Toruń – St James Church


   The old parish church of the New Town of Toruń was erected from 1309 to the 15th century. Construction began with the chancel, in 1340 the church was shaped, and from 1359 to the first half of the 15th century, at the sides of the nave, side chapels were added, while the roofs of the aisles were raised and hidden underneath the flying buttresses. The characteristic double tower roof was built after the fire in 1455. In 1345 the patronage of the church was given to the Cistercian monastery, with the Benedictine period. Since 1557 the church has served the Evangelicals, and in 1667 it was again taken over by the Benedictines. In 1703 it was robbed by the Swedish army, who requisitioned the two largest bells. One of them, called Thornan, is located in Uppsala Cathedral and is currently the largest bell in Sweden. In 1724, in the neighborhood of the church of St. James began the course of events later called Toruń Tumult, that is riots between local Protestants and Catholics.


   Churchis a three-nave basilica, that is it has lower aisles in relation to the central nave. From the remaining gothic Toruń churches, the construction system of the nave is rarely used in the Poland. It consists transferring the weight of the vaults of the nave with the flying buttresses of the aisles. As the aisles were raised in the fifteenth century, only one flying buttress is visible above the roof of the sacristy, others are hidden in the roofs of aisles. The original body of the church was slightly distorted by late-gothic chapels inserted between the buttresses of the nave, which made the building’s proportions more squat.
In the western bay of the central nave a massive tower was built on a square plan. On it floor a matroneum is opening to the inside of the church. On the west side of the northern aisle, a storage room and a treasury were built. The richly decorated presbytery and sacristy adjoining the eastern part of the nave. The chancel has an atypical, four-and-half-bay system, ended with a straight wall. Two pairs of diagonal buttresses embedded in the corners of the eastern half-spar are also not very common. Each pair of buttresses runs at a slightly different angle, forming a kind of wreath (this probably indicates the planning of the initially slightly shorter chancel). What’s more, the buttress system is continuing in a magnificent triangular gable, slightly retracted from the east wall of the presbytery. buttress were dragged here over the edges of the walls, and their upper parts were treated as decorative pinnacles. The culmination is decorated with openwork rosettes and large-scale tracery painted on plaster.
   The church chancel uses narrow bays on a rectangular plan, which set the condensed rhythm of buttresses. Similar buttresses in the nave have already a different artistic effect, because it were spaced less often, which is connected with the square-like shape of the nave bays, different than in the presbytery.
In the central nave stellar vaults were laid, and rib vaults in the aisles. Vaults of chapels have varied, complicated patterns. The bays in the presbytery have the shape of elongated rectangles, covered with stellar vault, except for east bay extended by a half and covered with a spectacular pseudo polygonal vault. Over the arcades, in the thick walls, extensive niches have been cut, while in the upper part of each of them a window was pierced. The niches are separated in the lower part from the naves with timber sills, and in the pillars between them, the passages are pierced. As a result, a communication porch was created in the thickness of the wall, which on one hand led to the matroneum (gallery) in the tower, and on the other it originally opened up to the choir rod screen. Such passages appeared around the mid-11th century in Normandy architecture, from where it spread in England, the north-east of France, also Flanders and Burgundy, and from the mid-thirteenth century in central Germany.
On the pillars and arcades in the tower underneath are polychromes from the second half of the 14th century. In the southern aisle, a painting based on the legend of St. Mary Magdalene, and in the presbytery on the vaults and on the walls, the figures of St. James and St. Philip are painted. A characteristic feature of the church are also glazed decorations (showing similarity to the glazed decorations of the castles in Lochstedt and Radzyń), consisting of inscription friezes and brick fittings used inside the chancel and on the west facade. Among them is an inscription circling the inner walls of the presbytery, just below the ledge of window sills, which mentions the founding of the church by the Bishop of Chełmno Herman in 1309.

Current state

    The church of St. James deservedly has the reputation of an artistically outstanding and unique building in the gothic brick architecture of the Baltic lowland. It was determined by the distinctness of its spatial arrangement (a two-story basilica with a window gallery on the first floor) and the finesse of a rich brick detail, rare in the area. Currently, it still has liturgical functions, but it is possible to visit it between masses.

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Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Mroczko T., Architektura gotycka na ziemi chełmińskiej, Warszawa 1980.

Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Website, Kościół św. Jakuba w Toruniu.