Arka Pana
Minderbinder, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ark of the Lord in Nowa Huta: a nationally unique example of sacred modernism

The Church of Our Lady Queen of Poland, commonly known as the Ark of the Lord, is one of the most important religious buildings in Nowa Huta. It is not only an example of sacred modernism, unique in the country, but also a testimony to the deep faith of its inhabitants and a symbol of resistance to the communist authorities who tried to turn Nowa Huta into a secular city.

The history of the Church of the Ark of the Lord dates back to 1960, when the inhabitants of Nowa Huta stood up to defend the cross that was to mark the site of the temple on the Teatralny housing estate. Despite brutal interventions by the militia, the cross remained in its place, although the church was eventually not built on that site. Permission to build a temple was only obtained in 1965, but in a different location – in Bieńczyce. Construction of the church, designed by architect Wojciech Pietrzyk, began in 1967 under the leadership of Father Józef Gorzelany. Work took ten years, encountering numerous difficulties, both technical and administrative, due to resistance from the communist authorities.

End of the 1970s Photo: Mariusz Brzeziński/

Arka Pana

The consecration of the church was attended by more than 70,000 faithful, bishops from Poland and abroad. In his sermon, Cardinal Wojtyla, who took great credit for the whole initiative to build the church, indirectly referred to Nowa Huta’s defence of the cross, a symbol of faith that became the immaterial foundation of the Ark of the Lord. The design of the church is unique and full of symbolism. Its shape is reminiscent of the ark, alluding to the biblical story of Noah’s rescue and to the chapel at Ronchamp, designed by Le Corbusier. The edifice’s rounded and flowing massing contrasts with the orthogonal architecture of the surrounding blocks. A 70-metre high cross-mast with a golden-crowned stork’s nest dominates the entire structure. It symbolises not only faith, but also resistance to attempts to secularise Nowa Huta.

Arka Pana
Minderbinder, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The church was built on an irregular oval plan and its body is made of cast concrete, which gives it a sculptural character. The outer walls are clad in small river stones, creating an interesting textural effect. The roof, which resembles an upturned shell, is covered with shingles, adding to its unique appearance. The interior of the Ark of the Lord is a spacious hall, capable of accommodating around 6,000 worshippers. Seven doors lead into the church, symbolising the seven sacraments. The floor is made of green marble and the altar, which resembles the shape of a hand, is carved from pale Carrara marble. The focal point of the interior is a monumental crucifix by Bronisław Chromy.

Zygmunt Put Zetpe0202, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the central part of the church is a tabernacle in the shape of a globe, in which a symbolic stone allegedly from the moon has been placed. Although its authenticity has been questioned, it remains an important part of the church’s symbolism. In addition, the church contains many valuable works of art and gifts. The image of the Virgin Mary, a faithful copy of the painting from Zbarazh, is suspended on steel cables to the right of the altar. The basement houses the Chapel of Reconciliation with sculptures by Antoni Rząsa and a statue of Our Lady of Armour, made from shards of bullets taken from the wounds of soldiers fighting at Tobruk and Monte Cassino. The church organ, made by the German company Rudolf von Beckerath Orgelbau, has 44 voices and 3244 pipes. The bells, hung on the front wall of the church, are the gift of Catholics from the Netherlands and Belgium. Each is named after a person of merit in the construction of the church.

Arka Pana
Taxiarchos228, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ark of the Lord Church is not only a place of religious worship, but also a symbol of the struggle against the communist regime and an expression of the deep faith and determination of the inhabitants of Nowa Huta. Its architecture, full of biblical and historical references, makes it a unique example of sacred modernism in the country.

Thanks to its history and architecture, the Ark of the Lord has become an important point on the pilgrimage and tourist map of Poland, attracting both worshippers and architecture lovers from all over the world.


Read also: Architektura w Polsce | Architektura sakralna | Kraków | Architektura PRL | Modernizm

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