Bolesławiec Śląski – church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


   Parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas was built on the place where in the thirteenth century stood the wooden church of St. Dorothy, and around 1261 a Gothic church was built, destroyed during the Hussite wars in 1429. In the years 1290 – 1298 a rebuilding of the church was to take place, but it is not certain whether this information concerned St. Dorothy or St. Nicholas.
   Soon after the destruction caused by the Hussites, the rebuilding of the burnt temple, or rather the construction of a new church, began. These efforts were supported in 1442 by the Wrocław bishop Konrad, granting an indulgence to anyone who would support the construction. For unknown reasons, however, at an unspecified stage of work there was a break, after which construction was resumed in the years 1482-1492, probably with the participation of the Saxon-Lusatian workshop.
   Soon after the construction was completed, the church became the property of Protestants, in the hands of which it remained from 1524 to 1640. During this period there were no major changes in the appearance of the building, only three new windows in the presbytery were pierced, a new helmet and parapet on the tower and stairs to the choir were made. The interior of the church has probably also changed due to the new requirements of a different liturgy.
   During the Thirty Years’ War in 1642, the church and the whole town burned down. Reconstruction began in 1655, but this work was slow, probably because most of the inhabitants remained Protestants and the church returned to Catholics. The nave was re-vaulted only in the second half of the 17th century. During these works and in the first half of the 18th century, the entire interior of the church was thoroughly transformed in the Baroque style. The building underwent another modernization in the 19th century, when, among other things, a new, neo-Gothic tower helmet was installed.


   The church was built in the eastern part of the old town from unworked stone and from ashlar in the corners. It received the form of a three-aisle pseudo-basilica with a two-aisle chancel ended with a pentagonal. Perhaps the chancel was initially planned as a three-aisle, and the sacristy located on its northern side during the long period of the church building, served as a temporary temple for the residents of Bolesławiec. You can suppose that at the end of the work, founder wanted to rebuild it and give it a form similar to the southern aisle to give symmetry to the chancel, but ultimately this was not carried out. On the north-west side there was a square tower built, octagonal on the fourth floor.
   A characteristic feature of the church was covering its entire block (except for the tower) with one gable roof. This indicates the Saxon workshop, as well as the concave buttresses of the chancel, or the tracery placed in the windows, especially the form of a two-light window with forked shafts. Another characteristic element was the addition of the nave under a slight slant in relation to the presbytery, which in turn led to the fact that the southern aisle is slightly narrower on the eastern side than on the western side. Also, the main west entrance portal was not placed symmetrically, but was shifted to the north, so after entering the interior all the architecture is perceived at an angle (the southern row of pillars seems wider than the north, the chancel arch seems to be shifted to the right). These asymmetries cannot be explained by geological or topographic issues, only by a break in construction works or by an intentional but unusual effect.
   At the beginning of the 16th century, from the south, four side chapels were attached to the aisle, along with an open porch separated by them (vaulted, with a pointed arcade) containing an ogival, moulded portal crowned with an arch supported by carved consoles, decorated on the entire length with crockets and fastened with a massive finial. It was supplemented by side niches with corbels, crowned with high and elaborately developed stone canopies, which originally contained sculptures. A similar portal was placed in the west facade under a brick gable in the form of a net decorated with pinnacles. Third entrance to the nave with a late-Gothic ogival portal with criss-crossed shafts was also built at the beginning of the 16th century.
   The windows of the church were aplayed on both sides, arranged symmetrically between the buttresses. There had ogival heads, two-light and three-light, and from the west the largest one was with a four-light tracery. In the stair turrets, rectangular, semicircular, circular and even fish-bladder openings were used. The external façades were enclosed with a plinth and drip cornices. The crowning cornice was moulded and decorated with bas-relief zoomorphic motifs. In addition, a bas-relief eagle was placed on the north-eastern buttress of the chancel. From the side of the facade, the main decoration was a triangular gable with a sloping brick lattice and pinnacles, atypically connected with the edge of the gable.
   The interior of the nave and chancel was covered with rib vaults with rectangular bays in the central nave and square (or close to square) in the aisles. In the southwestern chapel of the Holy Cross was used for the vault with eight-ray ribs, linked by boss in the shape of a heraldic shield with the date 1517. The entrance to it was placed under the organ choir area, distinguished by a decorative low vault built in 1521. There were used slender ribs blending into the planes of the side walls, the bluntly cut ends of which intersect at the tangent points enriching the star system with an additional motif.
   The upper floor of the sacristy annexe was opened to the west and south with arcades, the west of which was decorated with blind tracery. A chapel in the ground floor of the tower and chapels at the southern aisle were also opened with arcades to the interior of the church. Spiral staircases provided vertical communication in the church. One was placed in the closure of the chancel, between the main nave and the south aisle, the second in the south-west corner of the sacristy, and the third at the south wall of the tower. The chancel arcade connecting the presbytery with the central nave has been chamfered.

Current state

   The church has retained the spatial layout and shape obtained as a result of a long construction process in the late Gothic period. From the outside, the most striking early modern change is the neo-Gothic spire of the tower. Inside, the vaults in the central nave and aisles are early modern, rebuilt in the 17th century. In the course of numerous renovations, architectural details and facades have been renovated, especially the tracery of windows, cornices and jambs of the openings.

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Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Bachmiński J., Bolesławiec, Warszawa 1970.

Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska, Warszawa 2005.