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 with a particular political meaning, which manifests itself in the decoration.
  
The church was repeatedly repaired and restored. In the years 1460-1470 at the initiative of the chronicler and canon of Jan Długosz, the bell tower were erected at the collegiate church. In 1598, the roof and church clock were repaired. In 1678, the temple was repaired at 6000 zloty. The chancel was renewed. In 1682 the roof was destroyed by hail. In 1915 the temple was severely damaged by Austrian artillery. The western façade was destroyed, with towers dating back to the 13th-century Romanesque building. The church was rebuilt in the 1920s according to the design of Adolf Szyszko-Buhus. In 1958, during the archaeological research, the remains of the former Romanesque churches were discovered in the basement of the church.

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 Casimir’s Gothic church was erected from a stone ashlar. The church obtained a pseudo-hall form, with a polygonally ended chancel, lower and narrower than the central nave. Originally, it had only three bays, but during the construction, the project was changed and extended by one more. 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 in the 15th century was enclosed in a slanting lattice with a knocker and decorated with a rosette. Above the portal there was a relief plaque with a representation of Casimir the Great from 1464. The initiator of the foundation’s commemoration was a chronicler Jan Długosz, who was a canon in Wiślica. The northern portal from the second half of the fourteenth century also led to the church. Carved coats of arms were embedded in it: two Piast eagles and the coat of arms of Greater Poland region. There was a window near the portal from which, according to tradition, the Wiślica Statutes were announced.
  
The nave of the church had 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 moulded corbels. In this way, the type of vault was made, which was used for the first time in the eastern bay of the Kraków cathedral. The chancel was covered with a cross-rib vault. The coat of arms of the lands which became part of the reborn Kingdom of Poland after the partition, were placed on the bosses. Whereas in the nave there were knight’s coat of arms: Szeliga, Rawicz, Leliwa and Gryf. On the north-east side of the chancel there was a Gothic sacramentarium placed and a niche for sacred oils. Originally, the internal facades of the chancel were covered with Byzantine-Ruthenian polychrome. It was made in the years 1397-1400 by Pope Hayl, a painter from Przemyśl.

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, while the early modern addition is the annex on the northern side of the chancel, which includes the sacristy and the treasury. Next to the church, there is a free-standing belfry from the 15th century. 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:
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.

Grzybkowski A., Gotycka architektura murowana w Polsce, Warszawa 2016.
Świechowski Z., Architektura romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 2000.
Tomaszewski A., Romańskie kościoły z emporami zachodnimi na obszarze Polski, Czech i Węgier, Wrocław 1974.

Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.