After the formation of the first Polish bishopric in 968, Mieszko I started the construction of a three-nave, early romanesque basilica at Ostrów Tumski island in Poznań. It was destroyed around 1038 during the invasion of Czech prince Brzetyslav and to 1058 reconstructed as a romanesque basilica.
Between 1243 and 1262, on the initiative of Bishop Boguchwał II, an early Gothic chancel was erected, built on the site of an old Romanesque choir, on which cracks were to appear, threatening to collapse the building. In addition to the choir of the Wrocław cathedral, the Poznań presbytery was one of the earliest Gothic manifestations in Poland, the beginning of a new era in local architecture.
In 1341, Casimir the Great married in the Poznań cathedral Adelaide of Hesse, who was also crowned here. Thanks to this, the Poznań cathedral became the third coronation church of Polish rulers. Its rank was also raised then by the tomb of Bolesław the Brave and the tomb of King Przemysł standing nearby or in a separate chapel. Such an important church was decided to rebuild in accordance with current trends, which began around 1356, in the time of Bishop Jan of Lutogniew, who employed a workshop of builders from Silesia. A new, gothic nave was erected then, probably in response to the new choir of the Gniezno cathedral.
In 1379, during the time of Bishop Mikołaj of Kórnik, a construction disaster took place. Its consequence was the commencement of work on a new, monumental chancel, which replaced the pioneering early Gothic building. This construction lasted quite a long time and was completed in the basic part around 1403-1406 during the pontificate of Wojciech Jastrzębiec. Probably, funding for building works was by prebends in 1380, 1383 and 1387, related to the construction of ambulatory chapels. As early as 1403, Wojciech Jastrzębiec sold tithes from his table to obtain funds for the construction of the choir, and in 1404 and a year later services were held there. Also in 1405, King Władysław Jagiełło was supposed to be at the ambulatory chapel, and in 1406 the future Poznań Bishop Andrzej Łaskarz was shown around the cathedral by Wojciech Jastrzębiec and issued a document “over the wall of new chapels”. Finishing works lasted even longer, as it was only in 1422 that materials for the roof of the nave, previously roofed only provisionally, were purchased. In the years 1498-1535, under the bishop Jan Lubrański, towers with helmets were completed, a stained glass window was inserted into the west wall of the nave, and the walls of the presbytery were covered with polychromes.
In the 17th century a thorough reconstruction of cathedral was made in the baroque style. After a fire in 1772, the church received a late baroque decor that survived until 1945. In 1779 the facade of the temple was rebuilt, adding new tower helmets. The cathedral was seriously destroyed in 1945 during the fighting for Poznań. Reconstruction was made in 1948-56 according to the design of Francis Morawski, giving the building of gothic forms from the 14th and 15th century, and the helm towers look from 1725-29.
The first romanesque cathedral was a three-nave basilica with a length of about 40 meters with a single tower extending in the lower part from the west. In the tower there was a two-storey matroneum, pushed deep into the church, from which it was separated by gallery supported on a single pillar. It was probably the prince’s lodge. The eastern end of the church is not certain, it could have been a simple wall with an apse or a tower on the extension of the central nave with a closure in the form of an apse, possibly a transept and a chancel ended with apse.
The early Gothic chancel from the mid-thirteenth century consisted of one or two square bays and a polygonal closure on the eastern side (the shape of the preserved early Gothic capital suggests that it was located in an open corner). Until then, closures with apses and straight walls dominated in Poland, so the polygonal ending was a manifestation of progress arrived from France through German countries. The height of the new chancel was probably not very large, because it had to be adapted to the Romanesque nave and transept, with which it had to connect. The width of the early Gothic chancel probably corresponded to the late Gothic nave of the choir, probably built on its foundations. The existence already then of the ambulatory of the presbytery is debatable (no material evidence has survived), while the bays may have been covered with a six-part vault, similar to used at that time in the Wrocław cathedral and the Dominican church in Poznań.
As a result of the Gothic extension, the church received the form of a three-nave basilica with an ambulatory and aisles, to which 12 chapels were attached. The western massif was crowned by two four-sided, high towers with buttresses. Between them, in the front facade, was the main entrance to the cathedral, leading through the ogival profiled portal from the 15th century. The eastern part of the church, monumental, but somewhat archaic at the time of its creation, was probably a reference to the full model of classic French cathedrals, as well as to the great basilicas of Pomerania and Mecklenburg, in which the classical western Gothic style was adapted to brick buildings.
The presbytery from the beginning of the 15th century had a three-aisle form with the central nave three-side ended in the east and surrounded by a three-sided ambulatory, to which chapels were opened with wide arcades. The impressive interior of the central nave of the choir was divided into three floors. The lower one was formed by squat arcades, while the middle one, separated by a small section of the cornice, was the gallery of the triforium. Its ogival openings, narrow and slender, were deprived of capitals and grouped in three, in such a way that each group corresponded to the large, ogival recesses of the third floor, housing windows. The horizontal strip of triforium once stopped its course in places where gothic chapels opened on the first floor to the central nave, although the gallery continued along the chapel floor, on the wall protrusion (this motif was unique for the Poznań church, not seen anywhere else). The interior of the presbytery was therefore dominated by two very strongly contrasted vertical and horizontal elements: arcades and triforium, placed on the background of very thick walls.
Three of the chapels in ambulatory were distinguished by size, five-sided, on the plan of the “cross”. Originally these chapels were two-level, passing in the upper part to the five-sided towers that gave splendor to the eastern part of the church. The rooms on the floors of these chapels-towers opened inside the choir with pointed arcades. They were important for the functioning of the cathedral, for they included the college, the chapter house and the room for the preparation of the liturgy. On the floors were the chapels and the bishop’s room.
Basilica of St. Peter and Paul in Poznań is one of the oldest Polish churches and the oldest Polish cathedral. It is also the place of coronation and burial of the first rulers of Poland, and also the supposed place of baptism of Mieszko I. Its present appearance dates back to the period of reconstruction after the destruction of World War II, in which unfortunately, mistakes and free interpretations were not upheld (vaults, altitudes of choir and nave, lack of interiors of three main chapels).
In the northern tower there is an entrance to the underground, where in the archaeological museum you can see fragments of the preromanesque and romanesque cathedral, as well as the relics of the tombs, probably the first rulers of Poland. There is also a baptismal font or a bowl serving of lime, from the tenth century. Preserved equipment includes, among others, five gothic and renaissance bronze gravestones from the 14th and 15th centuries from the Nuremberg workshop, the tombstone of Benedict Izdbieński, and the magnificent renaissance tombstone of the Górka family dating back to 1574.
Kowalski Z., Gotyk wielkopolski. Architektura sakralna XIII-XVI wieku, Poznań 2010.
Świechowski Z., Sztuka romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 1990.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Website poznan.pl, Bazylika Archikatedralna św. Apostołów Piotra i Pawła.