Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel | Black Gneiss, White Marble | Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battista
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A Church in the Wild: Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battista

Villages at the foot of the Swiss Alps have been familiar with avalanches for centuries. In the tiny Alpine village of Mogno, in the Swiss canton of Ticino, a devastating avalanche struck on the morning of April 25th 1986, destroying the 17th century church of San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist).

Fittingly, Swiss architect Mario Botta, who was born in Ticino, was appointed to erect a new church on the premises. It became a structure in his signature strong, geometric, towering style, completed in 1996.

With more than 20 years of existence, it’s definitely worth a detour if you are heading to Brücke 49 in Vals, to take in this uplifting specimen of sacred architecture.

Within the grand mountainous landscape, Botta’s church retains a human scale: it’s monumental yet quite modest in its proportions, reaching the same 17 metres of height as the destroyed church that stood here before. As a place of worship it’s respectful of the nature surrounding it. The church makes a visitor reflect on his or her place in the world, thanks to its timeless shape and solitude-invoking aesthetics.

A departure from the traditional architecture of a church or cathedral, church of San Giovanni Battista is made up of modern geometrical shapes: a cylinder, a rectangle, a circle.

Made of white marble and dark gneiss, locally sourced from the nearby Maggia Valley, the structure lets in light from above, through a glass roof, enhancing the spiritual atmosphere.

Avalanche in Mogno whcih destroyed the church
the avalanche of April 25, 1986
the avalanche of April 25, 1986
the avalanche of April 25, 1986 - the destroyed church of San Giovanni Battista
Architect sketches drawings by Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battist
 Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battist
Architectural detailing inside the light filled shaft  Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battist  Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battist
Exterior architectural curves in white |  Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battist Light filled church in geometric shadows |  Mario Botta’s church of San Giovanni Battist

Within the immense landscape, the church acts as a link between the earth and the heavens. Its thick stone walls protect against a possible future calamity – as part of nature and the landscape, it seems to say in a wholly new language, that human presence and spirituality is here to stay.

Images © Fondazione Chiesa di Mogno and Ricardo Gomez Angel (Cover)

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