Gdańsk – St Mary’s Basilica

History

   The construction of the St Mary’s basilica began in 1343 under the privilege granted to the Main Town a year earlier by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights Ludolf König. The financing of the works was the responsibility of the townspeople, while town councilors were responsible for the organization of construction works. Within 15 years a choir and a central nave were created, then a tower was erected. The Teutonic Knights ordered, that it should not exceed the height of the tower of their Gdańsk castle. A porch was also added, in which beggars and sick were protected during inclement weather. This is how a three-nave basilica with a high central nave and probably straight ended chancel was created. However, shortly after its completion around 1370, the town council decided to enlarge the church significantly. It was decided to build a huge rectangular chancel and transept on the eastern side. Up to 1410, external walls were raised to a height of 25 meters. The building, however, did not have any roof, and the chapels that were inside were protected by makeshift constructions. The war with Poland in 1410 delayed further construction. It was not until around 1430 that the walls were completed, and in 1445-1447 all the roofs were installed. The result of this stage of works was the disturbance of the church’s architecture through too large disproportions between the nave and the tower, and the chancel. For this reason, between 1459 and 1466, the tower was raised by two floors. Only then did it begin to be visible from the sea, becoming a landmark for seafarers. The last stage of the work was to adapt the size of the corpus to the rest of the temple. It was to be widened and obtain the shape of a hall with side chapels. The works started in 1484 and interrupted by small construction disasters, lasted until 1502. At that time, the opening of the church was solemnly finished and the 159 year old construction was completed.
   
A dozen or so years later the Reformation arrived in Gdańsk, and the Protestants took over the basilica. According to the doctrines of Martin Luther, the medieval design was preserved to a large extent, however, the walls covered with polychromes, were whitewashed. The Second World War brought big destruction. Timber roof structures burned down, part of the vaults collapsed, some bells melted, some of the equipment was destroyed or dispersed. From 1946, clearing of the interior, securing and gradual reconstruction started. The rescued equipment returned, and fragments of the gothic polychrome were also discovered.

Architecture

   The church built on the plan of an irregular latin cross is a hall with an extensive and rich spatial program, which consists of a three-nave corpus and also a three-nave chancel. Transept in the southern part is three-nave, while the northern part is two-nave. The irregularities of the northern transept result from the necessity to adapt to the existing urban development. To the side aisles in all parts of the temple, adjoin the chapels, which shorter walls also act as buttresses. Thanks to this, the outer walls are devoid of divisions and it show great, not fragmented surfaces, with clearly visible large windows. From the west, the temple is ended by a tower mass with a rectangular tower and chapels flanking it.
  
The interior is characterized by a uniform height of individual aisles. 27 huge, octagonal pillars support the vaults: net vault in the central nave and in the transept, stellar vault in the chancel and some chapels, and diamond vault in the aisles. However, most stellar vaults have a fragmented and compacted figuration that blurs the stellar concept. For this reason, this vaults are sometimes called stellar-net.
   
The length of the St. Mary’s basilica is 105.5 meters, width is 66 meters, which is considered the largest brick, gothic church in Europe. The temple can accommodate about 20 thousand people, and the whole interior illuminates 37 large windows. There are 7 entrances to the interior of the basilica, each from a different city street. The building is decorated with seven spiers, three ceramic towers and one 82 m high bell tower, crowned by 2 roofs.
  
Inside, you will find many medieval monuments. The most precious are: stone Pieta from around 1410, a copy of the Last Judgment painted by Hans Memling in 1472, a sacramentary from 1482, an astronomical clock made in 1464-1470 by Hans Düringer and the main altar from 1510-1517. During the restoration work, numerous late-gothic wall paintings were discovered, which originally covered the whole church, until the 16th century. Currently, significant fragments of paintings have survived in the chapels of St. Jacob, St. George and St. Jadwiga. Particularly interesting is the polychrome on the wall of the chapel of St. George, showing the view of the town with densely piled tenements and fortifications with towers, gates and a drawbridge over the moat.

Current state

   St. Mary’s basilica, often called the “Crown of Gdańsk” is considered the largest brick temple in Europe. It is also located in a number of the most glorious parish churches in the Hanseatic cities, expressing bourgeois pride and emphasizing the strength of local self-government. However, it exceeds them with a complex of vaults based on solutions typical for the Teutonic Order, and partly aristocratic solutions from Meissen. Despite the turbulent history and numerous military operations since its inception, it managed to maintain its historical, gothic form. Currently, it performs sacral functions, but is open to visitors throughout the year, from Monday to Saturday: from October to the end of April from 8.30 – 17.00, from May to the end of September from 8.30 – 18.30. In addition, the viewpoint is open on 24 March to the end of November on the tower.

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bibliography:
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.

Herrmann C., Kościół mariacki w Gdańsku, Olsztyn 2007.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.

Webpage wikipedia.org, Bazylika konkatedralna Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Gdańsku.