In contrast to the gray municipal buildings facing Nezalezhnastsi Square (Independence Square), the early 20th century Roman Catholic church is of picturesque and impressive appearance. It is known as "Red Church" because of its red brick walls. Official name of the church is quite rare and, probably, cannot be found elsewhere in the world: St. Simon and St. Helen Church. The choice of the name had been pre-determined as the church was built to commemorate the premature death of two young children of Belarusan aristocratic Wojnilowicz family. To their patron saints Simon and Helena the church was dedicated.
The Wojnilowicz family were of noble Belarusan descent, bearing their own arms. The family originated from legendary Wojnila who got his arms as early as in 14th century. His descendants used the arms, presenting stylized W on red background with an arrow directed downwards, for the next 6 centuries. In times of Rzeczpospolita the Wojnilowiczs occupied important government posts or achieved eminence as ecclesiastics. Edward Wojnilowicz being the last offspring of the famous family inherited its entire fame and wealth.
He was an eminent politician, a member of the State Council of Russian Empire, one of the leading figures in Belarusan national resurgence.
Simeon and Alyona catholic church in MinskEdward and Olympia Wojnilowicz had two children: Helena and Simon who was a year younger.
The children were sympathetic and clever. Helen liked painting and drew nice pictures. But a tragic death at an early age was the fate of Simon and Helena. Simon was only twelve when he fell ill and died. The tragedy of the Wojnilowiczs was dramatized even more by the fact that the family had no heir. "I turned into a link pulled out from the chain" – wrote Wojnilowicz in his memoir. The only consolation of Edward Wojnilowicz was his daughter Helen. "God saved my daughter for me. Her fine nature and clear mind were an obvious sign of God's mercy upon me; they did not allow me to give way to despair and to fall into apathy."
However, the day before her 19-th birthday Helen died. The parents' distress was inconsolable. "The tree of my kin lost its leaves one after the other, and I have remained alone like the only branch, like a tree burned with lightning that can never be revived by no Spring" – Edward Wojnilowicz wrote.
According to a legend, Helen Wojnilowicz, being seriously ill and feeling death, had a nightdream. She dreamed about an angel who showed her an incredibly wonderful temple. Next morning Helen drew the temple and asked her parents to build such a church after her death.
After Helen – last hope of the family – left the earth, Edward and Olympia Wojnilowicz made decision to donate their wealth for constructing a Roman Catholic Church provided the church will be build according to their own project and nobody will interfere in the process of the construction.
For a long time Edward Wojnilowicz looked for an architect capable of making the dream a reality. That time Art Nouveau and Neogothic styles dominated in Roman Catholic architecture. Expression and decorations of medieval catholic Gothic style were opposed to strict canons of Russian Orthodox Classicism. However, Edward Wojnilowicz searched for reconciliation, not confrontation. He chose a Roman style which flourished when the Eastern church was not separated from the Rome".
Edward and Olimpia Wojnilowicz donated big funds to build a church in memory of their children. Construction work began in 1905. In November 1910 the St. Simon and St. Helena Church was solemnly consecrated.
In September 1996 a statue of the archangel Michael killing the Dragon was erected in front of Red Church. The bronze statue 4,5 meters high, represents the archangel Michael as a symbol of victory and glory of the Heaven.
In Fall 2000 a memorial composition of Nagasaki bell was installed close to the church. The bell represents a copy of the original bell named Angel from Urakami Cathedral that was destroyed during nuclear bombing in August 9, 1945. The composition has been given as a gift to Red Church and Belarusian people by diocese of the Roman Catholic Church of the city of Nagasaki (Japan).