist regime's decline. During the 1970s, Poland experienced worsening economic conditions and rising popular discontent. Edward Gierek (in office 1970–80), first secretary of the ruling Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza (PZPR; Polish Unified Workers' Party), managed to finance a short-term rise in living standards through foreign credits but failed to provide long-term solutions when the economy slumped in the mid-1970s. Popular protests led to the founding of the Workers' Defense Committee in 1976 and the Solidarity trade union in 1980 and brought the regime to the brink of collapse. The government's ensuing carrot-and-stick policy, wherein repression alternated with concessions, made the weakness of Party leaders undeniably apparent. Hopes for reform were crushed in 1981 with the appointment of General Wojciech Jaruzelski as PZPR first secretary and the declaration of martial law. The economy remained precarious, but church construction continued through 1989 and beyond.

Bottom-up church architecture was facilitated by three factors. First, Poland had been a deeply religious country for centuries, and the Catholic Church was an important power both spiritually and economically. Having lost relatively little of its influence under socialism, the church became a catalyst for alternative ideological visions. It was the only nationwide organization independent of state authorities and arguably the most powerful religious institution anywhere in the Eastern bloc. Its position was further strengthened by the inauguration in 1978 of the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, and by the increase in visible religiosity that his selection as pope incited.

Second, around 1975, Party leader Gierek, attempting to appease the political opposition, gave in to popular pressure and relaxed restrictions on church construction, which had been a bone of contention for decades. This policy change was never officially proclaimed, but requests for permission to build churches suddenly had a much higher chance of being granted.9 These circumstances were greeted favorably by the Polish majority, who, despite several decades of officially promoted atheism, continued to be practicing Catholics.10 Even many Party members attended church, more or less openly, including Warsaw's chief architect, Tadeusz Szumielewicz.11 At the same time, the highest-ranking church leaders persistently opposed strikes and other acts of civil disobedience, although they eventually supported the Solidarity movement.12

Finally, economic reforms begun in the 1980s increasingly enabled construction in general beyond the centrally established economic plans.13 In contrast to the situation in some other Eastern bloc countries, private and semiprivate builders had always existed in Poland, and as a result of the reforms their influence became more significant. Economic reforms also indirectly affected informal or unauthorized architecture, as there was now an increased availability of different materials. Within the limits of economic shortages, architects and clients had greater room for experimentation.

St. Lucia: Pastiche Deconstructivism

In Rembertów, a sleepy, semirural Warsaw suburb 10 kilometers east of the city center, the harmony of repetitive two-story single-family houses with pitched roofs and front lawns is broken by an unusual church. The building's white-and-yellow quasi-baroque plaster façade is set back from the street. Its interior is a traditional sanctuary space with three naves and colorfully glazed round-arched windows; the clerestory rests on square concrete columns (Figure 2). The gilded main and side altars, the carved wooden pews, and the statue of Saint Lucia at the entrance clearly recall baroque models. The most surprising feature is the Mediterranean-inspired tower with a curved helm roof. The open lantern features loudspeakers rather than bells and is adorned with a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. The tower seems to grow from the entrance wall and might leave the observer wondering whether it is an ornamental addition to the wall or a self-supporting element of the building's main volume.

Figure 2

Ryszard Łapiński and Feliks Dzierżanowski, St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, 1972–93, interior (author's photo).

Figure 2

Ryszard Łapiński and Feliks Dzierżanowski, St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, 1972–93, interior (author's photo).

There is no evidence of a direct or specific postmodern influence behind this unusual design, but there are some striking suggestions. The façade turned tower conjures a pastiche version of the “different sensibility in which the dream of pure form has been disturbed,” as Mark Wigley described the “deconstructivist architecture” of Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, and others whose work was exhibited under that moniker at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1988, the year the tower was built.14 The building also conspicuously extends beyond the modernist approaches criticized by Eisenman twelve years earlier.15 It is, further, a none-too-sophisticated manifestation of what Robert Venturi famously called “both-and” in his 1966 book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.16 St. Lucia is in many ways related to the critique these authors express. Yet its unusual tower derived not from the influence of East Coast–based North American theorists but rather from a distinct set of local circumstances.

The church's founder was a headstrong priest, Father Ryszard Łapiński (1918–2008). Born and raised in Rembertów, he saw his village grow from 120 houses into a thriving Warsaw suburb that profited from its location beside a military training ground on the eastern railway line. In 1971, at age fifty-three, Łapiński took early retirement for health reasons and became associated with a parish a few kilometers south of St. Lucia's future site in Rembertów. The former village now had about 17,000 inhabitants, and the old church's expanding congregation had outgrown the building's limited capacity. His poor health notwithstanding, Łapiński began seeking to build a new church in the spacious yard of the single-family home he inherited from his parents. Seeing no chance of official authorization for his project, he took matters into his own hands. He developed his plans on the ground and over the next twenty years documented the construction process in a handwritten chronicle.17

In the spring of 1972, Łapiński built a chapel of about 100 square meters and dedicated it to the saint for whom his mother was named, Lucia of Syracuse (Figure 3). With a plan of 10 by 19 meters, the structure was made of “stones, bricks, cement, and chalk.”18 Having no construction permit, Łapiński was helped by his cousin and another local volunteer, as well as by two retired bricklayers.19 Over the following two years, electric cables and pipes were installed, walls were painted, a terracotta floor was laid, and the interior was furnished. The building as completed in the summer of 1974 was a basic, pitched-roof shed decorated with simplified traditional church insignia: a cross on the gable, a quasi-baroque statue flanking the entrance, and a lightweight bell tower made from welded steel tubes topped with a lantern-like metal structure and a second cross.

Figure 3

St. Lucia's first church building, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1974 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 3

St. Lucia's first church building, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1974 (St. Lucia Parish).

The tabernacle—the ornamented cabinet where the Host was kept—was a donation from a Catholic congregation in the United States, a contribution facilitated by Łapiński's uncle Stanisław Łapiński, a priest in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, who visited Poland repeatedly during the 1970s and supported his nephew's project with money and gifts. The local parishioners, as Ryszard Łapiński sorely complained to his journal, were initially far less generous.20 By 1977, however, he could proudly report that the building's stained glass windows were being financed by the parishioners' traditional Christmas donations.21

To a great extent, Łapiński's momentum hinged on the backing provided by high-level church leaders. Above all, he enjoyed protection from Primate Stefan Wyszyński, Poland's highest-ranking church dignitary and its most popular religious figure at the time. In 1971, Łapiński informed Wyszyński of his intention to build a chapel and establish a new parish.22 Wyszyński offered an official statement of support after Secret Service officers made an intimidating late-night visit to Łapiński on 8 September 1974. He wrote that church officials had given Łapiński permission to build a “public chapel” on his private land, but he was deliberately vague on whether the building was substantial enough to require municipal authorization.23 In December 1974, Wyszyński visited Rembertów and officially established St. Lucia as a new parish, thus indirectly granting approval to Łapiński for the construction of a new church building. For the two weeks following Wyszyński's visit, parishioners guarded the church day and night to protect it against possible attack by the Secret Service.24 The Secret Service did not appear, but the conflict did not end, and in June 1975 the municipality's Department of Architecture and Urbanism issued an order to stop the celebration of Mass at the church. Łapiński ignored the order.25

Over the next few years, the building was modified and expanded. Responding to the congregation's growth, Łapiński and his aides widened the chapel in 1976 and also added a church hall. The Secret Service visited again but did nothing of consequence. As Łapiński gleefully noted in his journal on 25 June 1976, the day after the Secret Service visit, workers at the Ursus machine factory in Warsaw had gone on strike; they were soon joined by strikers all over Poland. The strike kept socialist authorities busy and eventually led to the removal of Józef Kępa, the first secretary of the powerful Warsaw Party Committee.26 Unauthorized churches took a backseat to broader issues of civil unrest. Łapiński was fined for violating construction laws, but he was eventually granted amnesty.27 In 1977, he enlarged his church again, adding about 72 square meters and ignoring municipal orders to stop construction and restore the building to its previous state. As in many similar cases, socialist authorities were unwilling to respond with brute force. Tacitly acknowledging their helplessness, officials at Warsaw's municipal Wydział do Spraw Wyznań (Department of Religious Affairs) simply referred the issue to a higher administrative tier.

Church authorities also intervened. The Warsaw Curia, in a statement of 1978, claimed that Łapiński was acting on his own and without instruction, which, in light of his close relations with Wyszyński and other superiors, was at best a half-truth.28 During a meeting between Warsaw's auxiliary bishop Jerzy Modzelewski and mayor Jerzy Majewski in September 1978, the bishop campaigned for authorization of new churches, including the one in Rembertów, while the mayor asked for a “decided standpoint of the Curia against unauthorized construction.”29 There is no evidence that the dispute was resolved, and unauthorized construction continued. The Warsaw Curia officially declined any responsibility, but it also refrained from taking disciplinary action against Łapiński.30 This reaction was symptomatic of the church's strategy at the time: quietly supporting church construction while publicly condemning insurgent activity against the socialist state apparatus.31

In 1978, municipal authorities ordered a site visit to St. Lucia.32 According to their report, the building had “taken on ever further traits of a church”: an annex/nave had been added on the building's right side, and the front now featured three new brick arches. The church's clearly traditional form was part of what provoked the authorities. The building undeniably looked like a church, testifying to a powerful nongovernmental presence in central Rembertów.

Łapiński had always intended to build a more substantial church than the one he started with. By 1984, he was gathering bricks and other materials, “paying different prices,” and augmenting his efforts through prayers and a pilgrimage to the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa.33 The construction permit he had long desired was finally granted in 1986, fifteen years after his building efforts began, but, he noted bitterly, it did not allow for a traditional church tower.34 His cunning work-around for this problem was to build a “tower” that was, in fact, a lantern. What might otherwise be interpreted as a coy but aimless bit of postmodern play was actually a tactical move. Since the lantern was not a traditional enclosed tower (even if it looked like one), Łapiński could not be accused of violating the terms of the construction permit. At the same time, he was able to insert his building and its powerful symbolic elements into the larger townscape.

Photographs from 1987 show brick walls and concrete lintels half finished, and walls supported by scaffolding made of tree trunks and planks nailed together (Figures 4–7). The symbolic kamień węgielny (cornerstone) was laid in 1988 by Primate Józef Glemp, Wyszyński's successor, in a ceremony under the still-roofless portal wall.35 (This again confirms the close connection Łapiński maintained to high-level church officials.) The roof, a steel construction covered with zinc sheeting, was completed in 1990, and the church was finally consecrated in 1993. A plaque adorning the foyer celebrates Łapiński as the church's founder and commemorates his “great pains.”

Figure 4

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1987 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 4

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1987 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 5

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1987 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 5

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1987 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 6

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1987 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 6

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1987 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 7

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1989 (St. Lucia Parish).

Figure 7

Father Ryszard Łapiński on the construction site of St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, ca. 1989 (St. Lucia Parish).

Łapiński's journal, covering several years of building efforts, is among the few firsthand accounts of bottom-up Polish church construction. Its tone and style suggest that Łapiński wrote it with future publication in mind, and, in fact, the parish did publish it online after his death. Hardly a self-congratulatory narrative, the journal describes its author's fight for a new church, a process he portrays as nonheroic and often lonely. Łapiński mentions insufficient funding, unreliable builders, and unexpected technological complications. At one point the walls had to be improved because of shoddy workmanship; teams of workers had to be dismissed repeatedly, in one instance because they “were not sober”; and construction was frequently halted because of supply-chain shortfalls. Only occasionally did Łapiński receive unexpected support, as in 1987, when “a certain engineer got in touch and revealed that he was a Catholic and would build the church.”36 Łapiński's notes reiterate how much his eventual success relied on powerful allies: Primate Wyszyński, his successor Józef Glemp, and émigré sponsors such as Łapiński's uncle in the United States.37 There is little mention in the journal of stylistic deliberations, and Łapiński—despite being initiator, organizer, and client—takes no credit for the building's unusual appearance. This suggests that he simply took certain traditional elements for granted: a basilical building with a nave, a bell tower, stained glass windows, and ample ornamentation.

Yet St. Lucia's neohistoricism was undoubtedly the result of choices rather than simply the outcome of its founder's lack of architectural knowledge. Łapiński was familiar with the sacred architecture of Warsaw, where he had spent much of his life. There he might have seen stylistic experiments at many authorized churches, such as the late modern St. Andrew Bobola Church in Warsaw-Mokotów (Hanna Madejowska and Bogdan Madejowski, 1980–91) and the widely published postmodern Ascension Church in Warsaw-Ursynów (Marek Budzyński, Zbigniew Badowski, and Piotr Wicha, 1980–85).38 Moreover, St. Lucia's architect, Feliks Dzierżanowski, was a member of the Rada Prymasowska do Budowy Kościołów (the Primate's Council for Church Construction, which oversaw sacred construction in Warsaw) and was well versed in both historical architecture and the latest trends, including modern and postmodern styles.39 A local architect and conservationist employed with the Pracownie Konserwacji Zabytków (PKZ; Historic Conservation Studios), Dzierżanowski had worked on the fourteenth-century castle in Płock and the war-damaged early twentieth-century Teatr Polski (Polish Theater) in Warsaw. While designing St. Lucia he was also working on the reconstruction of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, an esteemed historicist building from the late nineteenth century bearing neoclassical and baroque elements.

Through the PKZ, Dzierżanowski was connected to the internationally acclaimed Polish school of historic conservation, which in the postwar era promoted the reconstruction of lost monuments in more or less accurate historical styles as a matter of cultural awareness and national pride.40 A state-operated firm with several thousand employees and branches in numerous Polish cities, the PKZ was founded in 1951 to assist with rebuilding Warsaw's war-ravaged Old Town (an effort directed by General Conservator Jan Zachwatowicz, 1945–63); to date and worldwide, this is the only rebuilt historic urban ensemble to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The PKZ subsequently carried out other reconstructions of the many historic monuments destroyed during World War II. Against this background, Dzierżanowski's neohistorical St. Lucia appears to wear its revival-style trappings more honestly than do most similarly historicist postmodern buildings in the West.

Successful postwar historic reconstructions, of which Warsaw's Old Town was only the most prominent example, seem to have had a positive impact on the public's perception of neohistoricist architecture. Poland experienced a level of wartime devastation that was unmatched by any of its European neighbors, and in the postwar era, buildings all over Poland were rebuilt, with varying degrees of historical accuracy. These included hundreds of churches that were reconstructed with financing from the socialist government.41 A generation of architects thus received training in historicist (re)design and brought those skills to the profession. At the same time, the public became accustomed to a certain ambiguity around the historical authenticity of the buildings in their midst.

St. Lucia, like other unauthorized churches at the time, aimed for legibility and presence in the public space. Its simple basilical design made it easy to build using the limited materials available in crisis-ridden Poland and the labor of retired bricklayers trained in prewar methods. Most likely, it also reflected the conservative taste of local residents, upon whose support Łapiński relied (Figure 8).

Figure 8

Ryszard Łapiński and Feliks Dzierżanowski, St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, 1972–93, tower (author's photo).

Figure 8

Ryszard Łapiński and Feliks Dzierżanowski, St. Lucia, Warsaw-Rembertów, 1972–93, tower (author's photo).

In this sense, by both embracing popular culture and maintaining a certain distance from it, St. Lucia's apparent postmodern historicism responded to Robert Venturi's famous rhetorical question “Is not Main Street almost all right?”42 Venturi's “almost,” by which he distinguished soulless historicism from a conscious sensitivity to context, was a given in Poland, where compromises—in materials, skills, and regulations—almost invariably had to be made. Whatever knowledge or intent architects and patrons brought to bear on a given project, these compromises alone ensured that contemporary historicist buildings in Poland would never be mere copies; each one would always be sui generis. St. Lucia's postmodern neotraditionalism, though resonant with currents from abroad, was inextricably born of its particular time and place.

St. Michael the Archangel: Neohistoricism as Criminal Offense

St. Michael in Kamion (officially the Church of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Anna) is another example of a building that responded to the requirements of the sociopolitical context in which it was constructed (Figure 9). Neither the village nor the church is extraordinary. Kamion is situated on the river Vistula about 70 kilometers northeast of Warsaw and is part of the township of Młodzieszyn. It is a sleepy place surrounded by forests and cornfields, too distant and too poorly connected to the capital to be a commuter suburb. In the 1970s it consisted of houses for about six hundred families, a few shops, a school, and a fire station. The most extraordinary structure was a wooden church. Previous churches on the site dated back to the fifteenth century and were connected to the legend of Saint Jacek Odrowąż, who miraculously crossed the Vistula on his coat turned raft. These buildings were repeatedly destroyed; the last one burned down during World War I and was rebuilt in 1918. By the 1970s it was in a poor state, its wood damaged and its walls leaning and structurally unsound.

Figure 9

Paweł Flaszczyński, St. Michael the Archangel, Kamion, township of Młodzieszyn, 1978–90s (author's photo).

Figure 9

Paweł Flaszczyński, St. Michael the Archangel, Kamion, township of Młodzieszyn, 1978–90s (author's photo).

As with St. Lucia, the ensuing illegal reconstruction involved dedicated parishioners and a committed priest, Father Paweł Flaszczyński (1937–2018). He had served in different Warsaw parishes before becoming parish priest in Kamion in 1972; he stayed in his position there for fourteen years. Somewhat unusually, the state's tactics of repression in the case of St. Michael included not only intimidation and clandestine action by the Secret Service but also legal prosecution and a trial that ended in a suspended sentence for Flaszczyński.43 The court in socialist Poland, subject to Party rule, made an unexpected move this time: Flaszczyński was not accused of violating construction legislation and building a church where he should not have done so; rather, he was charged with breaching historic conservation laws and disrespecting national heritage.44 The socialist authorities thus implicitly fashioned themselves as protectors of Polish national culture against a perceived onslaught of the “internationalist” Catholic Church—a rhetoric that was already in use by the “national communists” during the 1960s.45 This is one of the few cases in recent European history where the church has been implicated for being insufficiently conservative—by a socialist government, of all things. But it also exemplifies the power of nationalist rhetoric in Poland, which was and is still used with similar zeal by very different political factions, including both socialist Party functionaries and church officials.

As in Rembertów, construction of the new church in Kamion was in effect both legal and illegal. When in 1977 Flaszczyński started planning his new church, his requests for construction permits were rejected repeatedly. But he had received permission from the Warsaw Curia to undertake “thorough renovation” of the old wooden church of 1918. Weighing the costs for refurbishment against those for new construction, he opted for the latter, reasoning that in any case the old church was too small for his growing congregation.46

Among those involved in the preparations was Feliks Dzierżanowski, the Warsaw architect and conservationist who would later design St. Lucia in Rembertów.47 In 1977 Flaszczyński asked him for an evaluation of the old wooden church, and Dzierżanowski confirmed the building's poor state; he proposed dismantling it and rebuilding it elsewhere in the context of an open-air museum. Records suggest that Flaszczyński might have considered Dzierżanowski as the architect for a new building, but it is unclear whether Dzierżanowski had any input on the final design.

The construction process was carefully planned.48 The foundations were secretly laid in October 1977, with the old wooden church still in place. The concrete foundation layer was officially presented as a technical element related to the improvement of the old building. The work was carried out on a Saturday, with the help of about 30 local volunteers. The second stage did not occur until 8 April 1978, when Flaszczyński and some 130 parishioners built a wall around the old church, 5.4 meters high, using cinder blocks, bricks, and reinforced concrete. Over the next month about 40 people poured the floor slab under the choir. On 1 May, 120 volunteers took down the old church. The next day, 70 volunteers built the right nave, and a week later, the left nave. Throughout the construction process, Flaszczyński was the driving force and chief organizer. He received technical assistance from the engineer Tadeusz Bronowski, a local resident employed by the township administration.

Flaszczyński and Bronowski wanted their new church design to bear a historic aspect, but they eschewed the aesthetics of the old church—a dark-brown, barnlike timber structure with a pitched roof. Instead, they turned to baroque design, models for which could be found in many churches in the wider region, most famously in central Warsaw's St. Jacek Church (Giovanni Trevano, 1603–39), which was destroyed by German invaders in 1944 and rebuilt in 1947–59 as part of the city's Old Town reconstruction (Figure 10). Flaszczyński and Bronowski's new building was a beige neobaroque structure built on a rectangular plan with three naves: 26 meters long, 11 meters wide, and 10 meters high (Figure 11).49 The choir, atypically, was situated on the western end of the building, as this was the side farthest from the street. The entrance façade on the building's east side had winglike parapet walls crowned by small turrets, a stylish arched window at second-floor level, and a circular window above. The side naves were lit through round-arched windows, while the clerestory featured small stained glass openings that look like simplified rose windows. On the wooden doors were baroque-style carved images of Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Anna. The winglike parapet walls on the entrance façade were faintly reminiscent of the Ascension Church in Warsaw-Ursynów, built during the same period (Figure 12). The building was topped by a square steeple with a bell, the steeple being small yet tall enough to convey the visual impression of a traditional church. Conspicuously neohistorical, the new church nonetheless contrasted with the only truly historic building on the site—a small, shingle-covered wooden tower, most likely a remnant of the old church, now used for storage (Figure 13).

Figure 10

Giovanni Trevano, St. Jacek Church, Freta Street, Warsaw, 1603–39; destroyed 1944, rebuilt 1947–59 (Wikimedia Commons).

Figure 10

Giovanni Trevano, St. Jacek Church, Freta Street, Warsaw, 1603–39; destroyed 1944, rebuilt 1947–59 (Wikimedia Commons).

Figure 11

Paweł Flaszczyński, St. Michael the Archangel, Kamion, township of Młodzieszyn, 1978–90s, east façade (author's photo).

Figure 11

Paweł Flaszczyński, St. Michael the Archangel, Kamion, township of Młodzieszyn, 1978–90s, east façade (author's photo).

Figure 12

Marek Budzyński, Zbigniew Badowski, and Piotr Wicha, Ascension Church, Warsaw-Ursynów, 1980–85 (author's photo).

Figure 12

Marek Budzyński, Zbigniew Badowski, and Piotr Wicha, Ascension Church, Warsaw-Ursynów, 1980–85 (author's photo).

Figure 13

Wooden tower on the grounds of St. Michael the Archangel, Kamion, township of Młodzieszyn (author's photo).

Figure 13

Wooden tower on the grounds of St. Michael the Archangel, Kamion, township of Młodzieszyn (author's photo).

The modestly postmodern forms of the church built in Kamion reflected specific regional socioeconomic conditions, as was the case in Rembertów. Compared for example with a modernist concrete-frame structure, traditional shapes and materials lent themselves better to the existing conditions of improvised construction, unreliable supply chains, and volunteer labor. Baroque forms also conformed to local popular tastes, while construction by the local community helped build a powerful narrative: a strong village collective defying material scarcity and intrusive state authorities, practicing solidarity in labor and celebration, ending hard days of bricklaying with common meals and festivities, and eventually enjoying a conspicuous edifice as a source of group identification.50 Similarly important were the historicist design elements that evoked the prewar, presocialist period and resonated with the nationalist narrative of Polish resistance, struggle, and perseverance. This is evident, for instance, in popular tales that link St. Michael to the built icons of Polish national heroism, such as St. Augustine Church on Nowolipka Street in Warsaw.51

Flaszczyński's superiors maneuvered on his behalf much as Father Łapiński's superiors helped him at St. Lucia. Flaszczyński's plans were known to and supported by members of the church hierarchy, including Bishop Modzelewski, who perfunctorily repeated the mantra that national laws had to be respected and construction needed to be authorized.52 Nonetheless, the socialist authorities brought charges against Flaszczyński in June 1978.53 Six months later, in December 1978, he was handed a suspended sentenced of ten months in prison and a fine.54 He retained his liberty and his post, however, and it appears that the lawsuit only strengthened his standing in the village community. Construction carried on, and the authorities neither intruded nor requested the dismantling of the building. On the contrary, the regional (voivodeship) building inspectors advocated for technical improvements—such as the use of better-quality concrete and steel—to the new building, but there is no evidence that their recommendations were followed.55 During the 1990s a portico was added, enhancing the building's neobaroque aspect.

The wavering between tolerance and authoritarianism seen at St. Michael in Kamion was symptomatic of the era's unsettled political climate.56 There appears to have been no consistent state policy. In 1978, for example, the same voivodeship administration that had been lenient with Flaszczyński called on the Warsaw Curia to remove a vicar in the village of Biała Rawska, 50 kilometers south of Kamion, for tearing down and rebuilding a historic chapel.57 Yet outright repression remained limited, and the majority of unauthorized church construction provoked only mild protest by the authorities.

A prominent character in this context was Ignacy Tokarczuk (1918–2012), the rebellious bishop of Przemyśl, on the border with Soviet Ukraine. In the 1970s and 1980s, he supported the construction of more than fifty unauthorized churches and chapels in his diocese. This made him a hero to Catholic believers and an insurgent in the eyes of the state. His structures were nicknamed nocne kościoły (night churches), as they were frequently built in three nights from Friday to Monday.58 Bishop Tokarczuk was harassed by the Secret Service and subjected to xenophobic abuse by PZPR officials for allegedly being Ukrainian rather than a “true Pole”—an example of the traitor-to-the-fatherland trope used by both socialists and right-wing opposition members to attack their respective opponents.59 Still, Tokarczuk remained in his post, and his churches stand.

St. Francis of Assisi: A Neomedieval “Decorated Shed”

The church of St. Francis of Assisi in Mierzowice, a village of about 350 inhabitants, was also initiated by a combative parish priest and built without official permission (Figure 14). Mierzowice is situated in Lower Silesia, 60 kilometers west of Wrocław, and thus close to the well-known postmodern Holy Spirit Church (Waldemar Wawrzyniak, 1973–81). There is little written documentation on the construction of St. Francis, but much can be deduced from historic images and the existing building. Prewar postcards show that the village, which, like the whole region, had belonged to Germany until 1945, once boasted a half-timbered Protestant church dating to the seventeenth century. The church was destroyed during World War II.

Figure 14

Franciszek Rozwód, St. Francis of Assisi, Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, 1977–90, south façade (author's photo).

Figure 14

Franciszek Rozwód, St. Francis of Assisi, Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, 1977–90, south façade (author's photo).

In 1978, the voivodeship administration complained that the parish priest, Father Franciszek Rozwód (1911–2016), had illegally refurbished a ruin—possibly that of the destroyed prewar church—into a “grotto-like,” half-open structure suitable for celebrating Mass.60 The new building was erected by local residents, presumably as a matter of convenience, as the parish church in Prochowice was 5 kilometers away and car ownership was rare. It was built of cinder blocks, with a corrugated cement-asbestos roof. Authorities were concerned about both the illegal construction activity and the conspicuous celebration of public religiosity. The voivodeship administration called for the priest's punishment and the dismantling of his refurbished ruin.61 Following this, Rozwód presumably defied the authorities much as his colleagues did in Rembertów and Kamion, and he either eventually received the much-coveted construction permit or simply avoided retribution after proceeding without authorization.

A photograph, possibly taken in 1982, shows Rozwód near an improvised altar in front of what appear to be the unfinished walls of the new building, which suggests that the construction of the church proper was started during the 1980s (Figure 15). The building is emblazoned with numbers and symbols commemorating the six hundredth anniversary—celebrated in 1982—of the acquisition of the Black Madonna by the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa. In the seventeenth century, Our Lady of Częstochowa was declared “Queen of Poland” and divine protector against Swedish invaders and other enemies. The public commemoration of the Madonna one year after the declaration of martial law amounted to an unsubtle message to Poland's current rulers. The accusation of being foreign or of endangering Polish culture, which “national communists” had previously leveled against Catholic Church officials such as Father Flaszczyński and Bishop Tokarczuk, was now reversed and directed against the communists themselves.

Figure 15

Father Franciszek Rozwód, parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi, at his improvised church building, Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, ca. 1982 (photo by Robert Białowolski).

Figure 15

Father Franciszek Rozwód, parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi, at his improvised church building, Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, ca. 1982 (photo by Robert Białowolski).

The church is situated on the village's main street, surrounded by a disused cemetery. It bears no visual relationship to the town's former prewar Protestant church. Rather, the new building has one nave lit by round-arched stained glass windows on both sides and on the altar or eastern wall; there are also round openings on the altar wall and above the pointed-arch portico on the building's opposite side. Under this portico is a wooden door providing entry (Figure 16). On the nave's south side stands a bulky quadrangular tower with a helm roof and a slightly larger second entrance beneath a parabolic arch. The church is built of brick, with stone cladding on the south and west walls. A few richly ornamented seventeenth-century epitaphs are integrated into the façade. Modern elements include a pitched roof made of corrugated sheet metal, geometrical forms in the stained glass windows, and bright-orange brick-face ornamentation on the tower and portico façade. The building bears a resemblance to the fortresslike Gothic fieldstone churches typical of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Polish, German, and Scandinavian villages.

Figure 16

Franciszek Rozwód, St. Francis of Assisi, Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, 1977–90, west façade (author's photo).

Figure 16

Franciszek Rozwód, St. Francis of Assisi, Mierzowice, Lower Silesia, 1977–90, west façade (author's photo).

This church's most conspicuously postmodern aspect is the inscription indicating the date of its official foundation, 1980, written out in Roman numerals on the tower (MCMLXXX). The numbers are set in orange brick facing that contrasts with the gray stone cladding. Robert Venturi's “decorated shed” type, which he and his coauthors discuss in Learning from Las Vegas (1972), was probably not on the builders' minds, but it might well occur to informed viewers today.62 Like Venturi, Rozwód aimed for an inconspicuous building that would speak through its form and decoration, as in the contrast between the medieval building type and the bright-orange signage touting twentieth-century origins. The Gothic reference seems serious and playful at the same time—not fake historicity but rather part of a framework of cultural references.

It is improbable that the architect, the client, or the builders of this church debated issues of postmodernism and architectural meaning during its construction. In Poland at this time, postmodernism was covered by the official journal Architektura, but it was rarely addressed outside academic and professional circles.63 Rozwód, a parish priest since 1964, had no architectural training and was already in his late sixties when construction began. Born in 1911 and fourteen years older than postmodern proselytizers Robert Venturi and Charles Moore, he was unlikely to have studied their work, although his experiences of historical rupture went well beyond theirs. Rozwód had lived under six different political regimes during his lifetime. He was born in a village near the city of Lwów (Lviv) in present-day Ukraine, where he was ordained a priest in 1937.64 At the time of his birth, Lwów was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; during the interwar years, it was part of the Second Polish Republic; from 1939 to 1941 it was controlled by the Soviet Union before being occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941; the German occupation lasted until 1945, when the territory that included Lwów reverted back to the Soviet Union. Forced to leave after the end of World War II, along with the region's other ethnic Poles, Rozwód found a new home in the formerly German Silesia, which the Allies had assigned to the recently established People's Republic of Poland. He served as a priest in the Wrocław archdiocese until his death.

Given his experiences, one must assume that Rozwód had no illusions about the continuity of people and buildings in the modern era, and it is doubtful that he would have attempted to trick his parishioners into believing that they were using a genuine medieval fieldstone church. Nor is it likely that he intended his neohistoricist design to be ironic or critical of architecture as a discipline. Rather, the probable explanation for the church's appearance is that Rozwód used eclectic historicist form to reconcile diverse and contradictory messages: a desire for connection to history and tradition in a village whose inhabitants had all been refugees from elsewhere, a longing for the stability and continuity embodied by the Catholic Church, and a need to celebrate local religiousness in the face of socialism. The significance of his church's historicism is thus similar to that of the churches at Rembertów and Kamion: born of a desire for historical continuity in light of political upheavals, it was also a response to the necessity for improvised construction and popular support.

At all these levels the church's postmodern historicist style met Rozwód's expectations. It fulfilled the villagers' desire for a traditional church without claiming false lineage. It fit into the typological context of the wider region. Most important, it could be construed as both historical and modern and as celebrating the traditions connected with the Catholic Church as well as the merits of dissidence under an officially atheistic government.

The Influence of the Church

In late socialist Poland, unauthorized church construction was a courageous act of disobedience against an oppressive regime. At the same time, the Catholic Church was not a disinterested advocate of the downtrodden but a powerful institution with its own agenda. The church's high level of support among the population was due in part to its opposition to socialism, but such support was equally attributable to the church's long-lived power over many centuries, little of which had been lost in four decades of socialist rule. In rural settings, the church remained the main organizer of social life. Even under socialism, Polish villagers' spare-time activities tended to center on church-related events: choir rehearsals, Sunday school, confirmation classes, premarriage classes, prayer groups. The church was also a significant provider of social welfare where state-operated support systems were absent or insufficient.

Moreover, the church had remained a wealthy institution. Expropriations in the postwar period notwithstanding, it continued to have significant landholdings and was supported by the national Fundusz Kościelny (Church Fund).65 Cemetery fees were an additional source of income. So, too, were fees for christenings, weddings, and funerals; weekly donations collected during services; and annual donations from parishioners collected by priests during house visits. The authorities allowed parish priests to set church fees at their own discretion. The amounts were not published, and the income was not taxed; fees might vary significantly between parishes or even from house to house, or event to event. The informal aspect of these fees, which could be in-kind and were thus not affected by inflation, made them particularly important in times of economic crisis.66

The right to set the prices for indispensable religious rituals, combined with the fact that for a practicing Catholic there is no salvation outside the church, gave parish priests significant leverage, irrespective of the fact that many parishioners happily donated to what they believed was a good cause. Asymmetric power relations between priests and parishioners were indicative of the church's continuous socioeconomic influence under socialism, which state authorities were unable or unwilling to curtail, and of which the great wave of church construction was but one visible outcome.

At the same time, the church's ongoing influence was a thorn in the side of government authorities, who were eager to win what they saw as a struggle between socialist progress and Catholic reaction. Unauthorized church construction was an obvious battleground. This is exemplified by the titles of numerous diploma theses written by aspiring Secret Service officers at the Military Academy in Legionowo, near Warsaw, during the 1970s: “Illegal Church Construction as a Threat to Public Order […],” “Prevention of Conflict Situations against the Background of Unauthorized Church Construction […],” and so on.67 These students eagerly parroted their supervisors' analyses and strategies and painted the Catholic Church as an enemy organization undermining socialist order. The tone was set by their commanders. General Konrad Straszewski, the director of the Secret Service's Department IV, in charge of church affairs, urged secret collaborators to sow disagreement between the different tiers of the church hierarchy and undermine solidarity among church officials whenever possible. Suspicious activities, such as the collection of money for church building or the assembly of construction materials by priests, were to be immediately reported. The goal was to undermine the church but to act strategically and avoid escalation and violence whenever possible.68 Along these lines, Colonel M. Sałkowski of the Secret Service warned police officers that “events called ‘miracles’ are among the most dangerous forms of threat,” and best fought not in open battle but in covert operations.69

But even Secret Service officers were mindful of their limited power before a population rife with religiosity and disobedience. This explains their proceeding so cautiously in the cases of St. Lucia, St. Michael, and other churches, and their eventual acceptance of the completed but unauthorized buildings. Given the number of Party officials who remained practicing Catholics, the long-standing cultural influence of Catholicism on all aspects of social life in Poland, and the mutual dependencies of church and state apparatuses, church and state were not entirely independent forces anyway. But it would be misguided to identify sacred buildings in the People's Republic of Poland as simply an architecture “of the people,” independent of the regime. These buildings were in part a result of the church's increasing influence on a nominally socialist society, while at the same time, they arose under conditions shaped by the socialist government and obtained their particular significance within that political context.


The Polish village churches discussed here exemplify postmodernism on the fringes, in an Eastern bloc country riddled by economic crises and political upheavals, removed from the international centers of architectural and professional debate. Yet however remote, these buildings evolved within a global framework. They were financed partially through donations from the West, and they often evinced a clear desire to supersede modernist architecture, then widespread in many countries, including Poland.

These churches align with canonical postmodern themes, most pointedly, the return of architectural meaning and communication through “speaking architecture” and the use of an eclectic historicist vocabulary. However, in Poland these themes developed not from the direct influence of Western European or North American theorists but largely from domestic discourses, including historic conservation debates and the specific political and economic contexts of late socialist Party rule. At St. Lucia, the church tower's playful pastiche derived from the necessity to circumvent government regulations while effectively communicating the Catholic Church's presence and influence. At St. Michael, the architectural message evolved within a framework of references to village life and the presocialist past. Finally, at St. Francis, the building “spoke” through its form (the medieval village church type as a symbol of long-standing continuity and social cohesion) and content (the “sign” on the wall touting architectural novelty and religious power despite economic crisis and socialism). Historic references, no matter how generic, proved to be powerful in a setting where national traditions possessed unambiguously positive connotations and deficient patriotism or dubious foreign associations were attributed to the enemy—whether that enemy was the church (in the rhetoric of state officials) or the socialist regime (for practicing Catholics).

The postmodern neotraditional style of these churches was directly related to local realities. Priests in small towns had limited materials and relied on volunteer labor, hence they favored low-tech, traditional technologies—bricks and mortar instead of reinforced concrete. They relied on retired joiners and bricklayers, men trained in the prewar period and well versed in traditional construction techniques. The priests were dependent on their parishioners' support, hence their penchant for popular cultural references and traditional forms and symbols. These churches reflect the struggle between church and state authorities over the symbolic occupation of space, a struggle in which the church was gaining ground against a socialist regime on the brink of ideological and economic collapse.

Poland's postmodern neohistoricist village churches were thus appropriate local responses to the challenges of their sociopolitical context. Viewable as either traditional or forward-looking, they bridged contradictory desires. They referred to both an idealized national past and a possible nonsocialist future. They embodied both historical continuity and transformative momentum. They remain vivid examples of architecture's adaptive power and reconciliatory potential.



See, for example, Francis Ching, Mark Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash, A Global History of Architecture (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley, 2007), 746–52; Nan Ellin, Postmodern Urbanism (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), 117–13. All translations in this essay are my own.


For example, see “Postmodernizm 1979,” Architektura 33, no. 379–80 (May–June 1979), 70–74; see also other articles in the same issue of Architektura.


See, for example, Reinhold Martin, Utopia's Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman, Revisiting Postmodernism (London: RIBA Publishing, 2017); Geraint Franklin and Elain Harwood, Post-modern Buildings in Britain (London: Batsford, 2017); Léa-Catherine Szacka, Exhibiting the Postmodern: The 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale (Milan: Marsilio, 2016).


See, for example, Lidia Klein and Alicja Gzowska, eds., Postmodernizm polski: Architektura i urbanistyka (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo 40000 Malarzy, 2013); “Architektura postmodernizmu,” special issue, Autoportret 63, no. 4 (2018), with contributions by Aleksandra Stępień-Dąbrowska, Piotr Winskowski, Łukasz Wojciechowski, and others; Anna Cymer, Architektura w Polsce 1945–1989 (Warsaw: Centrum Architektury and NIAIU, 2018), 347–76; Łukasz Stanek, Postmodernizm jest prawie w porządku: Polska architektura po socjalistycznej globalizacji (Warsaw: Bęc Zmiana, 2012), 59–72; Lidia Klein and Alicja Gzowska, “Late Socialist Postmodernism and Socialist Realism in Polish Architecture,” in Second World Postmodernisms, ed. Vladimir Kulić (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).


Izabela Cichońska, Karolina Popera, and Kuba Snopek, eds., Architektura siódmego dnia (Warsaw: Bęc Zmiana, 2016); see also the accompanying website, (accessed 15 May 2019).


Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński, Nowe kościoły w Polsce (Warsaw: PAX, 1991), 11; Izabela Cichońska, Karolina Popera, and Kuba Snopek, Day-VII Architecture: A Catalogue of Polish Churches post 1945 (Berlin: DOM, 2019), 23–29 (research by Tomasz Świetlik based on parish documents and church statistics).


On new sacred architecture in the context of political change, see Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński, Widzialne niewidzialnego: Nowe kościoły warszawskie (Warsaw: Politechnika Warszawska, 2015). For an analysis of semiotics in recent church architecture, see Anna Maria Wierzbicka, Architektura jako narracja znaczeniowa (Warsaw: Politechnika Warszawska, 2013). On Polish political conditions, see Andrzej Basista, Betonowe dziedzictwo: Architektura w Polsce czasów komunizmu (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2001); Błażej Ciarkowski, Odcienie szarości: Architekci i polityka w PRL-u (Łódź: Uniwersytet Łódzki, 2017).


These views are evident in both contemporaneous analyses and historical studies. For the former, see Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1977); Robert A. M. Stern, “At the Edge of Postmodernism” (1977), in Architecture on the Edge of Postmodernism: Collected Essays, 1964–1988 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009); Paolo Portoghesi, Postmodern: The Architecture of the Postindustrial Society (New York: Rizzoli, 1982); Heinrich Klotz, Die Revision der Moderne (Munich: Prestel, 1984). For historical studies, see Ellin, Postmodern Urbanism; Mark Crinson and Claire Zimmerman, eds., Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010); Kathleen James-Chakraborty, Architecture since 1400 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Akos Moravanszki and Torsten Lange, eds., Re-framing Identities: Architecture's Turn to History 1970–1990 (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2017).


There is no evidence of a particular directive allowing for increased church construction. According to architect Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński, it was a practice backed by Gierek. Kucza-Kuczyński, Widzialne Niewidzialnego, 28; Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński, conversation with author, 27 Nov. 2018, Warsaw.


In 1987, socialist authorities estimated that 70 percent of Warsaw residents were practicing Catholics, and the numbers in rural areas must have been even higher. Wydział do Spraw Wyznań, Urząd Miasta Stołecznego Warszawy, “Budownictwo sakralne i kościelne 1945–87,” memorandum, 1987?, Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie 72/2305, 42.


Tadeusz Szumielewicz, conversation with author, 3 Jan. 2020, Warsaw.


Brian Porter-Szücs, Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom (Chichester: John Wiley, 2014), 292–96.


A full-fledged market economy was eventually established in Poland in December 1988 with the passing of the “Wilczek Law,” which effectively ended the socialist planned economy.


Mark Wigley, “Deconstructivist Architecture,” in Deconstructivist Architecture, ed. Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988), 10–20.


Peter Eisenman, “Post-functionalism,” Oppositions 6 (Autumn 1976), reprinted in Architecture Theory since 1968, ed. K. Michael Hays (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998), 234–39.


Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 2nd ed. (London: Architectural Press, 1977), 30.


Ryszard Łapiński, “Księga pamiątkowa” (handwritten document, 1971–2016); this work is available for viewing at St. Lucia Parish as well as online at (accessed 15 Dec. 2018).


Józef Jaroń, vice director of the Warsaw municipality's Wydział do Spraw Wyznań (Department of Religious Affairs), memorandum, 29 Aug. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/15, 63–65.


Łapiński, “Księga pamiątkowa,” 9. He reports having poured foundations of 10 by 10 meters on 27–29 March 1972.


Łapiński, 9.


Łapiński, 21.


Łapiński, 9.


The statement was signed by Father Hieronim Goździewicz, director of Primate Wyszyński's office. Łapiński, 11.


Łapiński, 11.


Łapiński, 15.


Andrzej Boboli, “Drugi po Komitecie Centralnym: Komitet Warszawski PZPR 1975–1989,” in Władza w PRL, ed. Konrad Rokicki and Robert Spałka (Warsaw: IPN, 2011), 79–124.


Łapiński, “Księga pamiątkowa,” 19–24.


Jaroń, memorandum, 29 Aug. 1978.


Józef Jaroń, memorandum on the results of a meeting between Bishop Jerzy Modzelewski and Warsaw mayor Jerzy Majewski on 5 Sept. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/19, 14–15.


Józef Jaroń, memorandum, “Tezy do rozmów z biskupem Jerzym Modzelewskim,” 8 Sept. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/15, 23–27.


Even high-ranking Party officials commented favorably on the church hierarchy's condemnation of public protest. See, for example, the minutes of the Politburo meeting on 23 September 1980, at the height of the Solidarity protests: “Sytuacja społeczno-polityczna oraz kierunki działania partii i Państwa,” Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “PZPR KC Biuro Polityczne,” V/157, vol. 4 (July–September), 438. On the church's position see also Porter-Szücs, Poland in the Modern World, 292–96.


Jaroń, memorandum, 29 Aug. 1978.


Łapiński, “Księga pamiątkowa,” 44.


Łapiński, 46.


Łapiński, 53.


Łapiński, 41.


Łapiński mentions three émigré sponsors by name: his uncle, Father Stanisław Łapiński of Stevens Point, Wisconsin; Father Edward Bujarski of Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Stanisława Trojanowska-Ciska of London. Łapiński, 53. The financial impact of voluntary donations should not be underestimated: in the mid-1980s the unofficial exchange rate provided U.S.$33 (then roughly the daily income of a minimum-wage worker in the United States) for 20,000 Polish zloty (the average monthly salary for a Pole). Porter-Szücs, Poland in the Modern World, 309.


Kucza-Kuczyński, Widzialne niewidzialnego, 74–75, 88–89.


Kucza-Kuczyński, 53.


In Poland the rebuilding of war-damaged national monuments was first practiced after World War I and was based on the ideas of conservationists such as Jarosław Wojciechowski and Jan Alfred Lauterbach. See Piotr Majewski, Ideologia i konserwacja: Architektura zabytkowa w Polsce w czasach socrealizmu (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Trio, 2009), 13–15; Bohdan Rymaszewski, Polska ochrona zabytków (Warsaw: Scholar, 2005), 54–59.


Wydział do Spraw Wyznań, Urząd Miasta Stołecznego Warszawy, “Budownictwo sakralne i kościelne 1945–87,” 44.


Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 104.


See the court documents at Wojewódzki Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych w Skierniewicach 1983–1990, file “Akta kontrolne śledztwa przeciwko: Flaszczyński Paweł,” Institute of National Remembrance, Warsaw, Ld PF65/2/J.


Flaszczyński's prosecution for “suspicion of unauthorized demolition of the listed church in the village of Kamion” was started on 26 June 1978; he was also tried for crimes against the “Law on the Protection of Cultural Goods and Museums of 15 February 1962.” Wojewódzki Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych w Skierniewicach 1983–1990, file “Akta kontrolne śledztwa przeciwko: Flaszczyński Paweł.”


Under PZPR leader Władysław Gomułka during the 1960s, the “national communists” fashioned themselves as protectors of the fatherland against the onslaught of the church, most infamously in the row over the “Letter of Reconciliation to the German Bishops” authored by the Polish bishops in 1965. See Porter-Szücs, Poland in the Modern World, 248–50.


Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 141–65.


Wojewódzki Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych w Skierniewicach 1983–1990, file “Akta kontrolne śledztwa przeciwko: Flaszczyński Paweł,” 32–39.


Statement by Paweł Flaszczyński, Wojewódzki Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych w Skierniewicach 1983–1990, file “Akta kontrolne śledztwa przeciwko: Flaszczyński Paweł,” 32–39; decision by Regional Court in Sochaczew against Pawel Flaszczyński, 20 Dec. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 142; Mieczysław Wiśniewski, local resident and construction volunteer, conversation with author, 23 Aug. 2018, Kamion.


Voivodeship Inspector B. Okuniewski, “Notatka służbowa,” 24 Nov. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 146.


This is how resident and volunteer Mieczysław Wiśniewski remembers the construction. Wiśniewski, conversation with author.


Local resident Mieczysław Wiśniewski mentioned this to me in my conversation with him. In fact, St. Augustine is a neo-Romanesque building situated in the area of the former Jewish Ghetto. Connected with anti-German resistance during World War II, it was one of the few structures in Warsaw's city center to survive the war.


F. Olszewski, chancellor of the Warsaw Curia, letter to the voivodeship administration in Skierniewice, 19 Aug. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 145.


Wojewódzki Urząd Spraw Wewnętrznych w Skierniewicach 1983–1990, file “Akta kontrolne śledztwa przeciwko: Flaszczyński Paweł.”


Decision by Regional Court in Sochaczew against Paweł Flaszczyński.


Okuniewski, “Notatka służbowa.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that no further improvements were made. Wiśniewski, conversation with author.


See complaints by the voivodeship administration, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 159–60.


The chapel had been located in Grzymkowice. Lech Wiśniewski, director of the Department of Religious Affairs of the voivodeship administration in Skierniewice, letter to the Warsaw Curia, 27 May 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 159–60.


Józef Bar, Nowe kościoły diecezji przemyskiej w jej dawnych granicach powstałe w latach 1966–1992 (Przemyśl: Kollegium Wydawnicze Adam Szal, 1993), 10; Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 125/186 k. 13 (1971). See also Antoni Dudek and Ryszard Gryz, Komuniści i kościół w Polsce (1945–1989) (Kraków: Znak, 2006), 313–14.


In 1973, Stanisław Kania, who would replace Gierek as Party leader in 1980, stated that Tokarczuk behaved “like a commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army,” which during World War II committed numerous war crimes against Poles, and that “Tokarczuk, a real Ukrainian, makes crazy policy.” Quoted in Dudek and Gryz, Komuniści i kościół w Polsce, 313–14.


Mieczyslaw Przenzak, director of the Legnica voivodeship's Department of Religious Affairs, memorandum, 16 Aug. 1978, Archiwum Akt Nowych, inventory “Urząd do Spraw Wyznań,” 108/16, 174.


Przenzak, 174.


Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972), 88–103.


For these discussions, see “Co dalej?,” Architektura 33, no. 379–80 (May–June 1979); “Architektura na rozdrożu,” Architektura 36, no. 2 (July–August 1982).


Obituary for Franciszek Rozwód by the Wrocław archdiocese, 2016, (accessed 15 Apr. 2019).


The Church Fund was a state institution incorporated in 1950 to provide compensation for expropriated church property and to pay for priests' pensions and church maintenance. Dudek and Gryz, Komuniści i kościół w Polsce, esp. 13–14.


Such informal deals are described by architect Jerzy Gurawski, “Rozmowa,” in Klein and Gzowska, Postmodernizm polski, 298.


Among many similar examples, see Zygmunt Majka, “Nielegalne budownictwo sakralne i kościelne zagrożeniem ładu i porządku publicznego (na terenie miasta i województwa krakowskiego)” (diploma thesis, 1975) and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, “Zapobieganie sytuacjom konfliktowym na tle samowolnego budownictwa sakralnego na podstawie praktyki Wydziału IV w Tarnowie w latach 1975–1978” (diploma thesis, 1979), Institute of National Remembrance, Warsaw, BU 001834/73 and BU 1509/1035.


Konrad Straszewski, Instruction no. 001/76, “w sprawie kierunków i taktyki działań operacyjnych na odcinku zwalczania samowoli w budownictwie sakralnym i kościelnym,” 26 Oct. 1976, Institute of National Remembrance, Warsaw, BU 00735/1651 t. 21, 1–3.


M. Sałkowski, “Problematyka nielegalnego budownictwa sakralnego i ‘cudów’ oraz metod przeciwdziałania zagrożeniom występującym na tym tle w świetle Zarządzenia Ministra Spraw Wewnętrznych nr 0077/70 z dnia 30-07-1970” (lecture given to police officers in Olsztyn, 1970), Institute of National Remembrance, Warsaw, BU 01522/449, 68.