Szczecin – St James’ Church


   Parish church of St. James was founded in the second half of the 13th century in place of earlier, probably wooden temple, founded in 1187 by burgher Jacob Berlinger from Bamberg. It was then a church shaped like a basilica with two towers. In the years 1370-1387 a major reconstruction of the eastern part of the temple took place, consisting in raising the aisles in the presbytery part and creating a hall system or according to other theories on the building of a completely new chancel. In the first half of the 15th century took place a reconstruction of the south wall of the main nave, probably under the direction of Henryk Brunsberg. This wall had a very decorative look with numerous lesenes and gables.
In 1456, for unknown reasons, the southern tower collapsed, causing the destruction of the western part of the nave. In the second half of the 15th century, the hall was rebuilt in the hallway system with reference to the existing chancel, and one central tower was built. The work was completed in 1503.
In 1534, the church became a Protestant temple by the decision of the Trzebiatów parliament. Artillery fire during the siege of the city by the Brandenburg army in 1677 triggered a church fire. The tower, the nave vaults and the Gothic furnishings of the cathedral were destroyed. At the turn of the 17th / 18th century the cathedral was rebuilt and its interior was equipped with new Baroque equipment. At the end of the nineteenth century, a general restoration of the temple began. A new, slim, 119 meter high helmet crowning the cathedral was made. In 1944 as a result of the bombing the cathedral was seriously damaged. Also suffered the equipment of the building. In the years 1947-1949 the church was temporarily protected from further destruction, and between 1972 and 1974 it was rebuilt.


   The church from the second half of the 13th century was a three-aisle, buttressless brick basilica of 25 meters in width, 30 meters in length and 8,5 meters in height. According to some theories it had a five-side ended chancel with ambulatory, next to which a free-standing chapel was located, however, probably in the then basilica there was no ambulatory around the presbytery (no traces of corbels of ambulatory). At the other end of the nave there were two towers.
   During the 14th and 15th centuries, by increasing the chapels in the ambulatory and aisles (according to older theories) or by building a completely new chancel, the church changed into a hall structure with internal buttresses and a wreath of chapels. The southern wall of the aisle then received a very decorative appearance with numerous pilaster strips, gables and panels richly decorated with glazed bricks. As early as in the 14th century, the northern tower in the western part of the church was slightly higher than the central nave, while the south tower was slightly above the side aisles. It was only after the disaster of 1456 that one central tower was erected.
   Finally, at the end of the Middle Ages, was created a magnificent three-aisle church with a western tower, a double string of chapels from the north and a three-bay chancel surrounded by an ambulatory in a hall system, repeating the shape of the inner apse. Such a system was rare, because most often the ambulatory had more sides than the closing of the choir. It was also characteristic to pull the buttresses into the interior and expand them so that, due to their size and functions, they can be called pillars added to the walls. In the spaces between them there are two-level chapels, open on both storeys with ogival arcades and separately vaulted, also provided with separate windows. In each of the chapels at the level of the floor and at the tops of the walls, in the thickness of the buttresses, wide openings were pierced, which formed a communication route with separately vaulted spaces in the thickness of the pillars. A special brightness was achieved in the choir of the church, because the intermediate buttress was abandoned on the axis of the ambulatory, and a large nine-light window in this place was inserted, more than twice as wide as the others. It is also the only one window that is directly visible in the interior, because the windows of the side aisles and ambulatory are placed deeply in the chapels between the buttresses, and thus practically invisible to the observer in the nave. The pillars in the presbytery part are also unusual because their shape changes slightly below half the height. The bottom part is rectangular or trapezoidal, in the upper part they have the shape of smooth octagons. Probably it was the effect of changing the concept during construction works.
   The outer facades of the chancel walls are dismembered with flat pilaster strips running continuously from the plinth to the upper cornice. Between them, the wall was almost completely eliminated by two floors of windows: low chapels windows and tall ones illuminating the above-mentioned matroneum chapels. Also the church corpus, slightly wider than the chancel, was fragmented with a dense rhythm of windows, lesenes and blendes. The tower was divided into three floors with walls decorated with a large number of bipartite blendes with oculuses. Finally, a compact and enormous shape was obtained with large façade surfaces dominating the city panorama.

Current state

   Cathedral of St. James is one of the outstanding works of brick Gothic, characteristic for the Baltic countries. It was characterized by a high degree of innovation, which influenced the creators of other objects. It is one of the earliest examples of the use of a hall type church with an ambulatory in the north of Europe and probably the earliest example of the use of the variant with two-story chapels with a height equal to the ambulatory. Unfortunately, after the destruction of World War II, a part of the north wall of the church was not rebuilt according to its original appearance, and was given a modern, unsatisfactory and ugly form. It remains to be hoped that it will once again be reliably rebuilt, as did the newly reconstructed tower top. Inside the main parts of the church, the original vaults have not been preserved. Now visible cross and cross-rib vaults are a post-war reconstruction of the early modern vault.

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Jarzewicz J., Architektura średniowieczna Pomorza Zachodniego, Poznań 2019.

Pilch J., Kowalski S., Leksykon zabytków Pomorza Zachodniego i ziemi lubuskiej, Warszawa 2012.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.

Website, Bazylika archikatedralna św. Jakuba w Szczecinie.