Uniwersytet Rzeszowski
Centrum Dokumentacji Współczesnej Sztuki Sakralnej
pl. Ofiar Getta 4-5/35, 35-002 Rzeszów
tel. +48 17 872 20 98

Andrzej K. Olszewski

The contemporary sacred art, apart from very few exceptions, for many years did not interest Polish historians of art and architecture either in the 19th or in the 20th century. It was not until the last thirty years when several books appeared, containing a general review of the native sacred architecture of the 20th century, which is the particular focus of this article. Suffice to mention: K. Kuczyński and A. Mroczek, Nowe kościoły polskie [New Polish Churches] (1991); Rev. H. Nadrowski, Kościoły naszych czasów, dziedzictwo i perspektywy [The Churches of Our Times: Heritage and Perspectives] (2000); M.E. Rosier-Siedlecka, Posoborowa architektura sakralna. Aktualne problemy projektowania architektury kościelnej [The Sacred Architecture after Vatican II: The Current Problems in Designing Church Architecture] (1979); R. Wróbel, Nowe kościoły w diecezji łódzkiej 1945–1989 [New Churches in the Łódź Diocese] (2005); Julia Sowińska, Forma i sacrum. Współczesne kościoły Górnego Śląska [The Form and the Sacrum: The Contemporary Churches of Upper Silesia] (2006) [1]. Some works covered the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, for instance K. Jabłoński Budownictwo kościelne 1795–1939 na terenie Archidiecezji Białostockiej [Church Buildings in the Białystok Diocese 1795–1939](2002)[2]. Apart from books, a number of articles and dissertations on this topic were also written.

The research on the contemporary sacred art conducted at Akademia Teologii Katolickiej (Uniwersytet Kardynała Wyszyńskiego since 1999) focused on the art of the 19th and 20th century, with the particular emphasis on contemporary art. The number of churches built in this period, the ongoing breakthrough in the search of new forms, the wonderful developments in the craft of making stained glass combined with the general lack of information and texts, all these issues called for a more systematic approach to this problem. Admittedly, the institute of art history was then affiliated with the Faculty of Theology, and research on the sacred art was then required by the statute of the Faculty; however, there are no such limitations today. Since 1st October 1977, when the Department of the History of Contemporary Art was created, 102 M.A. theses and 3 doctoral dissertations on the contemporary sacred art were written at Uniwersytet Kardynała Wyszyńskiego.

In 1980 the idea of creating at the university the Archive for Contemporary Sacred Art emerged. The purpose of the Archive was to gather information on the contemporary churches and their interior decorations resulting in publishing an in-depth catalogue based on the French book Les Eglises Modernes en France. The work started with collecting the basic information. A survey form was drawn up (the first attempts were made in the late 1960s), which was brought to the Warsaw Curia by me and the Rev. Janusz S. Pasierb, the then Head of the Section of Art History and the patron of the whole undertaking. The response was not particularly enthusiastic; nevertheless, we managed to compile some information on new churches in various dioceses. The next stage was the preparation of the catalogue consisting of cards following the unified pattern for the whole country and including both immobile (architecture) and mobile objects (fittings). It required funding and qualified staff. Thanks to the programme called “The Key Problem” a group of art historians prepared descriptions of 175 churches in various dioceses and 2 groups of stained glass windows. Due to the lack of money and – unfortunately – lack of any interest in this programme the work was stopped.

Recently (no date given by the publisher) Zarząd Główny Towarzystwa Przyjaciół Warszawy [The Board of Directors of the Friends of Warsaw Association] published a work consisting of several album-type volumes and titled Kościoły Archidiecezji Warszawskiej. [The Churches of Warsaw Archdiocese]. This publication, very impressive from the editorial point of view, does not meet the requirements of thorough documentation for architecture and arts. For instance, vol. 1 Dekanaty pozawarszawskie[Deaneries Outside Warsaw] in a great number of cases does not include the name of the designers of the architectural projects or stained glass windows, even though many of the objects listed are new and finding this information should not be difficult. In case of Niepokalanów the listed information is downright erroneous and unfortunately it is going to be quoted as coming from an authoritative source. We cannot learn from the text that the church in Niepokalanów was designed by an architect Zygmunt Gawlik (the author of the Katowice Cathedral), even though there exists an extensive text on Niepokalanów written by Jarosław Zawadzki and published in print four times, including in a church history periodical Nasza Przeszłość [Our Past]. Apart from that, the architect himself was the subject of a monographic work[3]. The names of the authors of the statues of St. Maximilian Kolbe and John Paul II were not listed either[4]. Such practices are widespread and do not contribute to spreading knowledge about our national heritage.

The conclusions are obvious. A research institution for the contemporary sacred art should be established, and its aim would be documenting the objects (using the same cards), publishing successively reliable bibliography etc.

In contrast to other European countries, Poland lacked a journal devoted to the sacred art. Thanks to the attempts of Rev. Janusz S. Pasierb, the Church granted some funds to this purpose. The journal under the title suggested by Rev. Pasierb Lumen Artis was going to discuss the issues of sacred art, both the contemporary and the older one. The present author was going to be the editor-in-chief, and foreign contributors were invited to collaborate. The journal was to be published by the University’s publishing house. In 1990 the first issue was already prepared. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the whole plan was torpedoed. A letter on this subject, written by the present author to bishop Władysław Ziółek remained unanswered[5].

In 2002 a group of Krakow architects and art historians started publishing a journal Sztuka Sakralna [Sacred Art]. Six issues were published, after which the publication was suspended.

In the light of the above, the initiative of establishing a serious centre of research for sacred art at Uniwersytet Rzeszowski and publishing a journal devoted to this topic deserves the highest praise. The centre should continue the work done by the previous researchers, gather information and publish the results of its work. It is an issue of utmost importance both for the Church history and national culture.

Translated by Monika Mazurek


[1] K. Kucza-Kuczyński, A. Mroczek, Nowe kościoły polskie, Warszawa, 1991; H. Nadrowski, Kościoły naszych czasów. Dziedzictwo i perspektywy,Kraków, 2000; M. E. Rosier-Siedlecka, Posoborowa architektura sakralna. Aktualne problemy projektowania architektury kościelnej, Lublin, 1979; R. Wróbel, Nowe kościoły w diecezji łódzkiej 1945–1989. Uwarunkowania i klasyfikacja rzymskokatolickiej architektury sakralnej, Łódź, 2005; J. Sowińska, Forma i sacrum. Współczesne kościoły Górnego Śląska, Warszawa, 2006.

[2] K.A. Jabłoński, Budownictwo kościelne 1795–1939 na terenie Archidiecezji Białostockiej, Białystok, 2002.

[3] J. Zawadzki, “Kościół OO. Franciszkanów w Niepokalanowie”, in: Nasza Przeszłość (1994), vol. 82, pp. 229280; F. Burno, Zygmunt Gawlik (1895–1961) Architekt Katedry Katowickiej, Katowice, 2003.

[4] Kościoły Archidiecezji Warszawskiej. Nasze dziedzictwo. Dekanaty pozawarszawskie, vol. 1, Warszawa, pp. 26–31.

[5] Letter of 26 Nov. 1990 (in the author’s possession).

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