Contemplating the St. Michael’s church at Barje

I have been connected to the architect Jože Plečnik since my early childhood. His work has excited me, attracted me as a magnet, his genius sometimes even scared me a little. I like the fact that his work has touched my childhood heart and that I carry him in my roots wherever I go as an adult.

I made the connection in the early years of my early childhood in St. Michel’s church at Barje (Marsh, translated to English), where I sang in the chorus. I have experienced his architecture on a deep, visceral, almost intimate level. To have the access to the sacristy and the secret wooden drawers in the cupboard, designed by the master, hiding paper bags containing communion wafers as a soul, was something very moving. To slide with your hand over the pine shelves, impregnated with flaxen varnish, to touch the insides of the furniture… Being alone or only with my childhood friend in the enormous emptiness of the building. I can still remember hiding in the heavy red velvet curtains and seeing her, and maybe even his, reflection in the metal plates. Spreading out the mass coats stored in shallow drawers, carrying master’s patterns embroidered by hand by tiny skillful fingers of a nun. Sounding his gong, attached near the entrance to the wall, yet again and knowing exactly how to hit it with the pendulum, to get that exact sound…

The inside of the church of St. Michael's by architect Jože Plečnik § Ljubljana

The inside of the church of St. Michael’s by architect Jože Plečnik § Ljubljana

In the mean time the evening sun shines through the windows and scatters over the simple pine benches. I open daringly the cylindrical brass tabernacle, the heart, the centre of the church, and touch the heavy monstrance, covered with precious stones, hidden within. The insides of wooden confessionals feel so cozy, sitting hidden behind the green curtains dampening the whispered sins. From the choir one has this fantastic view over the colorful eternal lights, which I think are so important in his design. Priests not having this basic sense of aesthetics, which would tell them that eternal lights have to be lit in the evenings, as candles must burn at masses, have always annoyed me a little. To make the magic light appear and bring the smell of the burning wax and incense. And then there is the massive scale, carrying the heavy St. Michael’s sword, I have seen swing above our heads after an earthquake.

I can still remember how the steps on the wooden flour bleeped, while walking over the chorus, looking at the people, dropping inside the church through the open doors. Plečnik was a visionary recycler, light-years before his peers. In the church at Barje, there are many proofs of that: eternal lights are made from old coffee grinders and pints. The pillars of the church are made out of the sewage pipes.

And it is essential to slide down the circular staircase in the depth of the church. To look through the round windows across the planes of Barje. I still feel the winter drifts inside the church on my skin, when the icy winds flying across the planes wrestle with the church outside. And how warm it is to hide yourself in one of the niches of the self-standing bell tower, when the summer sun warms up the stones. Or hide behind the beautiful red ivy, which is raising towards the sky.

 

Barbara Kapelj Osredkar, architect

(Photo: Bor Slana)