Saint Pius Church, Meggen

In 1972, my Female worked for a travel agency that had just opened near the railway station in Lucerne. They offered travel bookings and sold tourists souvenirs, such as cheap coo-coo clocks (from China — the sales clerk had to replace the labels with “Made in Switzerland” ?). The company had its origin in a nearby canton as an operator of tour busses.

The city’s tourist industry blossomed, and so did its eagerness to hawk the thrill of quick, cheap sightseeing ventures of the country’s beautiful places. Göpfi, the shrewd business owner, realized that he needed young, alluring females acting as tour guides to make his Swiss-Day-Trip-by-Coach project a success. One day, he invited his newest female acquisition, my very Female, to go shopping for an appropriate attire for his future guides. After all, looks are more important than knowledge!

One morning they took off to a reputable ladies boutique, where the Female convinced Göpfi that a bright red blazer would be far more attractive and stylish than the usual dull, uniform-looking blues or grays. That is how the girls, clad in red coats and sassy mini skirts or black pants became part of Lucerne’s latest travel hype.

Popular destinations included regions, such as the Bernese Alps, with stops at tourist traps, where the drivers eagerly waited for their 10-percent bonus of the money spent by the passengers delivered. Most of them were British, mixed with French, to the horror of the Female, who had to stutter her faint geographic knowledge in three languages.

Unfortunate incidents occurred. Once they lost a wife whose husband declared she was insane and they should leave without her. Luckily, the Female had a very nice, patient driver who didn’t mind keeping the passengers at ease while she went looking for, and ultimately found, the missing sheep.

Another time, an older university professor from, maybe, Oxford invited her to dinner, sent a cab to take her to the most expensive restaurant in town. No #meToo moment there. Just a good meal, conversation, and another taxi home.

In those brief months before she went working for the next five years with a fashion photographer in Zürich, the best moment was a town excursion with a bus load of American priests. The Female loved churches since early childhood. She used to roam the streets and step into catholic centers of worship to sit down and admire the light and artwork. She had discovered the Pius Church in Meggen, on the outskirts of her town, almost as soon as completed. She asked the group if they would let her take them to a surprise destination in lieu of the well known tourist traps. They eagerly accepted. The driver agreed to the trip and so they visited a totally unknown place.

From the outside, Pius Church in Meggen, Lake Lucerne, looks like just another modern steel frame construction. What makes Pius Church unique is the fact, that instead of glass, concrete or metal, very thin translucent plates of marble were used to build the façade. Daylight shining through the natural marble structures in warm ochre tones creates a mystic ambience.

Pius Church was built by architect Franz Füeg from Solothurn between 1964 and 1966. The building is a simple cube with no windows as the 28 mm [1 1/10”] thin plates from Pentelicon marble are about as translucent as painted glass windows in other churches.  Within each “column,” the Pentelicon marble  is cut from the same block for consistency of veining, which further emphasizes the “column” reading as opposed to “skin,” particularly from the inside. Füeg echoed Loos, Mies, and Semper, seeking “an ornament that doesn’t need to be added, but can emerge from the very nature of the construction.

The trip back to the modest hotel where the priests were staying was very quiet. The driver left; didn’t expect any tips. My Female accompanied the group to the Rothaus, where she was thanked for the incredible experience and showered with dollar bills. Those were still worth about four times as much in Swiss francs as nowadays, adding up to more than half of her meager monthly salary.

Dedicated to David Francis Fair and his congregation in Knoxville, TN.



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