The construction of the church began during the reign of the bishop of Warmia, Herman of Prague, in the first half of the 14th century. Its consecration took place under the leadership of the bishop of Warmia, Henry III Sorbom in 1379. From the end of the fourteenth century, chapels of the same height, were added to the side aisles, so that the whole was closed in the outline of a regular rectangle. In the last phase, before the end of the 15th century, stellar vaults were installed in the interior.
In 1494, the church was again consecrated. At that time, it was called Saint John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. From the 16th century, its external appearance has not undergone any major changes. The temple was renovated in 1525, after the end of the Polish-Teutonic War. The wall was then adorned with brick ceramics and the gables of the chapels were added. Around 1900, the temple was thoroughly renovated, however without significant structural changes.
The church received the form of a short, four-bay, three-aisle basilica, orientated towards the sides of the world, without the chancel separated from the outside. The central nave was significantly raised in relation to both aisles, and on the west side there is a tower 45 meters high, built on a square plan and embedded in the nave. On its left and right side of the tower there are two larger chapels on a square plan.
From the north and south, the outer walls of the church were clasped with buttresses, between which smaller chapels were integrated, with the same height as the side aisles, which gave the impression of a fourth and fifth aisle. Moreover, over the side elevations the rows of gables topped with pinnacles were erected, which hid the roofs, common to the chapels and individual bays of the aisles. Among them, there are gargoyles that drain excess rainwater. The external façades were also decorated with a wide brick frieze made of ceramic bricks with several zones, with reliefs of male and female heads.
The interior of the church in the second half of the 15th century was covered with a stellar vault of various drawings in the central nave and aisles, and in chapels. The division into the aisles was marked by six six-sided pillars supporting the pointed arcades. The side chapels were also opened wide into the aisles. The internal façades of the church from the 14th to the 16th century were covered with colorful polychromes, among which there was the coronation of the Virgin Mary, a representation of St. Anna in the company of St. John and James and the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.
The church in Orneta is an exceptional monument in many respects. It has a peculiar and unusual form of a basilica, thanks to the masking of side aisles and chapels, as if referring to hall buildings. The number of gables and the richness of their ornaments are also impressive, especially the multi-zone, ceramic frieze, unique in such a scale and variety of motifs. Wall paintings from the 14th-16th centuries have also survived in various places of the church, although they were heavily repainted in a few fragments by conservators at the beginning of the 20th century.
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Rzempołuch A., Kościoły na Warmii, Mazurach i Powiślu, Olsztyn 1991.
Rzempołuch A., Przewodnik po zabytkach sztuki dawnych Prus Wschodnich, Olsztyn 1992.
Website leksykonkultury.ceik.eu, ościół pw. św. Jana Chrzciciela i św. Jana Ewangelisty w Ornecie.