The first cathedral on the Wawel Hill was created after the year 1000 during the reign of king Bolesław Chrobry in relation with the creation of the bishopric at the Gniezno Congress. It was a three-apse basilica dedicated to Saint Wenceslaus. At the end of the 11th century, at the initiative of prince Władysław Herman, it was rebuilt. Most or even a whole of the pre-romanesque edifice was demolished and obtained material was used to build a new St. Wenceslaus church, so-called Herman’s cathedral. The Consecration took place in 1142. The building was in the form of a three-nave basilica with two choirs, two towers and two crypts. In the 13th century chapel of St. Nicholas was added to it from the north and the chapels of St. Peter and Paul from the south. Herman’s cathedral burnt in 1305. To this day, the crypt of St. Leonard, the lower part of the Tower of Silver Bells, and the lowest part of the clock tower have survived.
The rebuilding of the cathedral in the gothic style began, during the reign of Władysław Łokietek, bishop Nankier. Chancel and chapel of St. Margaret was ready in 1346, and the nave, transept and aisles in 1364. At that time, in the presence of king Casimir the Great, the archbishop of Gniezno, Jarosław Bogoria Skotnicki, consecrated the cathedral.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the renaissance Zygmunt’s Chapel was erected, which was a model for new chapels built in the place of earlier gothic ones. In 1655-1657 and again in 1702, the Swedish army destroyed the church and the monuments accumulated in it. Eighteenth-century repairs and reconstructions were already carried out in the baroque style. Also in the nineteenth century, the cathedral was repeatedly reworked in various parties. The main restaurant was made from social contributions in the years 1895-1910.
The romanesque Herman’s cathedral was made of limestone and sandstone. It was a basilica ended from the east and west by two apses. It had two crypts: the larger, western of St. Leonard and the smaller one with an unknown call, under the eastern choir. The main entrance was in the middle of the southern wall. On the western side of the facade there were two huge towers, and an atrium was built there. The crypt of St. Leonard is the best preserved to this day, it is 10 x 15 meters, hall, finished with an apse of 8 meters in diameter. It is divided into three aisles with eight pairs of columns, of which the western pair has a slightly larger diameter. Most likely, these columns supported the altar located on the upper level.
Gothic, brick reconstruction of the cathedral created a three-nave basilica with a transept, chancel, ambulatory and crown of chapels around the corpus. The chancel of the church is rectangular and surrounded by an ambulatory, whose vault was initially at the same height as the vault of the side aisles in the corpus. The temple has preserved two towers, but they were rebuilt between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries using the romanesque ground floors. In the Tower of Silver Bells it is up to 12 meters. In the fifteenth century, the cathedral obtained the third tower by rebuilding the defensive tower that forms part of Wawel’s fortifications. This tower called Zygmunt’s Tower in the sixteenth century was raised and transformed into a belfry. One of the last medieval elements added to the cathedral was the treasury on the north side, it construction was begun in 1480. It received an aisleless layout and rich sculptural decoration.
Characteristic for the gothic cathedral in Kraków was the use of a pillar-buttress construction system and contrasting in the presbytery the four-part rib vaults with a spectacular three-part, ten-field vault, founded in the eastern part. It created a kind of canopy above the altar, compensating for the lack of the polygonal closure of the apse.
Inside the cathedral there are preserved doors of Casimir the Great from the 14th century. Inside there are four-part rib vaults, three-part are only in the already mentioned last span of the chancel and in the St Mary’s chapel. They are considered the first such vaults in Poland. The church was gradually surrounded with private chapels, funded by bishops and rich noblemen families. In the western part, two magnificent chapels from the 15th century have survived: the Holy Trinity and the Holy Cross Chapel, performing the functions of mausoleums for king Casimir the Jagiellon and queen Zofia Holszańska. In the chapel of Holy Cross, you can admire the paintings of Rus artists from the fifteenth century, in addition, in the cathedral can be seen, among others the tombstones of Władysław Łokietek and Casimir the Great from the 14th century, and tombstones of the kings Kazimierz Jagiellończyk and Władysław Jagiełło from the 15th century.
The cathedral of Saint Stanislaus and Wenceslas on the Wawel Hill occupies a unique position in the history of Poland and in the consciousness of the Polish Nation. It was a place of coronation of Polish kings and burials of rulers, chiefs, leaders and national bards. The cathedral’s treasury contains many antique liturgical utensils, regalia, jewels and historical memorabilia. For centuries, it has been a place of worship of Saint Stanisław, who is inseparably connected with the idea of a united and independent Polish State, valid both in the era of regional disintegration, during the partitions and during the communist regime. Despite repeated rebuilding, its medieval, especially gothic, but also romanesque elements are easily discernible.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Jarzewicz J., Kościoły romańskie w Polsce, Kraków 2014.
Krasnowolski B., Leksykon zabytków architektury Małopolski, Warszawa 2013.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Webpage wikipedia.org, Bazylika archikatedralna św. Stanisława i św. Wacława w Krakowie.