Szczecin – St John’s church

History

   The site for the construction of St. John’s church was given to the Franciscans who arrived in Szczecin in 1240, by the mayor of Szczecin, Heinekin Barfoth. The original monastery was probably still wooden, but the church erected by the monks in the mid-13th century was already brick. It was replaced with a larger temple, which was built in two main stages. The chancel with the eastern wall of the northern aisle was built around 1300, and the naves probably in the years 1350 – 1360, with the roof beams dendrochronological dating back to 1368. At the beginning of the 15th century, ten lower chapels were added between the buttresses.
  
During the Reformation the monks left the monastery, and the parishioners and clergy mostly accepted Luther’s reforms. From that moment until 1945 the temple was an evangelical church. In the second half of the 16th century, the monastery buildings were converted into a St. John’s hospital, but the church continued to serve religious purposes until the French occupation of 1806-1813, when it was converted into a warehouse. In later years it was closed for a long time because of collapse threat. Thanks to the research of German historian and conservator prof. Hugo Lemcke, in the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century carried out restoration work in the church, which protected the object from destruction. Old monastery buildings were demolished in the mid-nineteenth century, fortunately, however, the church has survived the Second World War without major damages.

Architecture

   The Franciscans were given a plot near the Odra River for the construction of the church, outside of the then town fortifications. The church was erected as a building not orientated on the east-west line, because of a road leading up to the new Holy Spirit Gate. It was built in the form of a three-nave hall, without a tower, but with a turret placed between the chancel and the central nave.
   The chancel received an elongated form, characteristic of the churches of the mendicant orders. It is three-bay, single-nave and seven-side ended, but what’s interesting, the bay of the closure is clearly wider than the others. Thus, the main functional spaces were distinguished: a sanctuary with a place for the main altar on the east side and a monastery choir, where stalls of monks were located. Inside, in the lower part of the chancel, there are wide niches which reduce the thickness of the walls. In the sanctuary they are ogival with a traceries dividing their back wall into three three-foil arches. On the southern side, one recess is additionally covered with wimperg, which distinguishes the most important seat in it. In the western bays, less important recesses (and in them seats) were crowned with segmental arches, devoid of additional articulation. In the upper zone of the chancel there are wide three-light windows in deep reveals. Below them runs a frieze made of ceramic tiles with motive of vine, and individual bays were separated by delicate ancillary columns, in the polygonal part  of presbytery with a pear-shaped profile, descending to the floor, while overhanging and having an octagonal profile in the longitudinal part of presbytery. The chancel was separated from the nave by a chancel arch ending with figural brackets. The only one preserved, the northern one, was made with great skill – presents a mature man in a secular outfit with a depressed expression on his face. Probably it was the main master builder, and on the opposite side there was originally a church founder. The eastern gable of the church was decorated with pinnacles and piled up blendes, while the more monumental western gable, originally towering above the city walls, was decorated with nine pillars passing into pinnacles. Between them was a wide ogival three-part blendes with triads of oculuses.
   The church’s corpus received three naves with seven bays. Octagonal pillars separated rectangular bays in the central nave and square ones in the aisles. The nave is covered with a stellar vault, mostly four-armed. Only the eastern bay, in which an altar for the lay people was probably located, was distinguished by a richer form of the eight-armed star. In the western bay, however, a complex pattern consisting of two four-armed stars, permeating with half an eight-armed star, adapting the vault to the two-axial western wall was used. In lateral aisles, according to their smaller rank, a cross-rib vault was used. The bay divisions are marked by massive wall pillars, connected by ogival elements on two floors. The lower one created the type of a pedestal for the higher storey of large niches with large windows. The walls of the lower niches have been largely pierced out, thanks to which at the beginning of the 15th century rows of rectangular chapels were created in them. On the walls of the church there are preserved medieval polychromies from the 15th and 16th centuries.

   The monastery buildings were located on the south-eastern side of the church. At first, the monastery had its own fortifications for protection, only at the beginning of the 14th century, after the extension of the town area to the west and south, the convent and its surroundings were absorbed into the new system of town fortifications. Next to the western side of the church there was an entrance gate to the courtyard, where the monastery’s economic and residential buildings, inhabited by the servants employed on the monastery propriety, were located. The central place was occupied by the buildings of the monastic community, which three wings and an inner, four-sided courtyard with a garden adjoining the south side of the church. Inner courtyard with a well located in the middle of the garden was surrounded by cloisters of monastery ranges. According to tradition, the eastern wing was occupied by the monks’ meeting room, that is, the chapter house and perhaps a shared dormitory.
While, in the wing located opposite the church, there was a refectory. In the west wing there were kitchen rooms and probably another dormitory.

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bibliography:
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Jarzewicz J., Architektura średniowieczna Pomorza Zachodniego, Poznań 2019.

Pilch J., Kowalski S., Leksykon zabytków Pomorza Zachodniego i ziemi lubuskiej, Warszawa 2012
Website encyklopedia.szczecin.pl, Kościół św. Jana Ewangelisty.