Gniezno – basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


   The first Christian temple in the area lying on the Lech Hill was funded during the life of prince Mieszko I, that is before 992. According to the tradition handed down by chronicler Jan Długosz, the founder was the wife of the prince, Dąbrówka. In the rotunda, a modest group of Christians arrived together with the duchess Dąbrówka and the local elites participated in the masses celebrated by the first Polish bishops: Jordan and Unger. The importance of the building increased after 997, when the body of St. Adalbert was put in it, probably it was buried in the semi-circular annex. It is not certain how long the rotunda functioned, it was possible that even before 1000 the construction of a more magnificent temple was started in its place.
Another temple in this place was a towerless basilica, which was the site of the first royal coronations in Poland. In 1039, it was destroyed during the invasion of Bohemian prince Brzetysław. At that time, valuable equipment was stolen, along with the golden altar offered by the emperor Otto III and the corpse of St. Adalbert. The church was rebuilt in the romanesque style and consecrated in 1064. In 1076, Bolesław II the Generous was crowned as king of Poland, and after the coronation, until further year 1097, further expansion was taking place. Around 1175, the bronze Gniezno Door was founded, a unique monument of romanesque foundry art. They contain nine parts with bas-reliefs of figural scenes and framed with a floral ornament with woven figures of people and animals. In 1295, the penultimate royal coronation took place in the romanesque cathedral, when prince Przemysł II was crowned king. Five years later, Wenceslaus II of Bohemia, who invaded Gniezno, made the last coronation in it. In 1331, the town was attacked by the Teutonic Knights, destroying the temple.
The construction of the gothic cathedral began in 1342 on the initiative of archbishop Jarosław Bogoria Skotnicki. First, a three-span, seven-side ended chancel with a wreath of chapels was built from sandstone and bricks. Archbishop Skotnicki started to build a part of the nave, continued by his successors Jan Suchywilk and Bodzanta. The work was completed around 1390. At that time, the northern tower was also built. The southern tower was added in the 16th century. In 1613 during the great city fire, the roofs and wooden structures of the towers burnt in the cathedral. During the reconstruction a new western gable was created, chapels and interiors in the baroque style were also rebuilt. In 1760, the church was destroyed by another fire, and the reconstruction gave the cathedral classicistic features. The last fire consumed it because of Soviet soldiers in 1945. As a result of subsequent conservation work, the original gothic forms were partially restored.


   Discovered relics of the pre-romanesque church of Mieszko I, preserved in the basement of the cathedral, allow to determine its spatial form as so-called a simple rotunda, consisting of a circular nave with a diameter of 9 meters and an eastern apse. From the north to the rotunda, an annex was added, perhaps of grave character.
   The romanesque church from the end of the 12th century was a three-nave basilica, ended from the east by three apses, with the west part endowed by two four-sided towers. Despite similar dimensions, it differed in the technique of walls building. The first one was erected of crushed stones, the second one of carefully worked stone blocks.
   The gotgic cathedral was erected as a three-nave structure, with a basilica layout with a chancel polygonaly ended and with ambulatory.
A wreath of fourteen side chapels adjoins the aisles and ambulatory. From the west, the building is decorated with two huge towers reinforced in corners with buttresses. The roof over the central nave and the chancel is gable and mono-pitched above the aisles. The naves and the chancel are reinforced with buttresses, between which two-light and three-light, pointed windows with traceries are placed. Three gothic ogival portals led to the church: from the north, south and west. It were made of artificial stone and contain unique on the Polish scale
tympanums with figural decoration. In the north it is the Crucifixion, and in the southern The Last Judgment, unfortunately, the original portal from the western façade has not preserved. Inside, the choir, central nave and side aisles are covered with rib vaults supported by octagonal inter-nave pillars. Arcades between the naves are ogival, richly profiled.
Many valuable monuments have survived from the medieval furnishings. In the chancel, behind the reliquary there is a tombstone of Saint Adalbert, made of the red marble from 1480, and above the altar, a chancel arch with a gothic crucifix made of linden tree from around 1430. Under the choir, you can find the late-gothic tombstone of archbishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki by Wit Stwosz, while at the entrance to the old chapter-house there is a tombstone of archbishop Jakub of Sienno. In the northern porch above the entrance to the interior of the cathedral there is a gothic portal with the Crucifixion scene. In the southern porch there are the Gniezno Doors, one of the few romanesque doors in Europe and the most valuable in Poland. In the basement of the cathedral you can see, among others the oldest gravestone inscription in Poland, about 1006, discovered during archaeological research of relics of a stone building from the end of the ninth century, and fragments of the walls of the basilica of Mieszko I.

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Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.

Webpage, Bazylika Prymasowska Wniebowzięcia NMP i św. Wojciecha w Gnieźnie.
Webpage, Gniezno, katedra Panny Marii i św. Wojciecha.
Webpage, Bazylika prymasowska Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Gnieźnie.