The first brick church in Nysa was founded and consecrated by the bishop of Wrocław, Jarosław Piast, in 1195. It was destroyed in 1241, during the Mongol invasion, and then burned down in 1249, during the battles between prince Bolesław Rogatka and Henry III. To this day, only the foundations from the romanesque building can be seen in the basement of the present church.
Around the middle of the 13th century, a second romanesque brick temple was built. At the end of the fourteenth century, it was already in a catastrophic state, threatened with collapse. Its eastern part was dismantled.
The present church was created in two stages. The first falls in the period before 1392 and includes the construction of a presbytery with an ambulatory of foundation from bishop Wacław Piast. The intention of the hierarchy was to build a representative church for the Duchy of Nysa. At the same time, it would serve as a pilgrimage temple and be designed for pilgrims following the main Polish pilgrimage routes crossing Nysa. Within a few years, a six-span structure was erected, but it burned down in 1401 during a fire that took over most of the city. The church with its burned interior lasted until 1424 and gradually turned into a total ruin. The lack of funds for immediate reconstruction was caused by the collapse of the city’s economy which took place as a result of the tragic epidemic of 1413.
The second stage of construction took place in the years 1424-1430 and was associated with the plan to erect a representative town church. Councilors decided to finance further reconstruction and extension of the episcopal temple. To manage the works, the Nysa City Council involved the famous architect Peter Frankenstein. Taking advantage of the foundations of the two romanesque predecessors and the existing ruined building of bishop Wacław, he began building the present gothic basilica, following the example of the Gniezno cathedral. This is indicated by almost identical horizontal cross-sections of the temples in Nysa and Gniezno.
In its further, turbulent history, the church experienced numerous fires, destructions and was subjected to repeated modernization. However, the characteristic silhouette of the building has remained unchanged to this day. During the next great fire of Nysa in 1542, the main vault of the nave was destroyed. It was rebuilt as a stellar-net vault. Before 1551, a new roof truss was made, and in 1553 a wooden superstructure of the top of the façade. In the fifties of the sixteenth century, the organ choir was rebuilt and extended from the foundation of bishop Marcin Gerstman. Around 1619, the ownership of the church became questionable because of the claims made by Protestants. In order to resolve the dispute, a census of the parish was organized, which showed a three-person numerical superiority of Catholics over Protestants. So the church remained a Catholic temple. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the interior of the church was completely changed under the influence of the baroque. The building suffered serious damage in 1741 during the Silesian Wars. Soon, however, its renovation took place, and in 1752 two symmetrical chapels were added from the north and from the south. Even more destruction of the temple occurred in 1807, during the siege and heavy artillery fire of the city by the Napoleonic army. Reconstruction in the years 1889-1895 was connected with another radical change of the church’s decor, this time in the neo-gothic style. As a result of the war activities of 1945, the temple survived the greatest cataclysm in its history. The roof and two side chapels burned down, the west gable collapsed, the stained glasses ceased to exist, the other side chapels and most of the equipment were seriously damaged. Reconstruction, on the occasion of which further regothisation was made, began shortly after the acquisition of these areas by the Polish state.
Church of St. James and St. Agnes is a hall, nine-span object, with three naves of equal height, orientated, made of light-gray sandstone and pink brick. Outside, the building of the temple is buttressed, between which were built in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, low chapels. Above there are large, pointed windows with tracery. The western gable is divided by two buttresses and lesenes with pointed blendes. The church has been covered with a gable roof, which is one of the most sloping roofs in Europe. The nave goes into an not separated, three-side ended chancel. The side aisles form a hexagonal, closed bypass from the east. From the north to the presbytery adjoins an old, three-sided sacristy, and from the north-east an early modern octagonal baptistry was added.
The nave, the old sacristy, the side chapels and the porch are covered with a rib vaults, and the presbytery with a stellar-net vaults. Originally, however, the net vault was spread over the central nave, rib vault is the result of a nineteenth-century renovation. Nine pairs of extremely slender, octagonal pillars are joined by high elevated arcades, which instead of dividing, integrate the internal space. In the perimeter walls, the arcades leading to the chapels were pierced and separated by sections of the smooth walls and windows. In the eastern part, the windows initially descended almost to the floor, but later were bricked up.
A belfry rises next to the temple, the construction of which began in 1474. The fourth floor was completed in 1516 and covered with a roof, although initially it was planned to even raise the tower, which could reach a height of 100-120 meters.
Kozaczewska H., Średniowieczne kościoły halowe na Śląsku, “Kwartalnik Architektury i Urbanistyki”, 1-4, Warszawa 2013.
Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Górnego Śląska, Warszawa 2008.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Website wikipedia.org, Bazylika św. Jakuba i św. Agnieszki w Nysie.