Restorations in post-war period

Martina Jelínková

Cite this article
Jelínková, M. (2022) ‘Restorations in post-war period’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 26(4), pp. 36-45.



The article deals with the issue of post-war monument care in the former Czechoslovakia and is a partial result of doctoral research, dedicated to the study of innovations in historical architecture in the second half of the 20th century.

After the Second World War, much of the architectural historical heritage in the territory of the former Czechoslovakia was devastated and the then professional society, in the context of cultural and social events, faced challenges of how to restore and preserve these destroyed buildings. The opinion background of how to approach the restoration of historic buildings was not uniform. The prevailing opinion was to re-establish the expression of the status quo the building had in the state before destruction. However, the resulting forms also bore the hallmarks of more creative approaches, for example in the form of a purist insertion of construction parts in a certain historical style (pseudo-style), which were not previously in the building or, on the contrary, examples with modernist inputs of authors appeared in the form of new creation. Such methodological diversity is noticeable in both countries, in Slovakia and in the Czech lands. For the purposes of this paper, we compare three selected war-torn churches of the former Czechoslovakia, which were built at approximately the same time, underwent a rather complex building development and their damage was also comparatively destructive. Specifically, it is the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Handlová, where the final restoration project was designed by architect Karol Chudomelka, the Premonstratensian Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Bíňa, where the author of the restoration project was Professor Alfréd Piffl and the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Slavic Patrons within the Benedictine monastery of Emmaus in Prague, whose current form is attributable to the architect František Maria Černý. Within our research, the starting points and the methodologies of post-war monument care of the mentioned buildings were mapped and analysed. To understand the context that had a direct influence on the choice of the methodology of monument restoration, we described the original character of churches, their disposition, morphological solution, and the style in which they were created. Subsequently, we monitored their construction development before the war damage. All identified rebuilding works are listed in a summary table, where we also classify them into two categories, as necessary rebuilding resulting from the need for repair, for example due to damage sustained in various uprisings, while not reducing their artistic and historical value, and rebuilding resulting from changes in aesthetic or religious opinion, which violated the original value and thus earned the status of being worthless. We also focused on the analysis of the monument restoration itself. Here we described the method of approach to each construction part of the churches so that it is evident which methodology of monument restoration was chosen for the selected part of the building. Although three similar cases were compared, the final appearance of the churches was always different. In the case of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bíňa and the Church of Emmaus in Prague, it was mainly a reconstruction of the building to the state before destruction, but with significant deviations. The restoration of the church in Bíňa can be considered, given the implementation of neo-Romanesque windows, an example of a persisting opinion of purist reconstructions of the 19th century. In the case of the Church of Emmaus, it was also a reconstruction of the state before the war, but here we are witnessing an indicative reconstruction in the form of a distinctive artistically conceived western tower facade. Conversely, as regards the church in Handlová, the restoration of the state before destruction was completely abandoned. Here, the method of restitution of the original Gothic substance was chosen with the insertion of a new creation of the emporiums in the interiors of the church and an indicative reconstruction of the cross vault without any historicism. In the case of the church in Handlová, a significant capacity increase was required as part of the proposal of the church restoration. This could be considered as an argument why the restoration was done using a different methodology, but only until it becomes clear that the state of the church before the destruction had long been able to accommodate the required capacity, thanks to the rebuilding in 1942 – 1943. Due to this fact, violating the principle of restoring the state before destruction by Karol Chudomelka and inserting a new creation into the interior of the restituted Gothic substance, seems to be exceptional.

On the cases of selected monument restorations and research of their developmental background, not only the diverse opinions of the professional society on the methodology of monument restoration are noticeable, but also nascent ideas that speak of the possibility of contemporary intervention into the historical substance of the building with respect to its historical essence. This opinion is known to our society from the Venice Charter. However, at the time of carrying out these restorations, this charter was not in place yet. The only guidance in force at that time was the Athens Charter of the year 1931, and its principles for the use of modern technology and materials were observed in all the above-mentioned cases of restoration.

The article has the ambition to point out not only the diversity of opinion in monument care, which saw a paradigm shift in the post-war period and began to accept the author’s contemporary inputs regarding the preservation of the historical essence of the building, but also outline possible unique methodological primacy of the architect Karol Chudomelka in Slovakia.

Keywords: monument care, post-war restorations, modernist reconstruction, Chudomelka