Bratislava – St Martin’s Church


   The Gothic church of St. Martin began to be built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, on the site of an earlier, Romanesque building from the 11th or 12th centuries, after Pope Innocent III allowed the chapter to be moved from the castle to the city (permission was issued in 1204, but the actual transfer took place much later). The construction of the Gothic church could also be related to the damages caused in 1271 by the Czech army of Ottokar II. Probably during this period the church of St. Martin began to perform parish functions, thanks to the prestige of the chapter as the highest Church institution in the city.
   The construction of the church in the first half of the 14th century proceeded with some problems, marked by a dispute between the chapter and the city, which did not want to finance construction works. In addition, the method of appointing the parish priest needed to be determined, who from the beginning of the 14th century was elected by the city council from among the canons, with the consent of the provost and the chapter. This method was changed in 1348, when the entitlements of the townspeople who had the right of patronage were increased. After the chancel was erected, the expansion of the church with the nave lasted until the end of the 14th century, when it was integrated with the second line of the city defensive wall, and then at the beginning of the 15th century, when the eastern closures of the aisles were transformed.
   Major construction work on the church of St. Martin was suspended in the years 1427-1435 due to the Hussite threat, at that time only the chapels in the western part of the nave were built. At the end of the first half of the fifteenth century, under the supervision of the Viennese master Hans Puchsbaum, the vaults of the nave were built, thanks to which in 1452 the solemn consecration of the church could take place. The dimensions of the nave after completion, however, turned out to be completely incompatible with the small chancel erected 150 years earlier, so in the second half of the 15th century the construction of a larger, late-Gothic eastern part of the church was undertaken, completed around 1487. The design of the chancel belonged to the work of the Viennese master Laurenz Spenning, although its size and representativeness concealed the ambitions of the urban elite. The last late-Gothic works were carried out in the times of King Matthias Corvinus, and at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, the chapel of St. Anna was built. The southern porch was erected in the first quarter of the 16th century.
In 1541 Buda was occupied by the Turks, thanks to which Bratislava took over the role of the most important city of the Christian part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Its parish church began to serve as the coronation temple of Hungarian kings (the third one after the fall of Esztergom and Székesfehérvár), and soon after became one of the most important burial places of the Hungarian political elite. In 1563 in the church of St. Martin, Ferdinand I Habsburg organized the coronation of his son Maximilian and his wife Maria. Then, in 1572, Rudolf II Habsburg was crowned as the ruler of Hungary. Subsequent enthronements took place in Bratislava in the 17th century, with the exception of three carried in Sopron.
   In the years 1729 – 1732 a Baroque chapel was added to the church, in 1764 – 1765 the church tower was raised by one storey and the western façade and the facade of the tower were radically modified in the Baroque style. Attempts were made to remove these changes in the period 1835 – 1846, when the tower and the entire façade of the church underwent neo-gothic reconstruction. This renovation was provoked by a fire from 1833, caused by a lightning strike that destroyed the Baroque helmet. Large renovations of the church took place in the years 1863 – 1878, minor structural modifications were also introduced in 1905, but they did not significantly affect its form. Major transformations were introduced only in the years 1968 – 1970, when the last Baroque elements of the façade and some neo-Gothic elements were removed.


   Church of St. Martin was built in the south-western part of the medieval city, with the facade placed on the line of the city’s defensive walls. In the Gothic period, it had five-bay central nave with two aisles, to which, in the second half of the fifteenth century, a strongly elongated chancel with a polygonal closure was attached to the eastern side. The central axis of the façade, created at the beginning of the 15th century, was originally a low and squat four-sided tower, flanked from the north and south by chapels on the extension of the aisles. From the east, the aisles were originally closed with diagonal walls, as they were still connected to the old, small chancel from the beginning of the 14th century. When in the second half of the 15th century the construction of the late-Gothic chancel was undertaken, the eastern closures of the aisles were transformed into straight ends. Then, at the beginning of the 16th century, a late-Gothic porch was added to the southern aisle, and the chapel of St. Anna.
   Outside, the church was clasped with stepped buttresses, between which moulded, tracery-decorated windows with pointed heads were placed (only the small chancel from the 14th century was not reinforced with buttresses). Horizontal divisions of the façades were introduced by a moulded plinth, drip cornices in the chancel and the northern chapel (bent in the chapel to surround the windows) and the crowning cornices. All aisles and central nave were covered with a single roof, finished from the east with a triangular gable dominating over the lower roof of the chancel.
   The interior of the church was covered with net and cross vaults, in the chancel with ribs fastened with twenty-three bosses in the shape of coats of arms of towns, families and regions, which supported the construction of the eastern part of the church or were associated with the main sponsor – King Matthias Corvinus. The ribs in the chancel were springing from the slender shafts, between the third and fourth bays, covering the more massive wall pillars. The shafts cut or were placed on the cornice under the windows, introducing a horizontal accent to the interior of the chancel. The nave was divided into aisles by four pairs of octagonal pillars with high plinths. In their capital zones, consoles with ribs were suspended on the cornices. At the longitudinal walls, the ribs were springing from from the wall half-columns. A characteristic feature of the vault of the nave were bent ribs and so called free ribs, split and embedded directly into the walls (without the use of consoles) in the middle of the bays.
The tower together with the western façade of the church was originally located behind the line of the main city wall, in the zwinger area. It was part of the city’s fortifications and therefore had no entrance portal to the west that potential attackers could use, or even windows. In order to improve communication, a pair of small side turrets with staircases were placed at the western façade. Inside, the ground floor was divided into three parts by internal walls: the chapel of queen Sophia was located in the south, the sacristy in the middle and the chapel of canons in the north. Originally, the oldest library in the city, the archive of the chapter and the imperial chapel of Sigismund of Luxemburg were located on the first floor. The middle part of the first floor opened to the nave with a gallery.

Current state

   The church has the spatial arrangement obtained in the Middle Ages and mostly the body of the nave, chancel, tower and annexes. Once having defensive functions in connection with the neighboring city wall, the western façade has been transformed. Its current form with a large neo-Gothic windows on the first and second floors is the result of renovations in the 1970s. The spire of the tower has an early modern form, moreover, its entire top floor comes from the 18th century, currently pierced with neo-gothic windows. Another, entirely early modern element of the church is the chapel on the north side of the chancel. Some of the architectural details were replaced, transformed or renewed, such as the southern portal of the porch and portal inside the porch, or the northern portal of the chancel. Among the original architectural details, it is worth mentioning the north portal from around 1340, currently located in the late-Gothic chapel of St. Anny, a machicolation box at the north-west corner, originally connected with the city defensive walls, numerous tracery windows. Inside, noteworthy are the 15th-century vaults of the nave, chancel and chapels, along with their entire support system and decorations.

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