Chełmno – Franciscan Friary and church of St James and St Nicholas


   The Franciscan  brothers arrived in Chełmno in 1258 and, having powerful protectors, could afford to start construction works right away. They conducted them even in 1311, as evidenced by the will made by Adelaide Ullman, who saved one fine to support the construction of the church. After 1326, when the brothers purchased a plot adjacent to the church from the town, the chancel was enlarged and rebuilt. The temple was consecrated around 1346 by bishop Otton.
   The Chełmno Franciscan convent broke up in the era of the Reformation. In 1539 there were no monks in the monastery, and bishop Tydeman Giese gave the buildings temporarily for the needs of the townspeople. The Franciscans reappeared in Chełmno around 1582, expanding the convent throughout the 17th century. The first Partition of Poland in 1772 was a tremendous shock for the monastery. On the special order of King Frederick William III of 1806, the dissolution of the Chełmno convent began, as a result of which the claustrum buildings were completely demolished in the first half of the 19th century.
   In the years 1822-1828, the church temporarily belonged to the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, which later moved to the Cistercian monastery. After their departure, the rich interior of the temple was transferred to other churches, and the building was given to Protestants in 1859. Around 1859, the interior was renovated in the neo-Gothic style, and after 1881, Gothic paintings were found, which were later painted over and unveiled again in 2006-2007.


   The friary was situated in the north-west part of the town, within the defensive walls that limited the plot of the Franciscans from the north. On the west side there was a Cistercian nunnery, while in the south the town road led to one of the corners of the market square. The monastery complex consisted of a church and claustrum buildings adjoining it from the north, which surrounded the inner courtyard. The main, eastern wing was perpendicularly adjacent to the chancel of the church.
   Work on the construction of the church was carried out in two stages. First, a temple was built with an equal height of aisles and a two-bay chancel closed from the east by a straight wall. It was only during the later reconstruction from the first half of the fourteenth century that the central nave was raised to the height of 21.3 meters, giving the church a pseudo
basilica form. Also, the length of the chancel was extended by 8 meters, that is of one span, so that it would match its length with the naves. Finally, a building with central nave and two aisles was erected on a rectangular plan with a narrower, rectangular chancel on the eastern side and a four-sided, higher octagonal tower on the south side. The length of the interior was 48.5 meters, the width of the nave and aisles 15.6 meters (of which the central nave is 6.7 meters), and the chancel 9.2 meters. The size of the choir, rebuilt after 1326, stands out, the widest and longest of all three-bay chancels in the Chełmno region (it has 24 meters of external length and nave 28 meters). From the north monastery buildings were adjoining to the church.
   The nave obtained stellar vaults at the beginning of the third quarter of the fourteenth century: eight-pointed in the central nave and four-pointed in the aisles, while in the chancel, vaulted much earlier, a simple cross arrangement was used, decorated with unique bossesThe chancel ribs were lowered in bundles onto the shafts suspended at the longitudinal walls on geometric consoles, and in the corners springing from to the floor.
The huge 621 m² nave vault rested on four massive, four-sided pillars with cut corners, and its weight was distributed via ancillary columns to the perimeter walls, which were not only 1,4 meters thick, but were also supported by fifteen buttresses. However, the interior does not make an overwhelming impression. You can feel the harmony resulting from the symmetry and above all, the lightness of this architecture. This impression was achieved by ripping the plane of the walls with great windows and the framing of the nave pillars on each side with slender shafts.
   The windows of the nave had a three-light form, with the exception of a slightly more modest western window, filled with a two-light tracery. The windows in the chancel were also two-light, exceptionally high and slender. The eastern window illuminating the main altar was especially distinguished, filled with a magnificent four-light tracery combining trefoils and quatrefoils motifs with a six-pointed rosette inscribed in a circle. All windows were splayed on both sides and topped with ogival arches. The walls of the church were also pierced by several portals. The smaller one, decorated with a rounded roller and chamfering on the northern side of the chancel, was used for the movement of monks from the claustrum. The large, richly moulded main portal on the south side of the aisle was accessible to lay people. In addition, the church had two other entrances: one in the western bay of the central nave, the other in the eastern bay of the chancel, which led to the adjoining sacristy. It wal also passage from the attic of the monastery wing to the chancel.
   The walls of the chancel and nave in the Middle Ages were covered with beautiful figural paintings probably from the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Both main parts of the church were connected with a pointed chancel arcade, which, due to the greater width of the choir, was not visible from the central nave. The archivolt of the arcade was richly moulded and set on impost cornices. Above it, a high wall separated the roof space above the chancel from the nave.
At the same time as the vaults were built, the western gable was raised to a height of 42,4 meters (it repeated the composition of the gable of the chapel of St. Martin in Chełmno). Even higher is the octagonal, slender bell tower, built in the third quarter of the fourteenth century above the sacristy. Together with the crowning cross, it measures 54.5 meters along. At the transition from the quadrilateral to the octagon, a unique in the Chełmno Land motif of quadrilateral recesses, originally containing figures, open from two sides with ogival arcades supported on the corner column, was used.

Current state

   The buildings of the Franciscan claustrum have not survived to modern times. Currently, there is a square and a neo-Gothic building of a gymnasium school in their place, only on the façades of the church there are traces of the roofs of the old buildings and the portals connected to them in the ground floor and on the first floor. The church itself remains an exceptionally valuable monument of Gothic brick architecture, as it has avoided major damages and early modern transformations. The latter are, among others, two western buttresses, renewed window traceries, damages and later additions to the gables. Contemporary is also the interior wall paints and modest equipment that allows to admire the architecture itself.

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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.
Mroczko T., Architektura gotycka na ziemi chełmińskiej, Warszawa 1980.