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St Anton: A Basel Stunner


In a city as full of stolid buildings as Basel is, with dozens of medieval treasures and hundreds of 19th century beauties, St Anton's church is a total stunner. It's massive, light and airy, and uncompromisingly modern while keeping all the  traditional elements of a Catholic church.


I came upon it accidentally; it wasn't in any of  my tourist-office literature, but it is just down a small street from my temporary apartment, and its startling tower is at the end of the block. Only after seeing it a few times did I notice the cross and realize it was a church!


The side wall of the church faces a broad street; its ends directly abut the buildings next door, and the main entrance is tucked away in a passageway at the end. It could easily be mistaken for another type of building if not for the tower, and a sign that makes the German word for 'church' into an acronym for "Come within reach--Christians have energy."


But once past the doors, the anonymity or ambiguity ends; the nave of the church is a stunning, spare open space filled with light from banks of high and colorful stained glass windows. The light you see on the walls and floors in some of these pictures comes entirely from the windows.


The church is the work of Swiss architect Karl Moser between 1925 and 1927. It was Switzerland's first pure concrete church, its largest, and certainly the grandest. Although many mocked it in the beginning as a 'soul silo,' it's been recognized as a major achievement and has been a listed landmark since 1987.


Although it's a parish church, it has the size and proportions of a cathedral, with its 22-metre high ceiling and 60-metre length. Since the church doesn't depend on thick masonry walls, the pillars are not as massive as in most large churches, and the space feels very open.


The stained glass windows, with each section five meters wide and fourteen high, were created by two Swiss painters who also worked in glass, Hans Stocker and Otto Staiger. The windows one wall depict events in the life of Jesus, while the others honor St Anthony of Padua, for whom the church is named.11-P104071920-P1040729

Other aspects of the interior decoration also have a modern appearance that is spare but rich, colorful and often three-dimensional, including a set of 24 terracotta reliefs by Max Uehlicher.


A series of Stations of the Cross along the walls, though, is in very low relief.


In a side chapel, weekday worshipers pray, many of them on their knees.


Some of the artwork, such as this icon of Madonna and Child, could easily be as much at home in a more traditional church as it is with the lush and colorful altar in St Antoni.


The organ loft, which holds Basel's second-largest organ, is actually a large balcony with room for both a choir and full orchestra as well as the organist.


As an active church, St Antoni even has a children's corner at the rear of the nave that can keep small children occupied during services.


I was fascinated with the church, as I have been with a number of other churches that have tried to blend traditional uses and forms with not only modern styles but modern materials. Another example, in Paris, is the church of Saint-Jean de Montmartre, featured in TravelGumbo a few years ago.


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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I was passing the Antoniuskirche this evening, just before dusk, and noticed the beautiful colors showing on the windows from the outside. The huge areas of light on the opposite side of the church lit up and melded with colors on this side.


The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations


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