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Behind the scenes – building of St. Roch Church in Białystok

When it comes to architecture project contests Białystok has a quite interesting historic experience. On 14 April 1926 a contest for “the construction of Divine Providence Temple in Białystok for 3000 people” was declared. The contest was about the church on St. Roch’s hill. The undertaking was initiated by a parson of newly formed in 1925 parish, priest Adam Abramowicz. He turned to Group of Architects in Warsaw. Those architects started then to declare and officially perform all necessary actions. All willing to participate in Białystok’s competition had little time as the final verdict was to be reached on July 7. Surprisingly there were send “a great deal of project for our scale”. Once it was said there were 70 projects sent, other time it was 75 and 76 projects. Today it is hard to verify how many exactly were there. One thing was sure, the interest in the contest was huge. All sent projects were displayed on a special exhibition in Branicki Palace. Organisers were so excited about the event that they forgot to put the ads about the exhibition. They appeared only the next day after an intervention. The exhibition itself in the eyes of a critic looked: “In the first room we see walls and stands full with projects. After paying the entrance fee we start exploring. Many projects surprises us with their originality”. At the end he concluded that “due to so many and so different projects it would be desired that all Catholics of our city and surroundings watched them and expressed their opinion”. “Catholics of our city” liked projects nr 40, 49 and 53 the most.
Jury had however different opinion. You don’t pick a jury to pick the project people like the most. Therefore the first price in the contest of 2,5 thousand polish zloty was won by project nr 63. Władysław Schwarcenberg-Czern, Jan Karżewski and Jerzy Woyzbun were the authors. Abramowicz counted on that the jury would chose project of Oskar Sosnowski. His project was already debated by author and investor. Why then were there this contest? That’s hard to figure out. But what happened is done. As a result determined priest not asking anyone declared that the contest was won by Sosnowski. He situation got troublesome and oil was added to the fire by the fact that the winning team came to Białystok. At site they said they “came to sign the contract with church construction committee and eventual realization of the project”. Abramowicz was however stubborn and would not change his mind.


Four years after those events, when the construction on St. Roch hill was quite advanced priest gave a few words what was he thinking during the contest. In local parish newspaper an article of his was published. It’s title explained a lot – “Weirdoes in sacral art”. Author wrote that until the half of XIX century everything in sacral architecture happened in God’s order. He also accepted “secular architecture”. But what of that if according to Abramowicz, since the second half of XIX century a “fall in architecture” began. Architects were at fault who in their research of new forms lost their taste and moderation. “A typical example was the exhibition of church projects – monument of St. Roch in 1926 – in Branicki Palace. One could dare to say that out of 76 projects sent barely 10 had sacral character. The rest – weirdoes”. At the same time Abromowicz criticised Białystok Fara Church where in 1926 an altar of Holy Sacraments was set. According to author “Christ’s character on the cross is too broad in shoulders and too narrow in the hips”. The author of the sculpture, Wincenty Bogaczyk was called “an old man, slave to fashion”. At the end he preached that: “We should use the gains knowledge brought us carefully such as reinforced concrete and central heating so the character of the temple, God’s house is preserved above all. Get the cubism out of our temples because cubism is a pseudo-art, therefore ugliness”. How did he, having such weird art views, build us such a marvellous temple? It’s hard to understand but perhaps that was the reason behind the useless contest?