During the communist times in Poland, grassroots funding of churches was a form of protest against the authorities. Following World War II, over 3700 churches were built in the country.
This photograph is taken from the book Seventh Day Architecture – a project dedicated to the history of architecture, as well as a fascinating study of Polish social transformation. In Poland under communism, building churches was both a symbol of faith and a protest against the atheist state. These gigantic constructions were built by people using materials obtained with a huge effort.
Church-building attracted talented architects with the promise of creative freedom, and provided an opportunity to construct something outside of the confines established by the state. Nowadays, the forms that they designed constitute original Polish 20th-century architectural heritage.
The book’s authors underline how this construction was community-based. For obvious reasons, the opinions of parish priests or architects were indeed important but, if not for the involvement and work of the parishioners, the churches would never have been built – hence the congregation may be considered as co-creators.
In most cases, the authorities did issue permits to build churches, so only a small portion of them were built illegally. Such favours were an attempt to appease the populace, and most permits were granted following tragic events, such as June 1956, December 1970, or August 1980, and reached a peak during the crisis years of the 1980s. Although permits were issued by civil servants, the state played no part whatsoever in the building of churches.
Igor Snopek’s drone photographs of churches demonstrate the abundance of forms and sheer scale of investments the authorities made to buy themselves peace and allow believers to express their dissent.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.