The first record of the parish church in Bardejov dated to 1247. At that time, it belonged together with the settlement to the Cistercian abbey from the Polish Koprzywnica, which probably founded a grange in the area of Šariš at the beginning of the 13th century. In the above document, King Bela IV had to settle a border dispute between the Cistercians at the church of St. Giles, and German settlers who came from the vicinity of Prešov. The Cistercians left Bardejov before 1269, perhaps because of the destruction of their home convent caused by the Mongols. The town, along with the parish church, became royal property, from 1376 with the status of a free royal city. Another document confirming the existence of the church was created in 1320, and the first local priests, John and Henry, were recorded in 1330, in connection with a rather high papal tithe, amounting 24 groschen. In 1352, the king allowed the town of Bardejov to organize annual fairs after St. Giles day, patron of the local church. Soon after, the town authorities decided to thoroughly rebuild the church, and in fact to erect a new building on the site of the old one, more impressive and fulfilling the ambitions of the wealthy patriciate.
The construction of the Gothic church of St. Giles began around the middle of the 14th century. The first stage of work, i.e. the construction of the nave, was completed by the beginning of the 15th century, although already in the 1520s and 1530s, numerous construction works were recorded in documents, carried out, among others, at the tower. They were completed in 1443, along with the consecration. In 1448 further expansion began. Under the direction of master Mikuláš, a sacristy with an oratory on the first floor and a larger chancel were built, but vault soon collapsed, probably as a result of construction faults. In 1464, master Štefan of Košice was summoned to repair the church, who at that time participated in the construction of the parish church of St. Elizabeth. Then, in the years 1482-1486, three chapels with a porch were added from the south. In addition, the tower was completed, and a late-Gothic vault was installed over the central nave at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. The construction and furnishing of the church was completed with the insertion of the late-Gothic western gallery into the nave in 1519.
In the early modern period, the church was hit by numerous disasters. Apart from a few large fires in 1550, 1577 and 1640, these were mainly earthquakes. As a result of one of them, in 1774, the tower collapsed, another one in 1836 cracked the walls of the church. A catastrophic fire on Easter Day 1878 caused almost the entire town to burn down, and the church lost some of its roofs, among other things. The damages forced a thorough renovation combined with reconstruction. During it, in the years 1879-1899, the architect Imrich Steindl removed Renaissance and Baroque influences, which were replaced with neo-Gothic ones. In 1898, the church tower was rebuilt, the pillars and walls of the central nave and the vaults of the chapels were also renovated.
The church was situated in the northern part of the chartered town, in close proximity to the town’s defensive walls, on the edge of a wide market square running through Bardejov on the north-south axis. Fortifications protected the church from the north, while from the other sides the church at the end of the Middle Ages could be fenced with a lower wall protecting the cemetery. In the line of this wall, on the south side, there could be a small four-sided tower, located opposite the towerless town hall. On the eastern side, there was a short street next to the chancel of the church, connecting the corner of the market square with the Water Gate. Due to the close location of the town fortifications, the main tower of the church could have a guard and warning function, in addition to the role of the belfry. Near the town walls there was a vicarage (curia).
In the late Gothic period, the church consisted of a basilica central nave with two aisles, four bays long, and a chancel of the same height and width as the central nave, but with a slight deviation from the axis. Before the construction of the late-Gothic chancel, i.e. before the mid-15th century, the church from the east ended only with a four-sided apse, while the late-Gothic chancel was three sides ended. In the south-west corner of the nave there was a four-sided, massive tower, originally probably covered with a hip roof with a short ridge. In addition, three chapels were added in the years 1482-1486 to the southern façade (facing the market square): St. Andrew, St. Elizabeth and the Mother of God. The chapel of the Mother of God was on the first floor above the porch, and the chapel of St. Elisabeth was polygonally ended. From the north, a sacristy with the chapel of St. Catherine (oratory) on the first floor was built.
From the outside, the church was surrounded by stepped buttresses, between which large ogival windows with tracery, usually three and four-light, were placed. The building was characterized by the lack of windows on the north side in the nave and chancel, partly due to the proximity to the fortifications, and partly due to the medieval building tradition. Particularly high windows illuminated the chancel from the south and east. Thanks to the openings and buttresses chancel obtained a very vertical division of the façades. The horizontal division was introduced only by the plinth, drip cornice and cornices under the eaves of the roofs.
The interior of the church was covered with irregular net vaults (central nave, chancel, some chapels, sacristy) and cross-rib vaults (aisles). The central nave was separated from the chancel by a high, moulded rood arcade, which received the ogival form. The arcades between the aisles, spread between octagonal pillars without capitals, were similarly moulded and topped. The vaults in the nave were springing from the polygonal shafts with capitals decorated with floral motifs in the central nave and figural ones in the aisles. The ribs of the chancel were also supported by wall shafts. In the polygonal closure they were lowered to the floor, and in the remaining part overhanged. Everywhere in the chancel they cut the cornice under the windows, with the exception of the northern wall, where one of the shafts was cut just above the archivolt of the oratory’s opening.
The church has largely retained its Gothic character to this day. The biggest changes were made to the tower, rebuilt in the 19th century above the first floor in the neo-gothic style. Among the medieval architectural details, the southern portal from around 1380 has survived, currently located in the porch, several other less impressive Gothic portals, tracery windows and late Gothic vaults in the chapels, porch, chancel and nave. Interestingly, in addition to the vaults and their supporting system from the 15th century, single consoles of the older, damaged vault from the second half of the 14th century have survived on the walls.
Among the medieval furnishings, numerous and valuable monuments have been preserved inside the church to this day. A set of as many as eleven Gothic triptychs stands out, including the altar of St. Anna from the end of the 15th century, the altar of St. Andrew from the years 1440-1460, the altar of St. Barbara from the years 1440-1460, the altar of St. Elizabeth from the period 1480-1490, as well as one of the most valuable in Slovakia – the altar of the Nativity from the years 1480-1490. Other monuments of medieval furnishings include a bronze baptismal font from the 15th century, a stone tower-like pastoforium from 1465, choir stalls from the early 16th century and a Gothic Crucifixion figures from 1485, placed on a rood beam.
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Súpis pamiatok na Slovensku, zväzok prvý A-J, red. A.Güntherová, Bratislava 1967.