The Chapel of the Last Farewell

Rychwałd, Poland

Authors: Jakub Turbasa, Bartłomiej Pyrzyk
Structural Engineering: Dariusz Beresiński, Slab Biuro Konstrukcji Inżynierskich
Icons: Greta Leśko
Electrical installations: F.U.P. PRO-ELTEL Wojciech Więcek
Initiator: o. Bogdan Kocańda OFMConv
Location: Rychwałd (near Żywiec), Poland
Project: 2014-2015
Construction: 2016-2021
Client: Roman Catholic parish St. Nicholas the Bishop in Rychwałd + Franciscans
Investor’s representative: o. Marek Stachowicz OFMConv
General Contractor: Marek Radecki Firma Remontowo-Budowlana + others subcontractors
Photographs: Jakub Turbasa, Bartłomiej Pyrzyk

1st PRIZE for a project of a Chapel in Rychwałd (Poland) – Salon Architektury 2021 Competition – Malopolska Regional Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland.
– Distinction in the AWARD OF THE YEAR Competition of the Association of Polish Architects, edition 2021 for the best building in Poland.
– Distinction in the ArchDaily 2022 Building of the Year Awards in the “Religious Architecture” category for the best building of the 2022 Year.
– Distinction in the Sztuka Architektury Polish Architecture 2021 Plebiscite in the “Public Building Architecture” category for the best building of the 2021 Year.

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Context. The functional program
The design of the chapel was carried out in close proximity to the baroque complex with the minor basilica of St. Nicholas in Rychwałd near Żywiec. It was borne out of a desire of the local community and the Franciscans for creating a suitable last farewell venue as a means of continuation of the age-old, slowly passing, tradition of bidding farewell to the deceased at home. It is located at the old cemetery, in its new – intended for expansion – part. It includes a development project along with the chapel structure consisting of a prayer space and accompanying rooms, such as: a place with a cold storage for the bodies, technical rooms, a utility room, public toilets, etc.

Return to the sources
The simplicity of architecture derives from the archetypal, traditional forms of chapels with the gable roofs, which also appear in the Żywiec region. It turns towards the origins of building analogous sacral objects, constituting their contemporary reinterpretation, which was expressed, among others, by large triangular glazing, “hanging” walls in the interior, synthesis of the details, etc. The chapel’s architecture is characterized by the selection of natural materials such as wood or stone. The contact with noble and natural matter opens a person, through their senses (touch, smell, acoustics, etc.), to the multidimensionality of space as well as to a more profound cognition and experience.

The block consists of two parts that adequately express the function related to the spaces of sacrum and profanum. The first one refers to the place of prayer – the chapel, which clearly communicates its destiny by a distinctive form. The second one, covered with greenery, rises from the ground along a delicate arch, encompassing the aforementioned accompanying rooms. It also forms a natural boundary between the cemetery zone with the chapel and the parking, facilities, as well as the caravan zone. The visual distinction between these zones was also emphasized by the material on the facades – polished (chapel) and raw (accompanying parts) sandstone.

Tradition – the Concept of Way and Place
The project of the chapel combines two traditions of constructing Christian sacral buildings: the concept of way – that is, moving in stages from the world of the profanum towards the place of the sacrum; and the concept of place – realised by the central layout of gathering together in prayer. Due to the function of the building (the venue of the last farewell), the design concept echoes the memory of the so-called “Paschal path” – i.e. the last moments of Christ’s life – from the Passion, through death, to resurrection, which was symbolically expressed in architecture.

Stage 1 – Passion. Isolation. Solitude
During the first stage – i.e. crossing the boundary of the consecrated land (the boundary of the cemetery) and heading towards the main entrance to the chapel – the person experiences a gradual tranquillity and concentration. Thanks to the green stone walls growing out of the ground (and hiding the accompanying rooms underneath), one isolates themselves more and more from the outside world – the reality of the profanum. After crossing the threshold of the chapel, a person finds themselves in a vestibule filled with darkness. Reinforced concrete walls and the ceiling are black, which aims to emphasize the impression of immensity, infinity and “immateriality” of a place where all contours are lost. The severity of this place expresses the stage of the aforementioned Passion – loneliness, suffering, Jesus’ prayer in the Olive Garden. Above the heads, one can see an icon with the image of an angel, through which the only natural light in this space permeates (Lk 22:43).

Stage 2 – Death
At the end of the chapel’s perspective and also at eye level, you can see a filigree cross that expresses the next stage – i.e. death. The wooden, historic sculpture of Christ was obtained from a desacralized church in Belgium.

Stage 3 – Resurrection
Through the zone of darkness, we enter the actual zone of prayer. This bright space symbolizes the hope of the Christian vocation (according to the Christian faith, life does not end with death). In the place where people gather around the body of the deceased, their attention is not focused on the reality of death (i.e. the cross and the deceased person), but is directed towards the perspective of eternal life. The architecture of the interior naturally guides the gaze upwards and towards the light. The icons by Greta Leśko depict scenes from the Holy Scriptures, presenting a little taste of this reality (Baptism of Jesus in Jordan – Mt 3:16-17; Transfiguration on Mount Tabor – Mt 17:5) and a contemporary reinterpretation of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Rychwałd (an icon from the 15th century). In the central place above the cross, there is an icon of “Christ’s Descent into the Abyss”, painted on silk and embedded in glass, through which natural light permeates. In Christian symbolism, light represents Christ (Jn 8:12), hope, all that is good and beautiful, and eternity. The (L)light that brings out of darkness, out of “nothingness” …

Jakub Turbasa