Tourist routes in Gdańsk: Churches and cathedrals

Catholicism has been a prominent part of Gdansk's long history, hence the many impressive churches found throughout the city. In Gdansk you will see some of the most spectacular religious sites dating back as far as the medieval times, such as St. Mary's Church, St. Nicolas Church, and other churches.

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary's Church - the monumental Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is called the 'crown of the city of Gdańsk.' It is the largest brick Gothic church in Europe. The length of the building, including the buttresses of the tower is 105.5m; the vaults reach to 30m above the floor, and the tower measures 82 metres in height. The church is located in the Main Town, between the streets of ul. Piwna, Chlebnicka and Świętego Ducha. Its construction apparently began in 1243, but this has not been confirmed by archaeological research. Probably at that point there had been a wooden church, built by Prince Świętopełk II the Great, which was replaced in 1271 along with other churches in Gdańsk. The basilica was built in several stages over 159 years, from 1343 to 1502. It was gradually extended, partly under the supervision of the master bricklayer Henryk Ungeradin, who is also known for the construction of the Town Hall. In the years 1454-1466 the tower was raised, which was a symbol accenting the victory of Gdańskers over the Teutonic Order. Light pours into the church through 37 huge windows of various sizes, including only 2 which are stained glass windows and are new. Inside there are a staggering 29 chapels. During the fighting in March 1945, the wooden roof structures were destroyed, causing almost half the vaults to collapse, as well as the melting of  some of the bells, including the largest one - the Gratia Dei - weighing 5300 kg and dating from 1543. It is now possible to see medieval and baroque works of art e.g. the Pieta stone from about 1410, a copy of the Last Judgement, painted by Hans Memling in 1472, the fifteenth-century Hans Düringer astronomical clock and the main altar, built in the years 1510 to 1517 by Master Michał of Augsburg. You can admire the city skyline from the viewing galleries in the watchtower. It stretches to almost 400 degrees! The Basilica also has access for blind people.

St. Catherine's Church

St. Catherine's Church - 'Matrona Loci' - Mother of the Church or Mother of the City. It is the oldest parish church in the Old Town, built between 1227-1239. Documentation shows that in 1298 Władysław Łokietek held his court here. The founders were the princes of Gdańsk Pomorze. In the fourteenth century the building was enlarged. The tower of the church, measuring 76m high, is topped with a Baroque cupola by Jacob van den Block. In the years 1555-1945 it belonged to the Protestant church, and in 1575 it was fitted with a beautiful-sounding carillon. The church has experienced many dramatic situations, but has always been rebuilt. In 1905, the church tower burned down after being struck by lightning. By the end of the war the church had been destroyed. In 2006 there was another big fire. The roof collapsed, which was leaning on the ceiling of the church, so it did not affect the church interior. The tower of the church threatened to collapse but was saved. There are still paintings by Anton Möller and Izaac van den Blocke and the grave and the epitaph of the famous astronomer Johannes Hevelius from 1659. The image of Our Lady Bołszowieckiej is particularly valuable. The tower of the church is the headquarters of the Museum of Tower Clocks. The church is the parish church of St. Bridget, and in the years 1970-2004 Henryk Jankowski served the function of prelate.

St Nicholas Church

St Nicholas Church - the oldest church in Gdańsk, which was founded in the late twelfth century, probably in 1185. It was founded at the crossroads of the ancient merchant path, called via mercatorum, and the route that led from Gdańsk's royal castle estate in Pomorze. Then in 1227, Pomeranian prince Świętopełk gave it to the Dominican Order, who founded a monastery. Since 1260, when Pope Alexander IV gave the Gdańsk Dominicans the privilege of plenary indulgence, on August 4th, pilgrims wishing to participate in the famous Dominican Fair have been attracted to the city. In 1348 the existing church and monastery were built. In the middle of the fifteenth century the church was covered with a starry vault, and the tower was raised on an octagonal section. During the Reformation the church was repeatedly destroyed and plundered, the monks were expelled, the monastery was given to the Protestants, and the monastery treasury was taken to the Town Hall. After the intervention of King Zygmunt Augustus in 1567, the monastery was returned to the Dominicans. In 1813, Russian shelling of the city resulted in the monastery burning down completely. Twenty-one years later, in 1834, there was a dissolution of the Order, and the Dominicans were forced to leave the city, at which time a Catholic parish was established. In 1929 the church received the title of Minor Basilica. As it is the only church in the city centre that was not destroyed during the war, the interior is rich in preserved early Baroque furnishings.

Royal Chapel

Royal Chapel - exactly 330 years old. Adjacent to the Basilica of St. Mary's, and built from 1678 to 1681, it was designed by royal architect Tylman Gameren, and constructed by the Gdańsk Barthel Ranisch builders. The baroque sculptures on the façade, which continue to be touching, are the work of Andreas Schlüter Junior. The Royal Chapel is today the only baroque church in Gdańsk's Main Town. Its royal seal is not accidental, since it was founded on the initiative of King Jan III Sobieski. It was used as a temporary chapel for the Catholic parish of St. Mary's Church, which had remained in the hands of the Protestants. Opposite the chapel, at the intersection of Grobla I i Świętego Ducha streets, stands the fontanna Czterech Kwartałów (fountain of the Four Quarters), which was unveiled in 2009. This work by the sculptors Ewa Koprowska and Lucyna Kujawa, symbolizes the four historic quarters of Gdańsk: Szeroki ('Broad'), Wysoki ('High'), Rybacki ('Fisheries') and Kogi. It is guarded by four lions which are symbols of Gdańsk.

The Oliwa Cathedral

The Cathedral Basilica is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Blessed St Mary and St Bernard, and measures 107m, making it the longest church in Poland, and also the longest Cistercian church in the world! Its origins date back to the thirteenth century, but the Gothic building which we admire today dates from the fourteenth century. It was rebuilt after a great fire in 1350, and has since survived without any major changes, at least on the outside. You can still admire its two slender towers, each with a height of 46m, with sharply tipped domes. The latter which is a baroque portal dating from 1688, towers over the intersection of the nave tower bells, a typical element of Cistercian architecture. The Gothic features were not so lucky, as they were burned down in 1577. It is presently finished in a Baroque style, but there are hidden works of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Classicism religious art, including 23 altars, the rococo chapels of St. John of Nepomuk and the Holy Cross, the pulpit, tombstones, epitaphs, as well as the tomb of the dukes of Pomorze. The pride of the church are undoubtedly the famous rococo organs from the years 1763-1788. They were made by the masters Jan Wulf and Frederyk Rudolf Dalitz. Originally, the instrument had 83 notes, 5,100 pipes, as well as 3 manual and 14 wedge bellows and was recognized as the biggest organ in Europe. Since that time it has been rebuilt several times. For years there have been organ concerts held here, and the buildings of the former monastery are now occupied by the Gdańsk Theological Seminary, and there is also room for the Diocesan Museum collection.

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