The first stone church in Nysa was to be founded and consecrated by the bishop of Wrocław Jarosław in 1198, on the site of the alleged, older, wooden temple. It was destroyed in 1241 during the Tartar invasion, and then burned down in 1249, during the battles between Prince Bolesław Rogatka and Henry III. At the beginning of the second half of the thirteenth century, the Romanesque church was rebuilt or erected in its place. At the end of the fourteenth century, this building was already in a catastrophic condition, threatened with collapse and was partially demolished.
Gothic church of St. James and St. Agnes was built in two stages over many years. First before 1392, on the initiative of Wenceslaus II of Legnica, the bishop of Wrocław, who wanted to build a representative temple for the Duchy of Nysa, six western bays were built and covered with a roof. Unfortunately, in 1401 the church burned down during a fire that took over most of the city. Until 1416 it was partially repaired, but in 1423 the city council decided to carry out a partial demolition of the old building and concluded a contract with Peter Frankenstein, a master educated in the workshop of the famous Peter Parler in Prague, for the construction of a representative bourgeois church. Using partly the foundations of the demolished part of the church and the six western bays of the building of Bishop Wenceslaus, he began building the chancel of the Gothic basilica. He was to finish work as early as 1430.
In 1474, Bishop Rudolf von Rudesheim laid the foundation stone for the construction of a free-standing tower – belfry. The builder Nicholas Hirz, under the supervision of Nicholas Amelung, erected the two lowest storeys, and during the time of Bishop John IV Roth, the third floor was being built from 1493. The fourth was funded by Bishop John V Thurzo in 1516. Despite the plans for the tower to be the highest in the city, the turbulent period and future disasters meant that the construction was completed on this floor.
In 1542 the church was damaged again during the next great fire of Nysa. However, it was quickly repaired and a net vault was established in the central nave during renovation. A new roof truss was made before 1551, in 1551-1553 John Wahel from Italy added gables over the cornice, in 1554 George Stolz from Olomouc covered the roof with slate, and George Behem covered the ridge turret with a sheet metal. In the 1580s, the organ choir was extended and the staircase was inserted from the foundation of Bishop Martin Gerstman.
Around 1619, ownership of the church was questioned because of the claims put forward by Protestants. In order to settle the dispute, a census of the parish was organized, which showed a three-man advantage of Catholics over Protestants, thanks to which the church remained a Catholic temple.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, a number of early modern chapels were added to the church, and the interior was completely changed in the Baroque style. The building suffered serious damages in 1741 during the Silesian Wars. Soon it was renewed, but the temple suffered even greater damage in 1807, during the siege and heavy artillery fire of the city by the Napoleonic army. The reconstruction in the years 1889-1895 was combined with another radical change in the church interior, this time in the neo-Gothic style. Among other things, a new vault in the central nave was built, a western porch was built, the stair tower at the sacristy was raised, and the windows were replaced.
As a result of the war in 1945, the temple has survived the last cataclysm in its history. The roof and two side chapels burned down, the west gable collapsed, stained glass windows ceased to exist, the other side chapels and most of the equipment were also seriously damaged. The reconstruction, during which regothisation was carried out, began shortly after the takeover of Nysa by the Polish state and lasted until 1961.
Gothic church of St. James and St. Agnes at the end of the Middle Ages, reached the form of an orientated hall structure, nine-bay, with three aisles of equal height, built of light gray sandstone and pink bricks, closed in the east with a polygon, with an ambulatory being the ending of side aisles. Outside, the building was enclosed by stepped buttresses, between which were built in the fifteenth and sixteenth century low chapels and porches located in the fourth bay from the west, on the north and south. Above, large ogival windows with rich traceries in the upper part and shafts dividing the openings into four parts were pierced. On the western side, the nave was extended by two chapels on the width of the side aisles. Above them a gable was divided by two buttresses and lesenes with ogival blendes. The church was covered with a gable roof, one of the most sloping roofs in Europe. A sacristy, three-side ended from the east side, was attached to the presbytery from the north.
Inside, nine pairs of extremely slender, octagonal pillars were joined by high elevated arcades, which instead of dividing, integrated an internal, uniform space. The pillars were given a characteristic brick form with stone bands evenly dividing their height and high stone plinths. The bays of the central nave received in the plan the shape of rectangles with a longer axis located transversely to the main axis of the church. Almost square bays of aisles remained on their sides. The square form of the latter instead of rectangular, emphasized the elongation of the entire church and weakened the separateness of the aisles. At the same time, the pillars no longer constituted inter-aisles divisions to such a large extent, but rather as if in a optical sense were a forest of buttresses supporting the vault, common for the entire interior.
Arcades leading to the chapels were pierced into the perimeter walls and separated by parts of smooth window walls. In the eastern part, the windows originally descended almost to the floor, but were later bricked up. The central nave since the first half of the 16th century was covered with a net vault. The sacristy, most of the chapels and porches were covered with cross-rib vaults, while the ambulatory with nine-pole vaults. In the western part of the nave, a music and bourgeois choir was located, under which net and stellar vaults were placed, with the central bay distinguished by occurring endings of intersecting ribs.
Entrance portals to the church received rather modest forms with profiled and slender jambs. Only the saddle portal stood out from the northern aisle to the sacristy, topped with a truncated trefoil, with floral decoration on the lintel and with sheet-metal doors. Also in the sacristy richer sculptural decor was used, placing a set of corbels and bosses with figural and symbolic representations. The bosses include the coat of arms of the Nysa and episcopal principality, the figure of a kneeling angel, a human head and a leafy mask. The corbles received the shapes of human and animal masks, as well as the head of the queen or the bust of a bearded man. Similar sculptural decorations were also used in some side chapels.
Originally, the windows contained multi-colored stained glass, letting in the interior multi-colored light, which intersected with the coloring of the walls and pillars of the church. There, pillars with cinnabar surfaces of non-plastered bricks separated by white joints and strongly accented by white and yellow stripes of stones, further intensified color phenomena.
Next to the temple, on the north-west side, a free-standing belfry was built, which construction began in 1474. It was erected of bricks, but covered with stone cladding, on a square plan reinforced in the corners with strongly protruding buttresses. The storeys were separated by drip cornices, between which pointed-arched windows were placed, in the lower storey decorated with crockets and lush flowers. The buttresses in the lower part were decorated with delicate blind traceries connected by ogee arches with crockets in the crown. The second storey of the the buttresses was three-side ended at the height of the fault with ogival recesses flanked with decorative columns.
Only the foundations of the first Romanesque building remain to this day, which can be seen in the basement of the current Gothic church. Perhaps these relics come from two different buildings, because the remains of the two pillars differ significantly from each other.
The Gothic church preserved to this day, as well as the nearby belfry, in its turbulent history suffered numerous fires, damages and was subjected to repeated modernization, but its characteristic silhouette remained unchanged to this day. The main transformations that changed the appearance of the building were the neo-Gothic western porch, the reconstructed western gable and the rib vault from the late nineteenth century in the central nave, which replaced the sixteenth-century net vault. Also, most window tracery is the result of early modern and contemporary restaurants.
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Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Górnego Śląska, Warszawa 2008.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.