St Michael's Church in Wrocław
The construction of neo-Gothic St Michael's Church marked a watershed for the Roman Catholic community of then Breslau. The very cradle of Catholicism in Silesia, the location of the church at Ołbin added to its prominence. The choice of style for the church shows an affinity with Edwin Oppler's investigations and a medieval inspiration. The architecture of the Middle Ages enabled the historical and geographical anchoring of the Catholic community in this part of Europe. Modern Jewry used medievalist aspirations for similar purposes.
In the 1130s, the village of Ołbin saw the foundation of the Benedictine Abbey of St Vincent; however, it was not until the nineteenth century that the village was incorporated into the city. In 1529, the Protestant majority in the City Council had the abbey utterly demolished. For several centuries on, the local Catholic community would be confined to one little wooden church.
A new church was built on the initiative of Heinrich Förster (1799-1881), a Roman Catholic priest and Bishop of Breslau from 1853 to 1881. Förster preached the revival of the Catholic Church and its consolidation in Protestant Prussia, which discriminated against the Catholic community and hampered Catholic investment. The reasoning behind a new church in the area was that the local parish needed a structure to cater for a congregation running into six thousand faithful. Bishop Förster decided against a state subsidy, which gave him much leeway when choosing the architectural form of the church.
The church was designed by Alexis Langer (1825 – 1904), who had no formal degree in architecture, and yet was able to gain construction expertise and practice, and worked as an architect, mainly building Catholic churches. Langer was the protégé of Bishop Förster, who founded the church and often commissioned work from the architect.
The church's design was probably completed in 1862; alas, Langer's sketches failed to survive. St Michael's Church shares a stylistic affinity with the New Synagogue: they both draw upon the legacy of the Middle Ages. The church was modelled on Cologne Cathedral, and the choice of neo-Gothic style, very much like Oppler's neo-Romanesque designs, carried a deeper conceptual meaning. In 1855, Alexis Langer won a distinction at an extremely prestigious competition for Vienna's Votivkirche. His Breslau design shows a number of analogies with it.
St Michael’s Church was a basilica on a Latin-cross plan and with two towers at the western façade. This monumental place of worship was also invested with an extended conceptual programme. Focused on theology, it was intended to spark a revival in the Catholic community. The reconstruction of Cologne Cathedral triggered medievalist sentiments and promoted Gothic as a prevalent style for Catholic churches to be developed throughout the nineteenth century. Both the founder of the church and its builder made deliberate formal allusions to Cologne Cathedral, which is best reflected in the façade, featuring three portals, each of which was crowned with a wimperg.
On 8 May 1868, the church suffered an enormous building catastrophe: the northern tower collapsed and would never be completed according to Langer's design. The architect was in turn dismissed and lost his major client, i.e., the Catholic Church. The reconstruction of the church was entrusted to Carl Lüdecke, who participated in a 1865 competition for the New Synagogue design. The ceremonial consecration of the church was held on 8 November 1871.
While the New Synagogue and St Salvator's Church failed to survive, St Michael's Church at Ołbin has remained in its location up to the present day.
Written by Karolina Jara