The construction of the main parish church of Stargard Szczeciński began at the end of the 13th century on the site of an earlier, small, probably wooden temple. The impulse to start work could be the re-foundation of the town in 1292. The works lasted until around 1310, and as a result, a monumental, hall-type, towerless building with the chancel was erected, probably founded under the influence of the Kolobrzeg collegiate church, modeled on the parish church of Greifswald. The oldest information about it appeared in 1324, when the townsman of Stargard, Jakub Pagelow, founded an altar.
However, not even a century passed when wealthy burghers wanted to give the church an even more representative shape. It could have been related by constant competition with nearby Szczecin, where the construction of a monumental and innovative church of St. Jacob started a bit earlier. In Stargard, it must have been felt as a challenge, and therefore, around 1380, the expansion has been made to more impressive forms. The builder could be Henry Brunsberg, an outstanding architect of the late gothic, although there are no source mentions on this subject, and the assumptions about his participation in the construction are based on a comparative analysis with his other works. At that time, a new chancel was created with an ambulatory, a chapels wreath, and a western massif with two towers (the south one has never been finished). The central nave around the mid-fifteenth century was raised, thanks to which the church obtained the shape of the basilica. A sacristy on the south side was added as well as an octagonal chapel of St. Mary on the north side. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, only renovation works were carried out.
The great fire of the town in 1635 brought serious damages to the church. The roofs of the chancel, naves and towers were burnt then, the vaults of the nave collapsed, the vaults of the side aisles, the crowning of the south tower and the gable between the towers were damaged. Almost all medieval interior furnishings were burned. Reconstruction started in 1639 lasted 25 years, and as a result, the church received baroque equipment. Subsequent renovations and changes aimed at restoring the gothic interior were carried out in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first not very successful renovation took place in the years 1819-1824. In the years 1901-1911, architect Deneke, after thorough architectural research, carried out a gothic reconstruction of the temple, recreating the previously removed details, as well as the original colors of the interior.
In 1945, during the city fights, St. Mary’s church was partially destroyed. Burned roofs and the helmet of the northern tower, the vaults and the upper parts of the walls cracked, and the interior was devastated. The damaged building was secured in 1946-1948 and rebuilt until 1957. Another renovation took place in 1977-1980.
The present church, founded at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, received the shape of a two-tower basilica with the chancel on the eastern side surrounded by an ambulatory. The temple has a huge size: its length is over 77 meters, width 37 meters, height 39 meters, and the height of the northern tower 53 meters. The western façade has a monumental, two tower form. Its lower floor forms a massive solid corpus and is divided by three portals. The main portal and north portal located in the center of the facade are pointed, with wide, profiled frames. The southern portal, currently the main entrance to the temple, has a unique form, unmatched in Western Pomerania, with arches of archivolt shaped from parallel, zigzag-like broken tracery. The impressive two-tower west massif introduced a new type of blendes to the Pomeranian architecture, called “Stargard” blende. They have an impressive size of over 20 meters high and 3.3 meters wide, and their special feature is the use of full arches in the lower parts and closing from the top with large, circular fields. After the collegiate church in Stargard, such blendes were used, among others, in churches in Chociwel, Gryfice, Drawsko, St. James in Szczecin or St Mary’s in Pasewalk, and with time also in secular architecture.
In the part of the naves corpus, a three-storey building was created with: chapels, parts of side aisles and the central nave, separated by uniform mono-pitched roofs and topped with a gable roof. In the eastern part of the church, two levels were created: the lower one, consisting of chapels plus an ambulatory, and the upper one with the main nave of the choir. It is worth noting that the lower storey of the presbytery part corresponds to the height of two storeys at the main corpus. The St. Mary Chapel, founded at the beginning of the 15th century, on the northern side of the ambulatory in the form of the octagon covered with a steller vault and separate roof, received the almost independent, most impressive shape, designed on the model of English, early Gothic cathedral chapter houses. On the opposite, south side, there is a rectangular sacristy with an Angelic Chapel on the first floor.
The outer façades of the church are formed by the rhythm of the ogival windows, separated by vertical buttresses and pilaster strips. Buttresses were placed between the side aiseles’ windows, pilaster strips in the lower part of the chancel, while neither of them were on the walls of the central nave and middle nave of the choir. The horizontal decoration consists of plinths and friezes under the eaves, plastered in the facades of the naves and filled with openwork bricks in the choir. Diversity and various combinations of these elements give the facades of the church extraordinary richness.
The buttresses of the church were drawn into the interior, and in the spaces thus created, two-storey chapels were placed, open to the ambulatory and side aisles with ogival arcades and covered with separate vaults. Much higher upper chapels were connected by passages pierced in the thickness of buttresses. These passages have their miniature vaults, which characterizes them as small interiors, and not just openings in the wall. The nave, the presbytery, the ambulatory and the St. Mary Chapel have a stellar vaults (apparently it is the highest church vault in Poland). In the ambulatory, the octagonal pillars are crowned with wide impost bands and carry a richly profiled arcade over which there is a frieze with a motif of open-work quatrefoils and a high belt of triforium with pointed arcades. Even higher, just below the vault, there are deep arcades with windows, connected by passages in the thickness of the wall. Interestingly, in the upper parts of the ambulatory pillars, rectangular niches are hollowed out in each of the sides, supported by profiled corbels and covered with triangular finials. Ambulatory in the Stargard church is therefore an exceptional building, going beyond popular schemes in the temples of this region. The windows part in the naves was slightly reduced in relation to the richer presbytery. There are also deep niches at the walls with a porch pierced in wall-mounted pillars, but there is no triforium, which means that the window storey is much higher. The interior of the church is impressive by its size and brightness, although the hidden windows of the side chapels give indirect light. Strong and direct light falls through the upper windows, brightening the vault zone and changing it into a line system.
St. Mary’s Church in Stargard belongs to the group of the greatest works of the medieval architecture of Pomerania, and its rank significantly grows beyond the local environment. For half a century since its completion, it was a source of inspiration and the subject of imitation, but in no other of the buildings created under its influence was not repeated all the richness and variety of forms (eg St. John’s church in Stargard, St. Mary’s church in Chojna, St. Peter and Paul in Szczecin, church in Chociwel). At present, it still performs liturgical functions as a Catholic temple.
Little survived from the rich medieval paintings of the church interior. Only fragments of the polychrome from the 15th century are visible in the chapel on the eastern side of the ambulatory (Mildenitz Chapel) and in the sacristy. Perhaps the gothic paintings also decorate the vault of the chapel on the south side of the aisle. The remaining painting decor visible today in the form of painted squares was correctly reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century, based on the relics of the surviving pillars. In the baroque style are only the polychromes on the vault of the central nave, which was rebuilt in the mid-17th century, and the polychromes on the arcade of the chancel arch, organ gallery and some side chapels.
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Kalita-Skwirzyńska K., Stargard Szczeciński, Warszawa 1983.
Pilch J., Kowalski S., Leksykon zabytków Pomorza Zachodniego i ziemi lubuskiej, Warszawa 2012.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.