Gdańsk – St Nicholas church and Dominican monastery

History

    The construction of the first romanesque church of St. Nicholas began in the second half of the 12th century. It was erected at the intersection of two important trade routes: a merchant road and a route leading from the Gdańsk castle to the princely estates. It served both the local population and the merchants and sailors coming here from all over the world. In 1227, the Pomeranian prince Świętopełk handed the church over to the Dominicans who built a monastery near the church, and then from 1308, they began to build next to the old romanesque church, a new, visible to this day, gothic church.
    The construction of a new monastery was related with the destructions that the old buildings suffered during the Brandenburg-Teutonic battles for Gdańsk. The reconstruction was started in a new place, using the surviving fragments: the lower part of the church tower in the south-eastern part and the sacristy room. In the first phase, a four-span presbytery was erected, then a six-span, three-nave, west hall structure with buttresses pulled in. In 1487 the church was covered with a stellar vaults and the tower was raised by an octagonal part.
   
At the beginning of the 15th century in the so-called Herrenkapelle Chapel was buried members of the Gdańsk Teutonic Knights. In 1446, the overseer of the duties, Teutonic Knight Winrich von Manstede, founded the “wikariat” in the church. The chapel was celebrated daily for the Teutonic Knights, and four times a year the entire Dominican convent was to participate in the mass for the Teutonic Order. Around 1492 the merchant brotherhood of the so-called lubeczan took over the Herrenkapelle.

   
In the sixteenth century, during the turbulent times of the Reformation, the church was destroyed several times and plundered during tumults. The monks were expelled from the monastery, and a few of them lost their lives. In 1578, they returned to the monastery and took over the care of Catholic population, in increasingly Protestant Gdańsk. From that moment, the magnificence of the church and monastery began again. More monks lived in its walls, intellectual life and preaching flourished, and received new and wonderful furnishings. The end of the monastery’s splendor brought the Partitions of Poland and then the Napoleonic wars. In 1813, as a result of the Russian shelling of the city, the monastery completely burned down. Twenty years later, the Dominicans were forced to leave the city, and the ruined monastery buildings were finally demolished.
The church of St. Nicholas survived by remaining a Catholic parish. Another happy rescue took place in 1945, when the church was the only one not destroyed in the city. It owed it to its patron, who was venerated by the orthodox Russians, or more likely bribing them with wine from the church’s cellar.

Architecture

   Basilica of St. Nicholas is a three-nave, hall church about 63 meters in length and 22.24 meters in width. The north aisle passes eastward into the chapel of St. Jack, and the southern one under the tower in the chapel of St. Jozef and further into the sacristy. The west façade is finished with a gable adorned with pinnacles. The church was covered with a triple roof, above each aisle. The interior covered with stellar vaults is supported on 10 octagonal pillars. In the basement there are crypts, open to the public during the Dominican Fair.
 
The earliest gothic monuments are: Pieta from the beginning of the 15th century in the chapel of St. Jack and paintings on the northern wall of the presbytery from around 1430. The gothic equipment also includes a tablet painting of the Mother of God with the Infant from 1466, a crucifix from around 1520 and artistically valuable stalls, set on both sides of the presbytery, consisting of gothic seats from the mid-16th century and later backs from the eighteenth century.

Current state

    The church of St. Nicholas is one of the most valuable sacred monuments of Gdańsk, the more valuable it is that it survived World War II without any damages. It has preserved its medieval, gothic appearance and many of the original equipment. Until recently, it seemed that the monastery buildings did not survive to modern times. However fortunately in 2005, a romanesque monastery refectory was discovered under Dominican Square, the majority of which remained in good condition and after the renovation was open to the public. The refectory has a unique design with groin vault and four domes.

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bibliography:
Webpage gedanopedia.pl, Kościół św. Mikołaja.