Clandestine places of worship

Greatness and splendour have not always featured sacral architecture, especially when it was intended to be discreet. Throughout history, all over Europe, minority religions have had to build normal-looking buildings of worship to escape repression.

David Southerland/Flickr

De Papegaai, Netherlands

The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, also known as “De Papegaai”, is a former Roman Catholic hidden church founded in 1672. The current building is a reconstruction of the mid-nineteenth century in neo-Gothic style, the first in this style in Amsterdam. Even in the relatively tolerant Dutch-Republic (1581-1795), buildings of the Catholic minority had to comply with certain standards of discretion. Today many of these Schuilkerken (hidden churches) remain in Amsterdam.

De Papegaai
M Longley/Flickr

Terezin Synagogue, Czech Republic

The Terezin Synagogue is the only remaining "secret synagogue" in the Czech Republic. This prayer room of modest dimensions was created by Artur Berlinger, a German religious master and artist imprisoned in Terezin from 1942 until his deportation to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1944. Meanwhile, Berlinger created the prayer room out of an old storage space and regularly organized religious services there. The room retains the original painted decorations.

Terezin Synagogue

Stadttempel, Austria

The Stadttempel is the main synagogue in Vienna. It was built between 1823 and 1826 behind a trivial five-storey apartment building. According to the regulations in force at the time, non-Catholic places of worship had to be "hidden" and not visible directly from the street. During the November 1938 pogrom, the Stadttempel was the only one to escape destruction due to its close interlocking with a residential complex. However, the interior was devastated and misused as a collective camp for Viennese Jews. A commemorative plaque in the entrance hall was unveiled in September 1988.


St Ninian's Church, United-Kingdom

St Ninian's Church is a clandestine historical Catholic church. Built in 1755, it is the oldest Catholic church built in Scotland after the Reformation. In the tradition of “barn churches”, St Ninian's was given the appearance of a long, low barn. The church has a simple whitewashed interior with a fireplace and a single large room. A reused door with Corinthian columns leads from the fireplace and the baptistery to the church itself. The simple wooden benches and the confessional are painted grey. A basic octagonal pulpit with soundboard dates from 1787. The building was restored in 1951.

St Ninian's
Ralph Hammann/Wikimedia Commons

Traenheim Synagogue, France

The synagogue in Traenheim was built in 1842, but after the departure of the last Jewish family in 1923, the Bas-Rhin consistory sold the synagogue, which was immediately demolished. The remains of the oratory are still visible in the attic of a house in Traenheim. The building has been classified as a French historic monument since 1996.

Traenheim Synagogue
Mefusbren69/Wikimedia Commons

Watschiger Toleranzbethaus, Austria

The Watschiger Toleranzbethaus is a Protestant church built in 1782, it was the second Toleranzbethaus built in stone in Carinthia and the oldest preserved. Toleranzbethäuser were Protestant churches built after 1781 on the basis of the tolerance patent of Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire. It was not until Franz Joseph I's "Protestantenpatent" in 1861 that Protestantism achieved legal equality with the Catholic Church in the Austrian Empire.

Watschiger Toleranzbethaus

Bavarian Chapel, United Kingdom

Warwick Street Church is a Catholic church in London, which was once used as a chapel by the Bavarian Legation. It is officially known as "Church of our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Gregory" and was known in London as the "Bavarian Chapel" until the beginning of the First World War. It is a rectangular hall with a flat, boxed, white/blue ceiling and a brick facade built around 1790 with a central gable in the style of classicism. On the north wall of the nave is a bronze plaque with the Bavarian royal coat of arms, reminiscent of the Apostolic Vicars of the District of London, who served there under Bavarian protection before a regular Catholic hierarchy could be restored in England from 1850.

Bavarian Chapel