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Arka Pana: The Church in the City Without God

Part 2 Dissertation 2011
Julianne Cassidy
University of Westminster | UK
The "ideal city" generally describes an approach to city planning which is concerned with the positive influence of urban configurations and architecture on the population. The cohesive, communal and co-operative depictions that characterise utopian and ideal city literature and design convey sin-free and socially aware communities, where the individual is compelled to do good by an awareness of their value and place in society as a whole, simply through the practice of their daily lives in strictly controlled urban settings. The role of the church building in these cities, whose basic purpose is to ensure the moral well-being of the community, therefore becomes contested.

The dichotomy of the church in the ideal city is explored in the first part of the study by tracing the status of the Church and the place of the church building from early utopian models through to the new Soviet socialist cities of the Eastern Bloc. The examination of this relationship is then further developed in the second part through a close study of the Arka Pana church, consecrated in 1977. Nowa Huta, Poland - the setting for the church - was described at the time of its construction as "the socialist city without God." Today, it stands as one of only two Socialist Realist cities actually built. The study of the Arka Pana, therefore, allows for a rare and detailed examination of the ambiguous place of the church in the configuration of the ideal city.

The dissertation finds that the decision to construct Nowa Huta - an atheist city in one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world - was grounded in well-established utopian and ideal city ideology, and that the failure of the authorities to adhere to the basic principles set out in this ideology contributed to the campaign for the construction of the Arka Pana. The dissertation further argues that the church’s roots as a notional "counterpoint" to its context resulted in it being continually associated with other forms of "resistance," most notably as a key locus for the anti-Communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s.

Julianne Cassidy

Julian Williams
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