United Methodist Church (Bethlehem Chapel)
1926–1927

Husova 1777/14 (Plzeň) Plzeň Jižní Předměstí
GPS: 49.7455622N, 13.3703733E
Architect:

Following the foundation of Czechoslovakia, not only public institutions and associations were building, but also newly established churches. Exceptionally active in this respect was the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, which is evidenced by the Koranda Congregation House, Chapel and apartment houses (C1–2142) and the Church of Master Jan Hus (C3–1722). The United (Evangelical) Methodist Church also built its shrine in Pilsen in the 1920s. The Pilsen chapter of the church, the parent organisation of which was based in the USA, was founded in 1923. The Prague central administration of the United Methodist Church commissioned the renowned architectural studio of Josef Blecha Jr. to draft the plans for the chapel for a site on the corner of Husova Street.

The foundation stone of the new chapel was ceremonially laid on 28 November 1926 with the attendance of many leading city representatives. The cost of building the chapel was 1,200,000 Czechoslovak Crowns. Since the Methodist Church was in principle free and independent of the state, it raised the entire cost by collecting voluntary contributions from American members of the church. The chapter then assigned the construction work to the Pilsen builder Václav Pašek. With regard to the building type, the young evangelical churches formulated an original concept of a unified complex combining a worship hall with educational and social spaces (as a rule a theatre or lecture hall), a presbytery and residential spaces. This applied also in the present case. The author of the plans linked the chapel to the next-door two-storey residential building of the presbytery. The basement of the main building held the church’s operational facilities and cellars. The street entrance led to a vestibule on the ground floor via a short flight of steps; on the left-hand side was a room for ministers and on the right was a staircase leading to the first floor. Here there was also a so-called tea kitchen, the teachers’ staff room, four classrooms for religious instruction, a lecture hall, a library, essential hygienic facilities and a covered corridor leading to the residential house. The actual spacious chapel with a pulpit, accessed from the foyer, was spread out on the first floor of the building. This generously composed, illuminated space, lined with second floor galleries with walkways, stood out for its impressive simplicity and purity of design.

The chapel building, completed in 1927, is one of Pilsen’s best examples of the transition from Classical architecture to Purism. The ground floor, with expansive rectangular windows, is divided by a prominent cordon string course. The smooth, austere facade of the chapel with an emphasised elevated entrance, is divided on the upper floor by shallow projecting sections on the corners capped with massive cornices. The surface above the entrance is enlivened only by a stylised iron cross. Light is admitted into the interior of the church via five tall arched windows in the walls of the nave. The dominant visual feature of the church consists of a tall square-section corner tower with an elegant clock. The architect enhanced the overall Purist look of the building by means of attic parapets concealing a low traditional roof. The plans also included an unrealised four-storey apartment house, which was supposed to abut to the western gable of the church.

During WWII, members of the Methodist Church were persecuted. A further blow to the Pilsen chapter came after the February communist putsch of 1948. The American Methodist Church was unacceptable to the communist regime, and so the church was confiscated in the 1950s and given to the administration of the Mechanical and Electro-Technical College. The Methodists were subsequently only allowed to assemble in it on the basis of a lease agreement, which was definitively rescinded in 1964. In the early 1960s the College conducted a series of modifications inside the building – the cellars were converted into a laboratory, an auditorium was created in the former chapel on the first floor with a stepped podium for 270 people, the gallery was converted into a drafting room and in the 1970s a low two-storey testing building was erected in the courtyard behind the vicarage.

In 1991 the state restituted the so-called Bethlehem Chapel to the original owner. The Maranatha Congregation of the United Methodist Church, which is today based in the building, restored the interior layout of the chapel and the original function of the building.

 

AK
 

Investor

Methodist Church in Pilsen

Sources

  • Archiv Odboru stavebně správního, Technický úřad Magistrátu města Plzně
 
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