Memories in Transition: Churches, War + Reconstruction

Historic Preservation Thesis

Jennifer Whisenhunt

Theodore Prudon, advisor

Across Europe, post-World War II reconstruction focused on rebuilding the centers of destroyed cities, towns and communities in an effort to aid in the overall recovery. The physical rebuilding of these centers held significance and meaning for people as a sign of resurgence and renewal. City-wide reconstruction plans were then designed to aid in this emotional, physical and economic recovery by either looking to the city’s past or its future. By rebuilding to either pre- war designs or by creating a modernist city center these reconstruction plans symbolized a hope and desire for renewal for the post-war community. Churches then, as they had for centuries, played an important role in the planning as they represented a spiritual focal point as well as a visual marking of the civic center and center of life for the residents. Churches played an important role in restoring a sense of place and their reconstruction in one form or another came to symbolize a sense of recovery for their respective communities.

Church reconstruction then, as an integral part of an overall city plan, usually followed one of four routes: one, the church was stabilized and left in ruins to serve as both a memorial and as a reminder of the devastation to both people’s lives and their surrounding community; two, the church was reconstructed according to the historic design because of its significance or as an attempt to recapture the prewar world; three, the ruins were kept but incorporated in a new structure adjacent so as to both serve as a memorial and a new gathering place; four, a contemporary church was built on the same site to accommodate the spiritual needs of the surrounding community.

This thesis sought to uncover what decision-making processes led to the adoption of a particular approach. Four sites in England were selected to examine how those decisions are or are not interconnected. With the first hand memories of wartime survivors disappearing and the recollection of the devastation fading, it was important to not only consider the past but also to explore how these embedded memories are transferred; how those decisions were viewed and interpreted today and how they may or may not have an added layer of significance. Is the layered significance of these sites recognized today? Has the post-war layer added meaning and how does it affect preservation decisions today? How important is the meaning of the reconstruction or reestablishment and how relevant is it in the transfer of memory from first to second generation?