The church began to be erected after the town was founded, probably in 1240, when it was given the call of St. Nicholas, saint patron of merchants and sailors. The oldest mention of it comes from the founding document of the Old Town of Elbląg, issued in 1246 by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Henryk von Hohenlohe.
The first stage of construction was completed before 1260, but as a result of the rapid development of the town, it was then decided to thoroughly expand the parish church, transformed into a low three-aisle hall by 1330. In the following years, the church was systematically expanded, and the completion of bricklaying and the formation of the basilica’s silhouette took place around 1380. At that time, the interiors received a polychrome, and a year later the organ were installed, the sacristy was rebuilt and a gallery was built. In 1428, two side towers were added to strengthen the main tower, and until the beginning of the 16th century, the church was enlarged once again when the layout was changed to a hall.
The church was badly damaged in the fire of 1777. At that time, the tower’s helmets, roof, and valuable interior fittings were destroyed due to the collapse of the Gothic vaults. In a difficult financial situation, the town could not rebuild the temple to its original appearance. All three towers were demolished and the church was lowered by more than 6.5 meters. The new tower was not built until 1907 on the lower parts of the earlier structure. The next destruction of the building was related to the military operations carried out in Elbląg at the beginning of 1945.
At first, until the first quarter of the 14th century, the church had the form of a spacious, but relatively low, three-aisle, five-bay hall with a two-bay chancel surrounded by external buttresses and closed with a straight wall. On the west side it was preceded by a high, four-sided tower.
Between 1330 and 1380, the central aisle was raised, giving the building a basilica shape. The chancel was also expanded with side aisles and the entire eastern part of the church was leveled with the nave. The west facade, modeled on the great churches of Mecklenburg and West Pomerania, was expanded into a wide tower massif, by adding two side towers to the older main tower by 1428. Each of them was covered with a separate hip roof.
In the fifteenth century or at the beginning of the sixteenth century at the latest, the aisles were raised, aligning them with the central nave, which gave the building a hall shape again. Each aisle then received a separate gable roof. The interior of the church was probably expanded a little earlier by two rows of side chapels built between the buttresses. The nave was covered with stellar vaults.
Rzempołuch A., Kościoły na Warmii, Mazurach i Powiślu, Olsztyn 1991.
Webpage leksykonkultury.ceik.eu, Katedra pw. św. Mikołaja w Elblągu.