Construction of the Gothic church of St. Catherine in Braniewo began in 1343 or 1346. It was erected in the same place where, from around 1280, there was a wooden or brick church in the form of a pseudo-basilica. By around 1350, the construction of the perimeter walls of the new church, still being built in the basilica layout, were completed. Probably in 1367 there was a change of concept and after concluding a contract with Henry Penkune, the walls were raised to a hall form, at the same time inter-nave arcades were built. In 1381, the construction of the nave of the church was completed, which was to be roof covered and have glass windows. Master masons Berndt and John were responsible for this stage of work. In the second decade of the 15th century, the construction of a massive tower was started, and in 1425 a clock was hung on it and the construction of side chapels began. Around 1442, the nave was vaulted, although due to the fire of 1480, the vaults and the eastern gable had to be rebuilt before the end of the 15th century.
In the 16th century, the last finishing and supplementation works were carried out. In 1500, Bishop Łukasz Watzenrode founded a brick music gallery on the eastern side of the northern aisle, covered with a stellar vault, while in 1536 master Nicholas of Orneta raised the tower. In the 17th century, the church received extensive equipment, including the main altar, wooden priestly stalls and benches for city councilors.
The church has suffered many damage over the years. In 1480, as a result of a lightning strike, in 1520 during the Prussian War and the worst during the Second World War, when only the south side, the half of the north side and the eastern choir, were preserved. One stump remained from the tower, but 9 of the 10 massive pillars of the central nave survived. The restoration and restoration took place in 1975-1985.
St. Catherine’s church in Braniewo had the form of a three-aisle, six-bay hall, 41 meters long and 25 meters wide, without a chancel separated from the outside. From the east, each of the aisles was polygonal, while the central aisle was extended with a buttressed apse established on the plan of five walls of octagon. The eastern ends of the aisles were distinguished by cut external corners, which gave them a pentagonal “half-apse” shape. The west façade was created in the form of a large, massive, four-sided tower, enclosed from the north and south with two chapels. The façades of the tower were decorated with numerous blendes and pierced with regularly arranged windows. The nave’s façades were surrounded with stepped buttresses, and the whole (apart from the apse at the central aisle and the eastern closings of the side aisles) was covered with a gable roof, from the east based on a triangular gable. The gable was originally decorated in the lower part with four blind windows, and above articulated with grates with triangular finials and crowned with five pinnacles of equal height.
Probably the appearance of the eastern part of the church in Braniewo was modeled on the Pomeranian church of St. Bartholomew in Demmin (and several others, such as the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gransee or the Virgin Mary in Prenzlau, or the Lübeck churches of St. James and St. Peter). However, it was not exactly copied, but creatively transformed, and added to the main trends in Warmia’s architecture, manifested in a strongly unified from the outside, compact nave, the cut eastern corners of which were integrated with the magnificent eastern gable.
The three-aisle interior of the church was formed by ten octagonal, smooth, massive pillars, arranged in two rows, which were connected by prominent, moulded arcades and fully covered with stellar vaults. The bays were formed in the classic travée arrangement with square divisions in the side aisles, which corresponded to the transversely rectangular bays in the central aisle. The stellar vaults received four-arm designs in the nave, six-arm designs in the main apse, and nine and ten-arm designs in the eastern closings of the side aisles. Their ribs were supported by polygonal, moulded corbels. The north-eastern apse was filled with an overhanging gallery, accessible by stairs from the turret at the sacristy, stellar vaulted in the ground floor and provided with parapets.
The church owes its present appearance to the 20th-century reconstruction after huge war damages, during which the western part of the church with the tower and side chapels, and a large part of the northern part of the building had to be reconstructed from scratch. At that time, the eastern, presbytery part of the church suffered the least, but the gable above the nave had to be rebuilt, and unfortunately it was given a neo-Gothic form from the nineteenth-century renovation.
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