Wrocław – St John the Baptist Cathedral


   The first temple in the place of today’s cathedral was probably built in the 60’s or 70’s of the 10th century during the period of Czech influences in the settlement of Wrocław. It probably served as a court chapel of a tribal prince, and its importance increased after Polish prince Mieszko captured the Wrocław in the mid-80s of the tenth century. After 1000 in connection with the foundation of the bishopric in Wrocław, this first church began to serve as a cathedral. It was destroyed during the pagan reaction and the invasion of the Czech prince Bretislav I in the years 1038-1039. For the next several years church was in the form of a progressive ruin.
   At the end of the 11th century, at the initiative of the Polish prince Casimir the Restorer, a new cathedral was built. This temple, slightly shifted from the previous cathedral, was maintained in early romanesque forms.
The construction of the more magnificent romanesque cathedral for the bishopric of Wrocław took up in 1158 bishop Walter of Malonne, using a considerable part of the walls of the previous church. The reason for the reconstruction could be the church’s subsidence and the cracking of the walls. A three-nave basilica with a transept was completed in 1180 and was consecrated by bishop Żyrosław II. Walter’s cathedral transformed the cathedral of Kazimierz, significantly thickened the walls and vaulted the nave, while from the west a new tower was erected.
In the following decades, gothic reconstruction was realized in several stages. In the years 1244-1272 construction of an early gothic chancel with rectangular bypass began, which remains to this day the oldest gothic building in Poland. At the beginning of the fourteenth century the construction of the present nave began, which continued until the second half of this century. In the years 1346-69, to the east of the choir, Master Pieszko added the St. Mary chapel, founded by the bishop of Wrocław, Przecław from Pogorzel. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the construction of the towers continued, and chapels and porches were erected between the buttresses. In 1517 bishop Jan Turzo founded a new sacristan portal, considered the first work of the renaissance in Silesia. In 1633 the southern tower, the southern part of the cathedral and the roof of the sacristy burnt down during the battles of the imperial army with the Swedes and Saxon-Brandenburg armies. Destruction, however, was rebuilt. In the 17th and 18th centuries several baroque chapels were added to the cathedral. In 1945 the cathedral was destroyed. After the war, it was rebuilt in the years 1946-1951, and in the following years long restoration work was carried out. In 1988-91 the towers of the western facade received slender helmets.


   The cathedral from the 10th century was a pre-romanesque building on the plan of a latin cross, built of granite. The length of the nave was 23.7 meters, the transept was 18.7 meters, and the width of the nave was 7.5 meters. Thickness of foundation walls reached 1.1 meters. The cathedral was probably covered with a shingle roof with a framework uncovered from the inside. In the middle of the transepts there were galleries supported on one pillar, and above the intersection of naves – a tower with windows necessary to illuminate the monumental, central part of the temple.
The church erected by Casimir the Restorer in the eleventh century was maintained in early romanesque form, three-nave, without transept. It had a single-nave chancel closed with a great apse, under which there was a two-nave, vaulted crypt with four pillars. On the sides of the eastern part there were two, probably defensive towers, and on the opposite, west side, the facade is unknown. The external dimensions of the building were about 34.5 meters long and 18.3 meters wide. The church most probably was not vaulted, but covered with a timber ceiling. The cathedral had an advanced form and technique of details, as evidenced by the found relics, for exemple the granite base of the column.

   The 12th-century cathedral of Walter of Mallone was also a three-nave basilica, but its walls were thickened, the nave was vaulted, a transept was added, and new two towers were erected from the west. The elevations were made of large blocks of white limestone and varied with a lot of red sandstone details. The length of the cathedral was then 48.5 meters, and the width was 24.5 meters. Stylistic features and the plan of the cathedral point to the homeland of its founder – the country on the Rhine and Maas.
   In 1244, the cathedral was enlarged from the east by a straight closed brick choir in the style of early cathedral gothic, and over the corners two small towers were located, which remained unfinished to this day.
The eastern facade was given a large sliding window, and at the top was the attic window. The chancel was covered with rib vault.

Around 1315, bishop Henry of Wierzbno started building a new gothic nave from the side of the tower. Construction was completed around 1349 by bishop Przecław from Pogorzela, who built the main nave on the western side and sacristy from the south-east in the style of reduction gothic. The next stage was St. Mary Chapel, also called the small choir, masterpiece of Pieszko from 1354-1368. In turn the side chapels and upper floors of the north-west tower with a helmet were built in the 15th century. The south-west tower was built only to the height of four storeys. The curiosity is twice as broad the last span of the nave, created in place of the former romanesque transept. As a result, the gothic cathedral was enlarged with a length of 100 m and a width of 44.6 m.

   It is composed of a three-nave, six-span chancel, surrounded by a rectangular bypass, with two towers erected in the eastern corners and a two-towered nave from the west. The cathedral is surrounded by numerous chapels and porches. Over the sides of the aisle are pointed arches, which strengthen the structure of the temple. External facades are covered with buttresses. Western towers are quadrilateral, and also buttressed. In the porches from the west, north and south there are stepped stone portals, richly profiled. There is a western porch, open with a wide arcade with tracery decor, covered with sculptures of saints placed under the baldachin. Inside the nave and presbytery are covered with rib vaults. The interior of the chancel is illuminated by large triangular windows with tracery, and one four-sided eastern window. Adjacent to the east, the gothic chapel of St. Mary is covered with a rib vault. The remaining gothic chapels cover the rib, stellar and net vaults.

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Jarzewicz J., Kościoły romańskie w Polsce, Kraków 2014.
Pilch J, Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska, Warszawa 2005.
Początki architektury monumentalnej w Polsce, red. Janiak T., Stryniak D., Gniezno 2004.