ŠILUVA (LT) - Šiluva, a town of fewer than 1000 inhabitants, is the spiritual centre of Catholicism in Lithuania. It is one of five places in Europe where the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary has been officially recognized by the Church. Every September hordes of pilgrims are attracted to a Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is commemorated in the Basilica and Chapel of Manifestation.
The idea of a new square, suitable for mass religious festivals attracting as many as 4000 visitors, was first mooted in the interwar period, but the sweeping transformation of the town's central space, supported by the archbishop, only got under way a couple of years ago.
In accordance with a design by G. Natkevičius and partners (J. Skalskytė, T. Kuleša, A. Natkevičiūtė), a small park and an area of wooden houses, barns and gardens between the Basilica and the Chapel were removed, opening up an imposing 12,000 m2 space. The enhanced visual dialogue between the town's two main landmarks – a white modernist Chapel (A.Vivulskis, 1924) and a red brick late baroque church – gives the space a strong spiritual sense. Meanwhile, the restrained design of the square itself exudes a clearly contemporary character.
The runway-like square is visually and spatially fragmented, in order to make it more hospitable and more in keeping with the surrounding small-scale urban fabric. The surface of the square is divided into different types of paving: a pale concrete central 'carpet', dark basalt sides and strips of green grass. Rows of light poles, massive timber benches and stone sculptures of the Stations of the Cross at the sides fill the space and redefine its dimensions. Statues of the Virgin Mary and Pope John Paul II, placed along the axis, introduce a human scale and create secondary spaces around themselves.
Longitudinally, two lanes for traffic and pedestrian circulation on either side of the square are separated by the trees that screen the space from the bustle of traffic and also act as a curtain, veiling the facades of the buildings opposite, and modulating their visual impact on the square's image.
However, the impressive blueprint has not been completely realized: the square is abruptly blocked by the cemetery surrounding the Chapel. The extension of the square, requiring the relocation of 45 graves and a cut through the cemetery, is embedded in future plans and the approval of the relatives of the departed is already assured. Nevertheless, the controversial design is still sparking public debate about whether the individual religious experience is less important than the mass one, and whether the project could not have been carried out with greater sensitivity to existing physical and spiritual patterns.
January | 2011 | Lithuania | Rūta Leitanaitė