Catholic like Orthodox, Orthodox like Catholic. On the history of establishing new religious rites and new architecture of the Orthodox churches in interwar Poland

  • Marcin Zgliński
Keywords: sacral architecture, Uniate Church architecture, Neo-Union, Jesuits, Albertine


The text shows the phenomenon of searching for completely new forms for the use of the Eastern rite in the north-eastern territories of interwar Poland, that is, in the historical area of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Religion and religious rites became a tool in opposing political actions conducted simultaneously by the Polish state and Vatican in this ethnically and religiously diverse region. In the plans for the future, eastern Poland was supposed to form a bridgehead for the prospect missionary action in Russia after the fall of the Bolsheviks. The Congregation of Jesuits was entrusted with a task to introduce the so-called Bizantine (or Neouniate) rite, which would faithfully keep to the liturgical forms of the Russian Orthodox Church and preserve all its typical architectural forms as well as icons, iconostases, paraments, etc. The Jesuit ministry centre was installed in Albertyn near Słonim (now Belarus) in 1926, where in 1936–1937 missionaries were furnished with a complex consisting of a Latin Church and an Eastern Orthodox Church, designed by architect Tadeusz Majewski. The temples, both serviced by the Jesuits, were placed symmetrically along two sides of the court, which was to symbolise the equality of both rites in the Roman-catholic universe. The Orthodox Church followed the eastern forms and most of its elements resembled a typical Russian temple in its décor, although figures of the Jesuit saints were introduced to the iconography of some of the icons. From the point of view of the Polish state authorities, the Neouniate action had a harmful effect due to propagating Russian, Belarusian or Ukrainian languages in the rite, which might have sapped the strength of Polishness in the eastern borderlands of the state. Therefore, since the mid-1930s, the state authorities, with a large share of the army, promoted the creation of a “Polish Orthodox Church” with services to be celebrated in Polish. In contrast to the Neouniate action, in which the Catholic rite was to be masked under the forms as close as possible to the Russian Orthodox Church on the basis of kind of “mimicry”, in the Polish Orthodox Church all the elements of religious cult had to be as far as possible from the Russian tradition and would be transformed into a “native” Polish rite. Besides, a new iconography was to be created. To this end, it was decided to build a prototypic “Polish Orthodox Church” in Grodno. Its construction began in 1938 (on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of regaining independence), but was not completed on account of the outbreak of war. As a result of competition, a design by architect Rościsław Rumiancew was selected. It represented an unusual, modern form, quite different from typical Orthodox Churches erected in the region before the World War I. Some extravagant modifications were introduced: among others, a glass dome, several large stained-glass windows and an iconostasis built from glass bricks.
Visual Art