Most churches are known for adhering to tradition, and ornate historic churches are certainly beautiful. Sometimes, though, it’s refreshing to find a place of worship that feels current and modern, reflecting the fact that traditions evolve with the passage of time.
A recent renovation of the St. Moritz Church in Augsburg, Germany illustrates the contemporary development of a religious institution in a particularly poignant form. The structure’s history is remarkable—one of the oldest parishes in the town, it was founded in 1019 in honor of the patron saint of St. Moritz, survived a fire in 1084 and a partial collapse in 1299.
Over the next four centuries, it was rebuilt several times, gaining a bell tower, Gothic details, a square tower and a dome. In 1715, the church was entirely reconstructed in magnificent Baroque style, but most of its newly embellished interior was destroyed by bombs on February 24 and 25, 1944. The tower and external walls remained intact, and the interiors underwent a series of changes and expansions throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Eventually, the parish decided they wanted St. Moritz to be reborn once again, this time with the needs of the future in mind. London-based architect and designer John Pawson was commissioned to redesign it with “clarity” and “minimalism” as primary goals.
Completed between 2008 and 2013, the result is nothing less than stunning. With cleaner lines, brilliant natural light and a studied contrast of dark and light, the new interiors offer an updated perspective on what a church can look like, drawing a line between past, present and future.
“The church of St Moritz has been through many changes since its foundation nearly a thousand years ago,” says Pawson. “Devastating fires, changes in liturgical practice, aesthetic evolution and wartime bombing have each left their mark on the fabric of the building. The purpose of this latest intervention has been to retune the existing architecture, from aesthetic, functional and liturgical perspectives, with considerations of sacred atmosphere always at the heart of the project.”
“The work has involved the meticulous paring away of selected elements of the church’s complex fabric and the relocation of certain artifacts, to achieve a clearer visual field. Drawing on existing forms and elements of vocabulary, an architectural language has evolved that is recognizable in subtle ways as something new, yet has no jarring foreign elements.”
Callbacks to the church’s storied past are all around, from the grand proportions to the elegant statuary. They’ve been pared back just enough to allow them to shine against the gallery-like backdrop of white, giving them an even greater sense of importance.
Dark-stained pews anchor the space, and the Portuguese limestone that makes up the floors and pulpit is echoed in the frame of each window, where thin slices diffuse the sunlight to produce an ethereal effect.
Outside, the church retains its Baroque appearance—tower, buttresses and all. Inside, it’s a whole new world of simple lines and dazzling light. Balancing respect for the past with hope for the future, this modern renovation feels like a testament to the resilience of history in an ever-changing world.