The modern building environment has produced typically accelerated construction periods for architectural projects. Today, the majority is constructed within 3-5 years of project commencement. However, history shows that many high profile construction projects haven’t been so quick to complete. York Minster Cathedral, York, UK took 252 years to finish, Chicken Itza, Yucatán State, Mexico – 400 years, Petra, Jordan – 450 years, Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England – 1,600 years, The Great Wall, China – 2,000 years. Among them are Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain which has been in the making since 1882 and the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw, Poland which story of construction began in the 18th century.
A votive offering for the first European and world`s second constitution
The Temple is meant to be a national and religious symbol for Poland. The Divine Providence complex comprises a Church of Divine Providence, emerging Museum of John Paul II, the Pope and Primate Stefan Wyszyński, often called the Primate of the Millennium, and a Pantheon of Great Poles.
The history of the Temple of Divine Providence stretches back over 200 years and it is associated with Poland’s first Constitution of May 3rd, 1791 being the first European and world`s second Government Act. Two days after passing the constitution, members of Parliament (Great Seym) adopted a resolution that a temple should be built as a votive offering. However, Poland’s turbulent history got in the way.
Began in 1791, finished in 2016
The story starts in 1791, 226 years ago. The church was pledged to construct by the will of Stanisław August Poniatowski, the King of Poland and in virtue of the resolution of the Four-Year (Great) Seym as thanksgiving for the adoption of the country’s first Constitution. Therefore a church was meant to be “ex voto of all estates dedicated to the highest Providence.” It was to be an expression of gratitude to “the Highest Ruler of the fate of nations” for the adoption of the constitution.
The celebration of laying the cornerstone of the planned shrine in Ujazdów was held on the first anniversary of the constitution. King Stanisław August and the last Primate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Archbishop Michał Jerzy Poniatowski, began the construction of the shrine. The monarch also accepted the design of his royal architect Jakub Kubicki, best known for designing Castle Square, The Kubicki Arcades at the Royal Castle and several buildings in Royal Łazienki in Warsaw. The Temple was to be built in the classicist style on the plan of a Greek cross. However, the Russian army attacked Poland, making construction impossible. Three years later Poland disappeared from the map of Europe. Only a small ruined chapel, in the Botanical Garden in Agrykola (Ujazdów), survived.
A building of the constructivist style with a tower that would resemble the skyscrapers of New York
The first area designated for construction was where the Botanical Garden stands today. Even now, there is a prototype of the temple on the grounds. Unfortunately, the construction plans were first thwarted by the war with Russia, and later by Poland’s loss of independence.
After Poland regained independence in 1918 the Seym of the restored Polish Republic II passed an act to build the shrine on March 17th, 1921. The Parliament decided that the state would cover the cost of the construction, which was to be 15 million old zlotys. The budget was also to finance a perpetual scholarship to order Masses celebrated in the intention of the Homeland and for the souls of all Poles who died for the country. However, financial difficulties and inflation did not allow the young state to bear such costs. The Committee on Commemorating Marshal Józef Piłsudski, created after his death, chaired by Ignacy Mościcki, President of Poland decided to carry out the project. The Shrine of Divine Providence was to be built in the fields of Mokotów. The Committee announced a tender and chose design of Bohdan Pniewski, mostly known as a designer of state buildings in pre-war and post-war Poland. He proposed an edifice of the constructivist style with a tower that would resemble the skyscrapers of New York. However, the start date was constantly postponed. Finally, it was settled in 1939, the year in which Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland, starting WWII.
“The vows the Polish nation made 200 years ago should be fulfilled”
The project could have not been realised during the war. The post-war communist Polish People’s Republic did not continue with the project. Following the fall of communism in 1989, the Primate of Poland Cardinal Józef Glemp revived the idea of the shrine in the late 1990s. The Seym on October 23rd, 1998 adopted, by a decisive majority, an act to construct the National Temple of Divine Providence. The resolution said that “the Seym of the Third Republic of Poland thinks that the vows the Polish nation made 200 years ago should be fulfilled” and the shrine would be “a votive church of the nation for the Constitution of May 3rd, the regained independence in 1989, for twenty years of John Paul II’s pontificate and two thousand years of Christianity.”
Thanksgiving for which the Poles have waited 200 years
John Paul II supported the construction of the Temple. In his pilgrimage to Poland in 1999, during the celebration in Pilsudski Square, he blessed the cornerstone, which was embedded at the position of the future altar. He said, “May this shrine become a place of special thanksgiving for freedom of the Homeland. I pray that no painful experience would disturb this thanksgiving for which we have waited 200 years.” The Pope prayed for the construction and provided financial help. The shrine is located in Wilanów, the end of the historic Royal Route.
“The Temple was funded by nearly 100,000 donors, who strongly felt the duty to fulfill this historic promise given by the Polish nation.”
The construction was commenced three times and for the third time it started to take its actual shape.
In 2002 that the foundation stone was set and the building of the Temple of Divine Providence in the fields of Wilanów finally started. However, the public financial support was withheld. Thus, the Temple was built exclusively from many small private donations. “The Temple was funded by nearly 100,000 donors, who strongly felt the duty to fulfill this historic promise given by the Polish nation. Although it was not easy, these people continued with determination what Primate Józef Glemp initiated at the turn of the century,” said Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw on the day of inauguration of the Temple.
The form of a Greek cross
In January 2002, the Primate chose the final design of the temple by the architects’ team directed by Wojciech and Lech Szymborski, with an estimated cost of around 40 million Euros. This sum was met to a large extent through mentioned private donations and co-financed by a state budget. The building is based on an 84 m x 84 m base area in the form of a Greek cross – a cross with four equal length arms, with four gates, a dome and a cross. The building is around 75 metres tall overall. 26 columns are arranged in a circle to form the nave of the church which has a 68 m diameter.
A funeral site for important Poles
The Pantheon of Great Poles is an underground part of the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw and it will be a part of a Centre of Divine Providence where the shrine belongs to. This is a funeral site for important Poles. As of today, in the basement, there are already the tomb of priest Jan Twardowski, a famous Polish poet, representative of contemporary religious lyrics, the tomb of the last President of Poland in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, the altar and relics of Saint John Paul II (a replica of his tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica), relics of Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, Polish priest and martyr, Zdzisław Peszkowski, a chaplain for the Katyń Families Association, and the Murdered in the East, and a prisoner in Kozelsk, and Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Minister of Foreign Affairs and an established scholar in the field of international law.
After 13 years of struggling construction, the Temple has finally opened on November 11th, 2016, Poland’s Independence Day, by Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, the archbishop of Warsaw. The ceremony was attended by President of Poland, Prime Minister, speakers of both houses of parliament and many politicians. The official opening does not mean that the whole construction work is complete, as some finishing touches are still needed.
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
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Tomb of the last President of Poland in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski
The lower chapel of the temple