Frombork – cathedral hill


   Around 1288 bishop Henry Fleming transferred capital of the Warmia diocese and the cathedral chapter from Braniewo to Frombork. The task of the chapter was to take care of the cathedral and organize and supervise the liturgy. It also acted as a bishop’s advisory council and managed the subordinate area.
   The brick fortifications on the cathedral hill in Frombork have been erected since the beginning of the 14th century.
Until 1330, the eastern section of fortifications with the chapter house and school was established. By the end of the fourteenth century, the western part of the hill was formed, ordering the slopes and leveling the terrain level. In the years 1330-1388 a cathedral was also built. Initially, it was surrounded by a cemetery, while the western part of the courtyard was open. Further extensions of the fortifications and buildings on the cathedral hill were carried out in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the late Middle Ages, the fortified cathedral complex was besieged and captured by Polish, Teutonic and Czech armies. The first serious threat came in 1414, when Polish-Lithuanian troops invaded Frombork. The next destruction was caused by the Teutonic Knights in 1455 in retaliation for the tribute paid by the city to king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk. The damages suffered by the Swedes in 1626-1630 and 1655-1660 and the destructions caused by the Second World War were particularly severe.


   A hill with dimensions of 80×163 meters was surrounded by a brick wall on which eastern side a chapter-house and a school were added, and close to the northern curtain the cathedral basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Andrew was erected. Chapter house initially had the form of a defensive, corner tower. From the beginning of the 15th century, residential and commercial buildings were added, including the custodian’s house from 1512-1517 in the western section of the northern curtain. Before 1513 in the south-east corner a palace of Warmian bishops was erected on the site of the cathedral school. Defense devices have also been modernized. The stronghold had two gates and one wicket gate. Porta Maior, located from the south, was flanked by two half-round towers. The second Porta Minor gate was located on the west. It had a rectangular form in the plan of the tower with a passage closed by a portcullis. The gate leading to the city was placed in the fifteenth century in the north-western curtain. A very important defensive element was the octagonal artillery tower located in the south-east. corner. It was probably built before 1448, supplying two levels of fire stations and a battle terrace protected by battlement. In the 17th century, the octogon obtained a high four-sided superstructure called the Radziejowski Tower, which served as a belfry. In the four-sided, massive north-west tower according to tradition, from 1504, Nicolaus Copernicus lived. The tower dates back to the year 1400 and at the end of the 15th century it was superstructured.

   The cathedral built in the years 1329-1388, is a gothic, hall, three-nave structure with a length of approximately 97 meters and a width of 12 meters (presbytery) up to 22 meters (central nave). The height from the floor to the bosses of the vault is 16,5 meters. The church has a very long, five-bay chancel ended by a straight wall and almost twice as long as an eight-bay nave. The architecture of the interior is shaped by two rows of arcades, based on seven straight, octagonal pillars, carrying stellar vaults. This contributed to the integration of a narrow and long interior. The towerless west façade with a triangular gable and eight-sided turrets is also unique, as it has no equivalent in the architecture of the Teutonic state. Particular attention is paid to the decoration of the lateral parts of the gable, which were captured by a series of climbing recesses, topped with ogee arches. The western porch, which covers the limestone portal, is also unique. In archivolts it has a set of sculptures depicting angels, parable of the Ten Virgins, and on the edge of creeping creatures and hybrids, probably symbolizing sin and evil.

Current state

   The fortified hill with the cathedral belongs to the objects of the highest artistic values both in Poland and in the world. Repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, however it retains the basic elements of the medieval architectural complex. Among the medieval equipment one can see a late-gothic polyptic funded in 1504 by bishop Lukas Watzenrode, uncle of Nicolaus Copernicus, painted epitaph of canon Bartłomiej Boreschowa from the fifteenth century, a crucifix from the end of the fifteenth century, and fragments of gothic stalls in the presbytery.
   The unique significance of this place is raised by the historical tradition and the figure of Nicolaus Copernicus. Currently renovated and neat, it houses the Copernicus Museum and the planetarium in the Radziejowski Tower. You can check the pricelist and opening hours on the official website of the museum
here. The cathedral still has sacral functions, but it is open to visitors.

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Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Garniec M., Garniec-Jackiewicz M.,  Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach, Olsztyn 2006.

Leksykon zamków w Polsce, red. L.Kajzer, Warszawa 2003.
Walczak M.,Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.