Monastery church of St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist was built in the north-west corner of the Old Town, on the edge of the high slope of the Vistula’s valley. It was created in several stages between 1280 and 1330. At the end of the 13th century, circumferential walls were erected. Around 1310-1320, the lower church was vaulted, and around 1330, the upper church was vaulted and the gothic gables were created.
Church is a brick, five-bay, aisleless structure with a pentagonal closed presbyterial part. Its length has reached 27 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. 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. It is not known whether they fulfill a symbolic function or whether they are merely an ornament. The church’s lighting was provided by large ogival windows, originally filled with tracery. In 1595, to the presbytery, a burial chapel of nuns was added from the north, at which the walls of the former tower were used, and from the south the chapel of St. Michael.
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.
From the north and west, the monastery was surrounded by town defense walls, increased several times, in the fourteenth and perhaps in the fifteenth century. 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 monastery wing, connecting it with the Mestwin Tower. Originally it was a two-storey and two-bay structure with rooms covered with wooden 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 monastery 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.
Chrzanowski T., Kornecki M., Chełmno, Warszawa 1991.
Domasłowski J., Kościół i dawny klasztor cysterek w Chełmnie, Warszawa 1983.
Mroczko T., Architektura gotycka na ziemi chełmińskiej, Warszawa 1980.
Webpage icimss.edu.pl, Chełmno Zespół klasztorny pocysterski, ob. SS. Miłosierdzia.