Wiślica – collegiate of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

History

   The construction of the first Romanesque collegiate church under the dedication of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was started by prince Henry of Sandomierz, after taking over the rule in 1148, most likely in the second half of the 12th century. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, a second, larger collegiate church of the Holy Trinity was built. Its existence was confirmed in sources in 1214, when the Wiślica provost was recorded among the members of the Kraków cathedral chapter, and in 1224, when the canon of Wiślica, Fryderyk, was mentioned. The collegiate church of Holy Trinity itself was first recorded in 1250 and then in 1252.
  
The third, Gothic collegiate church, preserved until today, was built by King Casimir the Great. It was erected in 1350 but retained the lower western massif from the earlier Romanesque church. It was a church of special political importance, which was reflected in its decoration, as well as in its rich endowment. In 1480, the inventory recorded, among others, a silver and gilded large monstrance from a gift from Jan Długosz, seven silver crosses, two silver pectorals, four silver ampoules, two silver sticks, a silver thurible, three reliquaries, and 25 chalices. Three years later, 42 chasubles, 10 covers, and over 100 books were also recorded.
  
The church was repaired and restored many times. In the years 1460-1470, on the initiative of the chronicler and canon Jan Długosz, a free-standing belfry was erected at the collegiate church. In 1598, the church’s roof and clock were repaired. In 1678, another renovation of the church cost 6,000 zlotys. At that time, the chancel was renovated, and in 1682 the roof and windows damaged by hail were rebuilt. In 1898 Wiślica was destroyed by a great fire. In addition to the town buildings, the Gothic belfry was damaged, but the collegiate church itself survived.
   In 1915, the church was severely damaged by Austrian artillery. The west facade was destroyed, along with the towers from the 13th-century Romanesque church (one collapsed in 1915, the other during renovation in 1923). The church was rebuilt in the 1920s according to the design of Adolf Szyszko-Buhusz. In 1958, during the archaeological research, the remains of the old Romanesque churches were discovered in the church crypt.

Architecture

   The oldest church from the 12th century was built of large, irregular limestone blocks using the opus spicatum bond in the foundation parts and the opus emplectum technique in the aboveground parts. It was a small aisleless building with interior dimensions of about 7.2 x 11 meters, with an orientated chancel, 5.7 x 6.3 meters, lower and narrower than the nave, ended with a small, semicircular apse with a radius of 1.9 meters. The external façades of the church were articulated with pilaster strips set on moulded plinths and a frieze with images of animals. In the western part of the nave there was an asymmetrically set small gallery. There was a crypt under the raised chancel, which testified to the great importance of the Wiślica church, as the underground rooms in aisleless buildings were extremely rare. The crypt was covered with a groin vault supported by four columns. Access to it was provided by stairs located on the axis on the west side, while  on the opposite side there was an altar. After some time, on the axis of the nave, in its eastern part, a tomb was placed, which blocked the stairs to the crypt and forced the construction of new stairs on the south side. In addition, on the site of the original gypsum floor of the crypt, a floor decorated with engravings was laid (plant and animal ornaments, figural motifs – three figures facing the altar with their hands raised in a gesture of prayer).
  
The Romanesque collegiate church from the 13th century was a basilica with two aisles, also built of limestone blocks. It consisted of a 10.7 meter wide nave, a rectangular chancel with the width of the central nave and a two-tower west facade. The total length of the church was approximately 28 meters. In the northern and southern aisles, chapels were located, constituting their extension to the east, which flanked the chancel. The lighting of the church was provided by splayed, semicircular windows and two-light openings on the highest storeys of the towers, which were framed with pilaster strips in the corners. The western massif did not have an entrance portal, but it housed a gallery. The ground floors of both towers opened to the side aisles with wide passages topped with pointed arches. In the wall of the south tower, at a height of about 4 meters, there was a small pointed portal leading to the inter-tower space. In the northern tower there was a semicircular portal, which perhaps led to the aisle by means of wooden stairs along the northern wall. The matroneum (gallery) was probably based on a timber ceiling and covered with one bay of a cross-rib vault. The vault of the nave was supported on six pillars.
   The Gothic church was built of ashlar. The church obtained a two-aisle form, with a strongly elongated, polygonally ended chancel in the east, lower and narrower than the nave. Originally, it had only three bays, but during the construction, the project was changed and extended by one more. On the north side of the chancel, a sacristy along with the treasury room was created, and in the north-west corner of the nave a spiral staircase leading to the attic. The west façade was created by old Romanesque towers between which there was in the ground floor a porch with the main entrance. The corners of the towers were reinforced with lesenes, but the entire Gothic part of the collegiate church was already clasped with high, stepped buttresses. The horizontal division of the façades was provided by a plinth and a bevelled under-window cornice.
   The collegiate church lighting was provided by slender, pointed windows, filled with moulded mullions and transoms forming crosses. The main entrance to the church was located on the south side. An ogival portal led to the interior of the building, the door of which since the 15th century had the form of a slanting lattice with a handle and were decorated with a rosette. Above the portal there was a relief plaque fastened with a representation of King Casimir the Great from 1464. The initiator of the foundation’s commemoration was Jan Długosz, who was a canon in Wiślica. A richly moulded, pointed northern portal from the second half of the 14th century also led to the church. Carved coats of arms were embedded in it: two Piast eagles and the coat of arms of Wielkopolska. There was a window near the portal from which, according to tradition, the Wiślica Statutes were announced.
   The nave of the church was covered by a tripartite vault, creating stellar patterns. It was supported by three slender, polygonal pillars. A striking asymmetry was used, as the ribs penetrated directly into the corners of the pillars, while in the walls they were suspended with the help of moulded corbels. In this way, the type of vault was created, which was used for the first time in the eastern bay of the Kraków cathedral. The chancel was covered with a cross-rib vault (six-sectioned above the eastern closure), with bosses on which were placed the shields of the lands that were part of the Polish kingdom: Greater Poland (Wielkopolska), Dobrzyń land, Sieradz-Łęczyca land and Ruthenia. In the nave there were knight’s shields: Szeliga, Rawicz, Leliwa and Gryf, as well as a satire mask, INRI hierogram, symbols of the four evangelists and the head of Christ. On the north-eastern wall of the chancel, there was a Gothic sacramentary, framed with a triangular gable filled with tracery, and a recess for holy oils, also decorated with tracery.
   Originally, the internal facades of the chancel were covered with Byzantine-Ruthenian polychromes. They were made in the years 1397-1400 by Pop Hayl, a painter from Przemyśl. They contained a composition with a multi-zone layout, showing scenes from the life of Christ below and from the life of the Mother of God above. It also include figures of bishops, anachorents, deacons, martyrs, women and warriors, or the painted curtains motifs, popular in the Middle Ages.

Current state

   Today, the collegiate church in Wiślica is one of the most valuable Gothic monuments in Lesser Poland region, despite being damaged during the war. The effect of the reconstruction from the 20th century is the brick gable of the west facade, and the vaults of the nave and the chancel, renovated using details found in the rubble. Next to the church, there is a free-standing belfry from the 15th century, one of the few buildings of this type preserved in Poland. Inside the Gothic chancel, decorated bosses and the remains of Byzantine-Ruthenian polychrome are noteworthy.
   An archaeological reserve has been created in the basement of the church, in which there is, among others, the unique so-called Orants Plate. It is a Romanesque floor from around 1175 – 1177 with engraved figural representations. Also from the first Romanesque church, an element of the portal with a relief with two griffins supporting the symbolic Tree of Life, fragments of capitals, altar stipes, crypt walls and relics of the nave walls has also been preserved.
   The relics of the walls of the eastern part of the church and the western facade have survived from the 13th-century collegiate church. Until 1923, the best preserved were both western towers, reaching 16 meters in height. Several Romanesque architectural details can be found in the lapidarium next to the collegiate church (e.g. a relief with griffins supporting a rosette with a cross, a relief with the head of a lion above the head in a pointed cap, a tombstone with a bas-relief figure of a man, fragments of heads and friezes).

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bibliography:
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