‘Kitschy’ church becomes youngest building to win privileged heritage protection status

The interior design of Kraków artist Jerzy Nowosielski prompted the protected status. WUOZ Szczecin

An unusual Greek Catholic orthodox church in Western Pomerania has won a place on the prized heritage protection list because of its ‘mysterious’ sacral decoration.

Completed only 22 years ago, the Church of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Biały Bór near Szczecin is also the youngest listed building in Poland. 

This means that when the final touches were being made to the temple in 1997, Puff Daddy was riding high in the charts, Poland was voting on its new constitution and Bill Clinton had just visited Warsaw.

Even though the church has a quirky external appearance, it is the interior artwork of Jerzy Nowosielski that prompted the protected status. 

Completed only 22 years ago, the Church of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Biały Bór near Szczecin is now the youngest listed building in Poland. Michał Dębowski/Facebook

The Western Pomerania heritage conservator trumpeted the news by saying: “The Church in Biały Bór is an example of the late work of the artist from Kraków, in which he achieved a special ‘mysterious’ effect by the use of small, discreetly illuminated sacral spaces of intense, dark colours, conducive to concentration and contemplation.” 

With a date of birth that places it at the heart of the millennial generation, the church is the architectural equivalent of crushed avocado on toast. 

For some, its kitschy style is an unholy break from centuries of tradition. While others see in it a tangible trace of Jerzy Nowosielski's genius and innovation.

The black columns and red arches either side of a red curtain give the altogether unholy appearance of a striptease club.WUOZ Szczecin

From a distance, the viewer is struck by the effect of pareidolia, or seeing faces in inanimate objects. It appears as if two eyes set in frog-like sockets are peering at the faithful as they walk towards the narthex.

However, those who make that mistake should quickly repent as the whites of the eyes are in fact halos and the pupils are the head of Christ.

Though there is no dome, so typical of eastern church architecture, the church’s three-nave basilica construction is a gesture to tradition. 

Once inside, though, the gloves are off. The black columns and red arches either side of a red curtain give the altogether unholy appearance of a striptease club. 

Nowosielski was inspired by the sacred art of the East and he was one of the most famous icon painters in Poland. WUOZ Szczecin

One departure from tradition is the main iconostasis, which is limited to only two images – of Christ and the Mother of God. This contrasts with a traditional iconostasis, which is typically festooned with such a panoply of saints that when a church is empty it can feel overcrowded. 

It may seem odd that the church is in north-west Poland, far away from the Greek Catholic heartlands that fringe Poland’s eastern flank. 

However, after World War II, many Greek Catholics, particularly Lemkos, were uprooted from the area of present-day Ukraine and Podkarpacie, to the west and north of Poland. The church in Biały Bór was created for them.

The church was created for Greek Catholics, particularly Lemkos, who after WWII were uprooted from the area of present-day Ukraine and Podkarpacie, to the west and north of Poland.WUOZ Szczecin

Importantly, Nowosielski was a Lemko. His work was inspired by the sacred art of the East and he was one of the most famous icon painters in Poland. 

His hypnotising wall paintings can be found in churches in Lourdes, Tychy, Hajnówka and in Warsaw. 

The Western Pomerania heritage conservator trumpeted the news by saying: 'The Church in Biały Bór is an example of the late work of the artist from Kraków, in which he achieved a special ‘mysterious’ effect by the use of small, discreetly illuminated sacral spaces of intense, dark colours, conducive to concentration and contemplation.'WUOZ Szczecin

Before he died in 2011, he declared that in Biały Bór “his greatest dream of creating a whole temple had come true”. 

It has been a good time for orthodox churches in Poland in recent months. The three latest buildings to listed are all Orthodox churches. 

Apart from the temple in Biały Bór, they include the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Grabarka, Podlasie and the bell tower of the orthodox church in Jałówka, also in the Podlasie province.