Wrocław – basilica of St Elizabeth

History

   The first church in this place, initially called St. Lawrence, probably was formed in the early 13th century. In 1253 it was handed over by the crusaders as a monastery church. In 1252 the parish of St. Elisabeth was mentioned and in 1257 the church was consecrated under the name of Saint Elisabeth by bishop Thomas I.
   
The Gothic three-nave church, founded by Bolesław III, probably began to be built after the fire of 1319 (or possibly in the third quarter of the 13th century). First, the western bays of the nave were erected, but during the works it was decided to change the concept of the layout of the building from hall to basilic, significantly increasing the height of the central nave. In 1340 the nave was finished, in 1384 chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in 1387 the chancel. The construction of the church tower began before 1339 and was completed in the 15th century.
  
The temple served as a parish church of the Wrocław patrician and expressed its ambitions, competing with the episcopal cathedral of St. John. Around the church there was a cemetery, surrounded by a crown of tiny houses of altar priests, which enhanced the impression of the size of the church. In 1525 the church of St. Elizabeth became the first Silesian church that took over the evangelicals. The takeover was supposed to take place as a result of the win of the Wrocław patrician and the royal treasurer Heinrich von Rybisch with the crusader Erhard Scultetus in the dice game. In 1529 a wooden tower helmet collapsed during the storm. The tower was rebuilt in the years 1531-1535 with a much smaller renaissance helmet of the form that exists to this day. In 1598, a roof of a monk and nun tiles was erected, forming a pattern of red-green chess. In 1649, a part of the roof collapsed. Once serious damage, the church suffered during the siege of the city by Napoleonic troops in 1806/1807, when the helmet was damaged on the tower and roof. In the years 1856-1857 the church was renovated, but during the work the outer wall of the southern nave collapsed, and with it, part of the vaults. After rebuilding and strengthening the church was re-consecrated in 1858.
   At the end of the 19th century, most of the houses of the altar were demolished, leaving only four, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, one more demolished.
There were only two houses connected by a gate and called Jaś and Malgosia. World War II the church survived without much damage, but unfortunately in 1960, 1975 and 1976 suffered damage caused by fires.

Architecture

   The original church of St. Laurientus from the 13th century was a spacious three-nave building with a rectangular, two-bay chancel on the eastern side and a sacristy at the northern aisle and presbytery. The bays of the latter were square in plan and crowned with six-part vaults flowing down to the wall-shafts. The arrangement of the pillars and the height of the aisles of the nave are unknown. It is possible that it was a basilica, but the hall layout of the nave with three pairs of pillars, which formed transverse bays in the nave and longitudinal in aisles, is more likely. A southern and western portal led to the nave.
   The church of St. Elizabeth in the late Middle Ages reached the form of a large, three-nave, nine-bay basilica composed of a nave separated by pseudotransept from the chancel.
The chancel is ended trilateral. The building has extremely slender proportions, because the ratio of the width to the height of the central nave is one to three. At its south-west corner is from the south a five-storey tower with a porch in the ground floor, measuring more than 90 meters. Around the temple there is a row of medieval chapels and porches and there is a three-span sacristy from the north. Chapels are characterized by varied shapes and different solutions, some of them were even placed on the first floor. The front facade from the west is crowned with a triangular gable decorated with lancet blendes. The nave and the chancel are covered by steep gable roof, over the aisles and the chapels are the mono-pitched roofs. The facades of the church are pierced by pointed windows, in part of the presbytery and the side chapels and outbuildings, windows are filled with tracery. Portal from the south is pointed, profiled, covered with pinnacles and crowned with gable with frogs and flowers. A distinctive feature of the church was also the roof over the central nave, lined with tiles in green and red chessboard.
  
The interiors are mostly covered with extremely high rib vaults, with the exception of the stellar vault over the matroneum, the triple vault in the south porch and net vault in the north-west porch and the south-west chapel. The height of the main nave is 29.7 meters, the width of 10.2 meters and the length of 66 meters. The side wings are 5.5 meters wide and 13 meters high.

Current state

   The church of St. Elizabeth is one of the most valuable sacral monuments of Wrocław, which fortunately survived the destruction of World War II, although later it was damaged several times by fires. Despite this, inside there are gothic stalls in the presbytery and a sacramentary built in the years 1453-1455, which is a wonderful work of gothic microachitecture. Among the rather modest decoration are the stone bosses in the southern aisle with heraldic representations: the imperial eagle of Charles IV of Luxembourg, the lion with two tails being the coat of arms of the Bohemia and the eagle of the Duchy of Wrocław.

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bibliography:
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Kozaczewska-Golasz H., Halowe kościoły z XIII wieku na Śląsku, Wrocław 2015.

Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska, Warszawa 2005.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Website zabytkowekoscioly.net, Wrocław – Stare Miasto, kościół św. Elżbiety.