The Lord’s Ark Church of Nowa Huta Shines

Lord's Ark Church in Nowa Huta PolandThe Lord’s Ark church of Nowa Huta, a city outside Krakow, Poland, stands as a testament of faith over non-belief, and the power of a man, and people of faith, to quietly stand up to communism. This Catholic church stands in the middle of a once idealized, atheist community. The powerful symbolism connected with this church, remains connected to the Christian Lenten journey to Easter – a journey towards the light.

Nowa Huta main street watermarkLenin Designed Nowa Huta, or “New City” as the Ideal Communist City

After World War II, Poland fell under communist rule. In a move to demonstrate how wonderful communism was, Lenin designed and built the city of Nowa Huta, or “New City” as the ideal master planned community for a communist worker’s paradise. At the time, everything was new; apartments came with central heating instead of coal. Think white plaster over brick; square buildings, with square windows, lined a main avenue anchored by a huge statue of Lenin, (subsequently replaced by one of Jozef Stalin). as other straight rows of buildings branched off. Soviet Tank in Nowa Huta Poland Uniform shape replaces any artistic ideal. A giant steel mill soon employed nearly 40,000, and the town grew to a population of 100,000. For additional persuasion, various Soviet tanks remained parked around the complex just in case people forgot who was in charge.

Poles were Communists . . . and Catholic

From the beginning, churches were strictly forbidden in Nowa Huta. But who said Mass can only be held indoors? Saint John Paul II, who at the time was the Archbishop of Krakow, would go out and give Masses in the open, without a church. Eventually a cross was erected in an open field. When communists removed the cross in 1960, riots broke out. The pressure grew so big, that the communists eventually allowed a church to be built elsewhere in the town, as long as it didn’t look like a church.

You are the Light of the World. A City Set on a Hill Cannot Be Hidden.*
Think of a boat like Noah’s Ark – and you’ll see everything that communism isn’t.  The building is round, light, and the inside looks nothing like a traditional Catholic cathedral. Even the main Interior of Lord's Ark church in Nowa Huta Polandcrucifix curves with artistry and grace. I try to imagine the power of objection to the communist way of life at the time. Inside the altar lies a moon rock, given to the Vatican by Neil Armstrong, then given by Pope John Paul II to the church. Just think of the huge defiant symbolism: a rock from the moon, given by an American astronaut, placed in a Catholic church, in the midst of communist rule under a country who launched the Sputnik but never did land on the moon. Communists might have subjugated Poland, but they had no power over a Catholic pope.

Today, the white buildings of Nowa Huta are tinged a permanent gray with pollution from the nearby steel mill. A main street bears Ronald Reagan’s name, and the Soviet tank serves as a kitschy backdrop for tourist photos. And inside the Lord’s Ark church, the refracted light of afternoon sun paints a rainbow of hope, just as God sent a rainbow to Noah.

*Matthew 5:14

2 thoughts on “The Lord’s Ark Church of Nowa Huta Shines

  1. It’s a popular error that Nowa Huta means “New City”, it’s “New Steel Mill”. The city was built by Stalin to destroy Krakow’s culture for at least two reasons 1) during the 123 years that Poland was split and occupied by three great European powers, Krakow was considered a cultural Mecca, schoolchildren came to Krakow in “pilgrimage” from the German and Russian occupiers to experience Polish history and culture. This tradition remains even now as the city is filled with schoolchildren each May 1st 2) when the vote “for” Communist rule was taken after WW2, Krakow voted less than 12% approval. Some other details about the Arc Church – The Communist government continued to obstruct even after a building permit was granted in the 60’s – resulting from more than 10 years of pressure from Bp Karol who had plans drawn for 10 churches in Nowa Huta before getting permits for the first two. After the permit, authorities then denied ration stamps for building materials, so the Poles innovated. More than 2 million softball sized stones were barged down the river from the mountains and carried on backs, in wheelbarrows, etc to the site to become the Church’s exterior. The 30 foot steel cross and the Corpus were made in the steel plant by Solidarity workers under the noses of Communist bosses. The Corpus is molded and contains shrapnel from bodies of Polish soldiers who fought in Monte Casino. Another modernistic art object on the Altar, a medallion of the Pieta contains molded in the brass bullets from the bodies of martyrs and victims of 20th Century tyrants, Hitler and Stalin. The “arc” design represents the Arc of Peter (some also say Noah’s Ark, but doubtful) which was a favorite icon of St. John Paul II. His favorite song “Barcka” (Arc) is played monthly on 3rd(?) Saturday at 9:37, the hour of his death and typically 10’s of thousands fill the Krakow Center (Rynek) to sing along.

    • Wow, Mike. Thanks for sharing this great info. I definitely need to go back, and look at a second time. I will save your information for the future as well. I did not know a lot of this. The learning never stops.

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