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Around the year 1500 Świdnica was the second biggest Silesian town, after Wrocław. There was a lot of trading which spread to Czechia, Poland and Russia and as far as the commercial towns of the Northern and Baltic Seas. Politically, the Duchy of Świdnica belonged to the Czech monarchy. In 1525 it came under the rule of the Habsburgs. A few years after the historical Diet of Worms, Martin Luther’s reformatory theses gained wide recognition in Silesia, including Świdnica. The expression of those new ideas was the completion of a huge parish church dedicated to Ss.Stanislav and Vaclav. Its tower of 103 meters was higher than all other Silesian church towers. In 1535 Sebastian Angerer, the Reformer of Świdnica, arrived in the town. From 1569 Evangelical masses were conducted in Świdnica. With the trade reaching deep into Europe and the pulsating Evangelical life, Świdnica was blooming in prosperity and inner political peace. That period came to an end due to the Counter-Reformation introduced by the Habsburgs, which in 1618 coincided with the outbreak of the Thirty-Year War. Like most of Europe, the Evangelical Parish in Świdnica had to face hard times. The inspection of the Papal Legate Karaff had shown the Protestantism deep-rooted in the area, which resulted in the demand for regaining Catholicism in the hereditary duchies. On 20 January 1629 Świdnica was raided by Lichtenstein’s dragoon regiment. The churches were forced to convert to Catholic ones. The Evangelical community was left none of the 14 parish churches. The Evangelical inhabitants of Świdnica had suffered from the oppression of Lichtenstein’s dragoons for almost a year, until they left the town on 4 January 1630. In September 1632, while the Swedish troops of Gustav Adolph were approaching Świdnica, the Catholic authorities escaped from the town. Bartsch and Herrmann, the Evangelical pastors, were able to conduct Evangelical services in their parish churches again. However, the new peace did not last long – it became disturbed mainly by two events. In February and May 1633 Świdnica was destroyed by two big fires which left part of the town in debris and ashes. Wallenstein’s troops completed the work of destruction and burned to the ground the remaining part of the suburbs. The war havoc and starvation resulted in the outbreak of the plague which claimed 17,000 victims.
The Peace Church
According to the principles of the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty-Year War, emperor Ferdinand III was obliged by Sweden to give permission for the Evangelicals to build three churches, called “Peace Churches”, in the hereditary duchies of Jawor, Głogów and Świdnica. The fact did not mean that the Habsburgs had recognized the equality of the Catholic and Protestant faith. It was rather an extorted act of tolerance. In fact, a number of imperial commissions were brought to life and their task was to confiscate churches in Silesia.
Between 1653 and 1654, only in the hereditary duchies of Jawor and Świdnica, over 250 churches were taken away from Evangelical parishes! After many petitions addressed to the Vienna court, on 13 August 1652 the emperor gave his permission to erect the church in Świdnica. 10 days later the grounds for the building were assigned and made over to the chairman of the Pension Office from Otterau. The plot was a 200-step-sided square, and the church itself was to be 100 steps in length and 50 steps in width. It became dedicated to the Holy Trinity. According to the emperor’s regulations the church could be built beyond the town walls, without a tower or belfry. The building materials could be wood, sand, clay and straw. The church had to be erected within one year’s time, which was a particularly hard condition. The first out of the three churches to have been completed was the Peace Church in Głogów, consecrated at Christmas 1652. The foundation stone under the construction of the Peace Church in Jawor was laid in 1654, and as early as on 30 September the square interior of the church was consecrated. The construction process of the Peace Church in Świdnica could make use of the building experience from the churches in Głogów nad Jawor. In 1656 Świdnican Evangelicals entrusted the construction of the Peace Church to a building
constructor Albrecht von Saebish and the local carpenter Andreas Kaemper. In the same year the foundation stone was laid and on 24 June 1657 the first mass was conducted in the newly built church.
The Peace Church in Świdnica is a basilica erected on the cruciform. The three-nave body intersects centrally with the three-nave transept. The main building was initially extended from the east by the vestry. In later years the Dead Lounge was added from the west, the Wedding Lounge from the south, and the so-called Field Lounge from the north. The structural frame of the building skeleton consists of wooden columns, sized 30 x 50 cm up to 40 x 50 cm. The central nave is about 44 metres long and 20 metres wide. The side nave – about 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. The height of the central nave is about 15 metres. The church is a typical carcass structure. The area of 1,090 m2 could hold 7500 people, including 3,000 seated. In 1852, on the 200th anniversary of the church extensive restoration works were conducted. 50 years later a wide range of other repairs took place. The carcass structure was renovated, and from the south a new vestibule was added. A special attention was given to the restoration of the paintings. The Peace Church in Świdnica is one of the two preserved sites of that kind in Europe so it has enormous historical and artistic value. After World War II the number of the congregation in the Evangelical Parish dropped dramatically. There are now about 120 parishioners who are not able to carry the financial costs of the church maintenance. During the last few years some minor renovation works have been carried out with the financial support of the Gustav Adolph church foundation.