The construction of the church began in 1198, as a representative temple of the Spiš convent, perhaps in connection with the settling on Spiš of Coloman, son of king Andrew II, on the Spiš. The work was completed in the years 1245-1275, after the Tartar invasions and when the damages were repaired. It is known that in 1273 the provost Muthmerius donated money to complete the construction of one of the towers. In the years 1288 – 1289 subsequent damages caused the invasion of Cumans, and additional work on the expansion was carried out in the fourteenth century. In 1433, during the Hussite invasion of Spiš, the church was set on fire and completely destroyed. It was in ruins until the second half of the 15th century. It was only in the years 1462-1478 that it was rebuilt and a new Gothic chancel was erected. In the years 1488-1493 the nave was transformed and from the south a mortuary chapel of the Zapolya family was added. In 1776, with the creation of the Spiš bishopric, the church was raised to the cathedral’s rank and subjected to numerous late Baroque alterations, which were later removed in 1873-1889.
The oldest Romanesque church was a three-aisle pseudobasilica with two towers on the western side, a transept of equal height with the nave and chancel ended with a semicircular apse (perhaps the apses on the eastern side also had a transept). The west façade was erected as a westwork with a representative inter-tower room equipped with its own stairs. A chapel was to be placed there for the royal family. The interior of the nave and the transept was covered with cross-rib vaults with bays separated by arch bands resting on semicircular ancillary columns based on four-sided parts.
During the destruction caused by the Tatar invasion, the south tower was again built, provided with two small arrowslits. The westwork was dismantled and transformed it into a matroneum (inner gallery). In the ground floor, the gallery was covered by six bays of rib vaults, supported by segmented pillars, two of which also carried the inner corners of the towers. Their presence in the ground floor was practically invisible, the towers had full, internal walls only on the level of the first floor. The impressive, large matroneum (almost 100 m2) opened to the nave with a wide arcade.
The Romanesque west façade was divided by arcaded friezes and corner lesenes, and Romanesque biforas (two-light windows) were placed in four-sided towers, covered with pyramidal helmets. The entrance led through a stepped portal located on the axis, flanked by columns, the extensions of which surrounded a semicircular tympanum. The whole was embedded in a shallow avant-corps protruding from the façade, topped with a triangular gable and a diagonal frieze.
In the fourteenth century, the need to increase the capacity of the nave led to the addition of two chapels to the space between the eastern wall of the transept and the north and southern walls of the nave. These changes had to be accompanied by the transformation of the roofing of the entire building.
The great Gothic reconstruction from 1462-1478 resulted in the removal of the eastern apse, replaced by a polygonal chancel, with buttresses clasped from the outside, between which pointed windows with traceries were placed. The space of the church was also unified by demolishing the eastern walls of the transept, as well as the walls between the nave and side chapels. Eventually, the Romanesque church was transformed into a transept-free pseudo-basilica, consisting of a three-aisle nave, preceded by a two-tower facade from the west and a polygonal chancel in the east. The western part of the church, covered with a cross vault, with the choir supported on massive pillars, retained its Romanesque character, while the remaining parts of the church were already Gothic. The entire church was covered with a common gable roof.
From the south, a late-Gothic Zapolya’s Chapel was added to the church. Built on a rectangular plan with four bays, it was closed on three sides in the east, with a vestibule on the west and covered with a high gable roof. It received a relatively rich architectural detail from the outside. The windows were filled with traceries, and the buttresses surrounding the building were topped with pinnacles. In connection with the construction of the chapel, a south-west sacristy was added, on the first floor of which a place for a library was created. For the needs of the archive, the older northern sacristy was also enlarged.
The church and a small settlement were surrounded by fortifications. Their oldest fragment, dating back to the 14th century, is located on the west side, the remaining part was rebuilt in the 17th century and adapted to gunpowder weapons.
Today the church of St. Martin is one of the most valuable examples of late Romanesque and Gothic architecture in Slovakia. The concept of a three-aisle pseudo-basilica with a transept was unique in the region, as was the design of the western part of the church as a westwork. Until now, the façade of the church has retained its Romanesque appearance, while the southern Zapolya’s Chapel may be considered a jewel of Gothic architecture.
Upon entering the church, attention is drawn to a late Romanesque stone sculpture of a Lion from the second half of the 13th century. The main altar of St. Martin, composed of Gothic elements from 1470-1478, is placed in the presbytery. Other Gothic altars from the 15th century are in the aisles. Fragments of a Gothic polychrome from 1317, depicting a scene from the coronation of the Hungarian king Charles Robert of Anjou, have also been preserved in the church.
Mencl V., Stredoveká architektúra na Slovensku, Praha 1937.
Tomaszewski A., Romańskie kościoły z emporami zachodnimi na obszarze Polski, Czech i Węgier, Wrocław 1974.
Website apsida.sk, Spišská Kapitula.
Website zabytkowekoscioly.net, Spiska Kapituła, katedra św. Marcina.