The construction of the church of St. John the Evangelist began around 1325. It served as the cathedral of the diocese of Pomezania and the municipal parish church. Already around 1330, the chancel had to be completed, because at that time the Teutonic grand master Werner von Olsen was to be buried in the cathedral. The next message comes from 1343, when bishop Bertold issued a document transferring the village of Włodowo for the further construction of the cathedral. It seems that there was a change in plans at the time, consisting in the introduction of a two-storey choir, the abandonment of the basilica-type form and the connection of the church with the castle into a single defense system. The construction was finally completed in the second half of the 14th century.
Already in the years 1478-1479 during the siege of Kwidzyn by Polish troops during the so-called the Priest’s War, the cathedral was damaged, and the vault of the crypt collapsed and was not rebuilt. The remaining damages were removed during the reign of bishop John IV at the end of the fifteenth century, with the support of the grand master of the Teutonic Order and Pope Sixtus IV.
In 1525, the Duchy of Prussia underwent Protestantism, which in time brought changes in the appearance of the church, which lost its current administrative rank. The interior was plastered, and the presbytery and the nave were separated by a wall, thus marking the place of prayer for the German commune in the corpus and the Polish in presbytery. In 1586, a porch was erected in front of the main south entrance. In 1705, the tomb chapel of Otto Fryderyk von Groeben was added from the north.
In 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars, the church was turned into a food warehouse and a gym, which led to the devastation of the temple. It was not until 1816-1817 that modernization works were carried out involving the removal of partition walls and repairing cornices. In the years 1862-1864 a thorough modernization and regothisation of the church was made. The collapsed vault in the presbytery was rebuilt, and Gothic wall paintings were unveiled and repainted.
The church is a Gothic, brick, orientated building, unique due to its connection with the castle. It consists of a pentagonal ended, two-story presbytery and an elongated five-bay pseudobasilic nave. The dimensions of the cathedral are 86 meters long and 25 meters wide. The height of the central nave is 21 meters, the height of the belfry is 59 meters. The layout of this whole building was associated with the unique character of the Pomezanian chapter, modeled on the Teutonic Order: the inclusion of the cathedral in the defense system, a two-level presbytery modeled on the Malbork castle church, the exclusive character of the upper choir, and the burial functions of the lower choir.
Inside the lower floor of the chancel was divided by four pillars into two aisles. Sometimes this part is called a crypt in the sources. The upper part was accessible thanks to staircases located in small annexes, added symmetrically to the western bay of the presbytery. The aisles are characterized by a very elongated shape (probably because of the desire to connect it with the castle) and powerful, octagonal pillars, connected by equally massive inter-naval arcades. The vaults were hung high on artificial stone corbels: in the lower part of the presbytery are rib vaults, in the upper part of the presbytery and in the central nave the stellar vaults, and in the aisles, three-partition, nine-fields vaults. Because the central nave does not have windows, it is in shadow, while in the aisles there are two windows in every bay. The communication is enabled by two portals placed symmetrically from the north and south. Originally, there was also a third entrance from the west, leading to the castle. The representative entrance was a southern portal, decorated with a mosaic image, leading to the town.
The western façade of the church was directly connected to the chapter castle, although no such layout was initially planned. This is evidenced by the fact that in the eastern part of the castle there are windows confirming the functioning of the castle as a separate building. In addition, the axis of the church was slightly deviated in relation to the stronghold, and the last bay of the cathedral is shorter than the rest.
From the south-west side the church was strengthened by a high tower, performing not only the role of the belfry, but also observation and defensive functions as the main castle tower. The church’s defensive functions were strengthened by a porch running in the attic of the nave and the choir, as well as two massive octagonal stair towers at the presbytery.
St. John’s church, due to its connection with the castle, defensive functions, unusual interior layout and good condition, is today a unique monument in the whole country. Inside, you can see today a group of Gothic wall paintings from the turn of the fourteenth / fifteenth century repainted in the nineteenth century and a mosaic placed above the southern entrance, showing bishop John I kneeling in front of Saint John, cooked in a big pot. The uniqueness of this work is based on the use of the mosaic technique, which appeared very rarely north of the Alps.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler der Provinz Westpreußen, der Kreis Marienwerder, östlich der Weichsel, red. J.Heise, Danzig 1898.
Domasłowski J., Krantz L., Katedra i zamek w Kwidzynie, Warszawa 1982.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Website katedrakwidzyn.pl, Historia.