Church of St. Joseph by Dominikus Böhm Photo: PetrusSilesius
This month we will visit a third masterpiece by Dominikus Böhm, a powerful, monumental yet austere church built in Zabrze, Poland. Belonging to the Expressionist style and constructed between 1930 and 1931, it was dedicated a year after completion to St. Joseph- patron saint of workers.
The parish of St. Joseph grew out of the medieval parish of St. Andrew and initially held services in the local school. At the initiative of Fr. Oswald however, plans were started and funds were raised for a new church to be designed by the highly regarded Dominikus Böhm.
Church of St. Joseph, street view
The building appears as a compact mass of stark geometry with the bell tower slightly raised above the minimal roofline of nave. The entrance, with its unique motif of arcades reminiscent of the Roman aqueducts, can be seen as a Porta Sacra, inviting believers inside while suggesting that this is a place where spiritual thirst can and will be quenched. Together with two deep pilasters on either side this double facade encloses an atrium, a type of pro-narthex placed at the intersection between sacred and secular realms. From the open airiness of this space, one enters the closed space of the church itself and comes under the low organ gallery and the coffered ceiling of the nave. Here the eyes are immediately drawn towards the altar which is significantly raised from the main floor level, symbolising the hill of Golgotha.
Church of St. Joseph, nave Photo: PetrusSilesius
The body of the church takes the shape of a three-nave basilica with shallow aisles and deep buttresses protruding into the space. These form chapels interconnected with series of arcades continuing the Roman engineering motif. The whole interior is clad in brick with pastel shades of red and brown, characteristic of the simplicity and asceticism of early Christianity. Everything here is conducive to tranquility and prayerful meditation. There is nothing superfluous which could disperse the religious focus of this dignified space. Above, unifying the warm interior of the church is the coffered wooden ceiling, the continuous line divisions of which stagger over the presbytery to form a semicircle. Here the symbolic eye of God’s Providence is kindly watching, surrounded by a ring of 12 incandescent lamps.
Church of St. Joseph, altar Photo: malanowicz
The chancel is raised above the level of the nave by 12 steps, symbolising the apostolic mission of the priesthood. The altar is in the middle of the sanctuary, in front of three rows of arches and at the height of the central arcade is a simple cross. Mysteriously lit by semicircular openings in the side walls, the sanctuary is place above a crypt dedicated to St. Barbara.
This wonderful, rich in symbolism and matchless architecture represents one of the most significant examples of modern ecclesiastical building of the interwar period. With its monumental facade and audacious structure, the Church of St. Joseph by Dominikus Böhm never ceases to impress through its simplicity, asceticism and sacrality.