The nunnery was situated in the western corner of Chełmno, near the slope of the town hill, on the edge of the Vistula’s valley, within the defensive walls which were raised several times during the Middle Ages and surrounded monastery from the north and west. The center of the complex was a small monastery church, to which the claustrum buildings adjoined from the south and west, as well as numerous auxiliary and utility rooms, grouped around two courtyards, one of which was a garth surrounded by cloisters.
The oldest element in the monastery were the buildings of the Teutonic court, which included a four-sided so-called Mestwin’s Tower, wchich was probably built in the second quarter of the 13th century. It could then serve as a gate tower or watchtower, because its location allowed for observation of the vast Vistula valley. Its interior in the later period of the Middle Ages was rebuilt. Among other, in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, a hall with a cross-ribbed vault was created on the first floor. In the upper storey there are late Romanesque, semicircle-topped niches.
Monastery church of St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist was built as a brick, five-bay, aisleless structure with a pentagonal ended presbyterial part which was not externally separated from the nave, with a slender tower built in half into the first bay, and from the south with a porch at the eastern bay of the nave. Its length has reached 27.5 meters, width is 9.2 meters and the height of the interior is 18 meters. The church was reinforced with external buttresses, with the one buttress on the north side replaced by a staircase turret adjacent to the chapel, probably transformed from the tower of the town walls. The western façade was decorated with a Gothic gable with shallow niches and not too prominent pinnacles.
The church’s nave is two-storey (Rhineland and Hesse origin), thanks to the incorporation of a spacious brick matroneum. The lower part, intended for lay people, is double-aisle, with a rib vault supported by three square pillars. Above the upper gallery, where nuns participated in prayers and liturgy, a stellar vault was erected. Vaults of the upper part of the church were decorated with 21 zoo and anthropomorphic creatures (dragon, griffin, mermaid, centaur, monkeys). It is not known whether they fulfill a symbolic function or whether they are merely an ornament. The floor of the church was a ceramic and glazed, decorated with rhombus heraldic lilies and rosettes in the corners. The church’s lighting was provided by large ogival windows, originally filled with tracery.
To the east of the church was built a brick wall on a stone foundation, reinforced with buttress. In its sequence was placed a tower originally housing the entrance gate. To the church from the west adjoins the main, northern wing, connecting it with the Mestwin Tower. Originally wing was a two-storey and two-run structure with rooms covered with timber ceilings and illuminated with large ogival windows. Its south elevation was decorated on the ground and first floor with ogival blendes, there was also a portal leading to the communication porch. The blende decoration was on a triangular western gable too. In the fourteenth century, a two-storey west wing was also built, adjacent to the north wing and two-storey thirteenth century east wing, not connected with the church. Few remains indicate that both were decorated with Gothic gables at shorter sides and ogival blendes.
The nunnery complex in its present form occupies a buildings and a large garden adjacent to the north-west corner of the city walls. Along their northern line there is a church, whose extension is the preserved northern wing and the Mestwin Tower. Also, two short wings at the southern facade of the church have medieval origin, while the buildings along the street bend come from the 19th century or have been thoroughly transformed.
The original slenderness of the church is ruined by early modern additions, especially in the southern part. The eastern closure of the church has kept the most original character. It is also worth paying attention to the two bricked-up windows in the north wall, because the brickwork saved original tracery with a trefoil and quatrefoil composition.
Medieval equipment of the monastery church include a tombstone of the burgher of Arnold Lischoren brought from Flanders, who died in 1275. This is one of the oldest monuments of sculpture in Pomerania. Before the mid-fourteenth century, valuable vault bosses were created (although partly reconstructed in the 19th century), and in the mid-century wall paintings on the monastic matroneum – the cycle Songs of songs, of iconography unique in the European scale, but unfortunately too arbitrarily, and often even incorrectly reconstructed in the interwar period. From the end of the 14th century comes the figure of Christ in a grave with moving arms.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Chrzanowski T., Kornecki M., Chełmno, Warszawa 1991.
Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler der Provinz Westpreußen, der Kreis Kulm, red. J.Heise, Danzig 1887.
Domasłowski J., Kościół i dawny klasztor cysterek w Chełmnie, Warszawa 1983.
Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, t. XI, województwo bydgoskie, zeszyt 4, powiat chełmiński, red. T. Chrzanowski, M. Kornecki, Warszawa 1975.
Mroczko T., Architektura gotycka na ziemi chełmińskiej, Warszawa 1980.