Tourist routes in Wrocław: Churches and cathedrals

If you're a fan of sacral architecture, you will not regret any minute of your time in Wrocław. There are monumental constructions, especially cathedrals, that will simply amaze you!

Corpus Christi Church

It belonged to the former command of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The Gothic Church in its present shape of naves dates from the 15th century. It is one of the city's biggest 15th century churches. It is 39m long, 25m wide and its nave is 27m tall. The western façade is 37m tall (without the cross). The first Corpus Christi church of chapel was mentioned in 1320. It might have been erected even earlier as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem was brought to Silesia in 12th century. Of course, it has been rebuilt and redesigned a number of times. Its Baroque interior was finished in 1700. Its simple and elegant form still stands out. What is interesting, the church has never had a main tower as the Order's strict rule included the vow of poverty and a tall tower symbolized domination in the Middle Ages. The history of the church is rather tragic as it stands too close to the city walls and Świdnicka Gate which were one of the main fortification bastions of the city. It was often used as a defence point and was hit during numerous fights and wars. Between 1758 and 1763 it was turned into a granary, then in 1813 it served as a hospital where prisoners of war were kept. The renovation works lasted over 50 years, having started in 1830s. Between 1875 and 1921 it belonged to the Old Catholic Church, then it returned to Roman Catholic. It was 75% destroyed in 1945. It waited 10 years to be rebuilt and the works were completed in 1970.

St. Cross Church

It is exceptional indeed. This 13th century, tall, brick church is one of very few European 2-storey churches. There is St. Bartholomew lower church and St. Cross upper church, both of the same plan. The church is 66m long, 44m wide and the naves are 19m tall. Two towers, situated in the corners at the transept (the southern one of the height of 69m is taller and completed, topped with a little bell) are copper-roofed and were built in 1484. The church was founded on 11 January 1288 to commemorate the end of the conflict between Prince Henry IV the Righteous (the founder) and Bishop Thomas II (the founder of St. Thomas Collegiate Church in Racibórz). The architect of the Wroclaw church was probably Prince Henry's court artist, Master Wiland. The guide books state: "the church has a rich and diverse shape, and a complicated 9-sectrion ribbed vaults of the aisles of the upper church which make it a gem of Gothic architecture." Between 1502 and 1538 Nicolas Copernicus was a schoolman there! During the Thirty Years' War it was desecrated by Swedish and Brundenburgian troops. The lower church was turned into a stable. Previously it had also gone through some turbulent times. It had been robbed and turned into a ware house. The Baroque decoration of the interior was added at the turn of 17th and 18th centuries. There used to be the founder's tombstone, considered one of the most magnificent examples of medieval sepulchral compositions. It is decorated with figures mourning the Prince's death and on the top there is a figure of the Prince himself wearing a suit of armour, holding a shield and a sword. Currently the figure can be seen at Wroclaw's National Museum. During World War II the commanding officer of Festung Breslau (Wroclaw fortress) planned to install General Headquarters of the Fortress in the lower church. In 1945 a part of the roof was destroyed along with some vaults of the upper church and one vault of the lower church. The reconstruction took place in two stages, between 1946- 1950 and 1956-1957. Until 1956 the lower church was used by the Germans of Wroclaw, then by Greek Catholic Parish until 1997. In 1999 the collegiate chapter was re-established.

St. Elizabeth's Church

The full name is St. Elisabeth's of Hungary Basilica though it is also called Garrison Church or St. Elisabeth's Parish Church. It is the seat of the Deanery of Silesian Military District. This 14th century church is situated near Market Square and is one of Wroclaw's biggest churches. It was founded by Prince Boleslav III and originally belonged to Red Star Crusaders i.e. Hospital Brothers who lead St. Elisabeth's Hospice. Later it became one of two parish churches in the city (besides St. Magdalene's). For a very long time it was famous for its extremely tall tower built in 15th century, spire-shaped of height of 130m, being one of the tallest in the world at that time. Unfortunately, in 1529 there was a strong gale which knocked down the

dome with the spire onto the cemetery near the church. The event was commemorated with the plaque at the feet of the tower. It was rebuilt between 1531 and 1535 in Renaissance style and the shape which can still be seen today. It is not as tall as it used to be, it still impresses, though. During the Reformation the church was taken over by Protestants. It was taken under Ambrose Moiban's wings, Martin Luther's friend. While the French army was conquering the city at the turn of 1806/1807, artillery fire damaged the dome, the roof of the church and the chapel, causing a lot of damage in the library, too. It took over a decade to restore the church. Nevertheless it was the fire which brought the worst destruction to the church, not wars or battles. On 20 September 1975 a fire started which consumed the upper part of the tower. During the restoration works a blaze started whose consequences were far more terrible: on 9 September 1976 the whole church caught fire. The losses were horrifying: the magnificent organ built between 1750 and 1761 by Michael Engler and his son and by Gottlieba Zieglera who finished the work after Engler's death, burned completely. The reconstruction started in 1981 and lasted until 1997. The renovated church was consecrated by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Poland. The reconstruction works have not finished, though. The chapels and the furnishings are being restored as well as epitaphs inside and outside the church. A new organ is planned to be built, too. This Gothic church is worth a visit also because of the observation deck on the top of the tower where a splendid panoramic view of Wroclaw and its surroundings can be enjoyed.

God's Providence Church

This late Baroque Church belongs to a Lutheran congregation. It was built in 1750 and designed by Friedrich Arnold and Johann Boumann. It is 30m long and 17,5m wide. It is built on the north-south axis on an oval plan. Inside there are two-storey stylish galleries for the organ choir and a pulpit above the altar. There are also two plaques dedicated to German soldiers fallen during World War I and a plaque commemorating the establishing of the Iron Cross Order. The colour of the decoration is white and cream with some gilding. Beside the church there is the Royal Palace which was Prussian Kings' Wroclaw residence since 1750, including Frederic II, The Great. The church began to be called Court Church in 1830 when the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession was celebrated. Nowadays it is also a seat of the bishop of Wroclaw Diocese of Lutheran Church in Poland.

St. Mary Magdalene's Church

It was one of Wroclaw's two medieval parish churches, besides St. Elisabeth's Church. At the end of the 11th century a small church was built and used by Dominicans. In 1226 they moved to St. Adalbert's Church which made the one they left a parish church. The small building was immediately demolished and a new Romanesque one dedicated to St. Andrew Apostle and St. Mary Magdalene was built. It lasted only 9 years though, until the Mongolian Deluge. Another church was built between 1242 and 1248; however it burned down in 1342. Then it was decided to erect a large late Gothic one, using surviving fragments of previous churches. It was built between 1342 and 1362 gaining its present appearance, except for the upper parts of the towers. It is 62.8m long, 32.1m wide, the nave is 22.9m tall and the aisles 9.4m tall. The towers were finished much later, in the 15th century. Their distinctive feature is Witches' Bridge, also called Penitents' Bridge, linking the two towers on their upper level. It was mentioned in documents already in 1459. Two cone domes covered with lead were completed in 1481. A famous Sinner's Bell, Silesian's biggest one of the perimeter of 6.3m and the internal height of 1.8m was placed in the southern tower in 1386. It was destroyed in 1945, unfortunately. The church used to be richly decorated, it was enlarged in 1512 and had 16 chapels and 58 altars. It was Protestant from 1523. Yet in 1948 there were Lutheran services. Then it was handed over to the Polish Catholic Church in 1972 after being rebuilt for 10 years. Inside the original 16th century pulpit is preserved. At the turn of the 20th and 21st century the roof was renovated and the coloured chequered pattern of red and green was reconstructed along with Witches' Bridge.

St. Christopher's Church

It is another Lutheran church in Wroclaw, built in place of the 13th century funeral chapel of St. Mary Magdalene's Church dedicated to St. Mary The Egyptian. Master Henry of Ząbkowice converted the chapel into a Gothic church at the beginning of the15th century. The church, the same as Oława Gate, was looked after by furriers. The current patron appeared in the middle of the15th century which was beneficial. Thanks to this a square plan tower was built in 1461. Then in 1539 the church got a clock and was remodelled in Renaissance style. From the 16th century it served as a Polish Lutheran school which was in conformity with Luther's teachings encouraging confession of faith and learning in a national language. In the 18th century Prussian kings intended to eliminate the national character of the Lutheran church, however until 1829 there were regular services in Polish at St. Christopher's and until 1888 they remained occasional while the church became a branch of St. Mary Magdalene parish. In 1945 it was destroyed and the reconstruction lasted in stages until 1958. The furnishings of various Silesian churches which are no longer in use, were placed inside. Since 1970s due to Trasa WZ (West-East Street) with its tunnels nearby, the area has become rather unnatural.

St. Adalbert of Prague's Church

This spacious church is one of the biggest and the oldest Gothic churches in the city. It was built in place of the Romanesque church from the beginning of 12th century, the first one on the right bank of the Oder River, which was built even before the location of Wroclaw, in 1112. Since the very beginning it has been dedicated to St. Adalbert. From 1148 the church belonged to the Augustinians of Sobótka who handed it over to the Dominicans in 1226. It was destroyed during the Mongolian Deluge and rebuilt afterwards between 1250 and 1270 in Gothic style. The towers were completed a hundred years later. It was enlarged a number of times until the end of the 15th century. An important person in the history of this church was Blessed Ceslaus who gained renown during the defence against the Mongolian. His memory was commemorated between 1715 and 1730 through the construction of a Baroque chapel, founded on the occasion of Ceslaus' beatification. Inside the chapel there is an alabaster coffin with his relics, the walls are decorated with frescos and paintings. When in 1810 the Order of Dominicans was secularized, the church became a parish. The convent served as a ware house until 1900 and then it was demolished. After the destruction of World War II the church was rebuilt in two stages, between 1953 and 1955, and then in the 1970s. Later stained-glass windows were installed, designed by Maria Teresa Reklewska, and the dome of the tower was added in Gothic style, designed by Edmund Małachowicz, who completed the reconstruction works. The final stage was building a new convent by MaciejMałachowicz which was completed in 2008.

St. Matthias' Church

The history of this brick Gothic church dates back to 13th century. Originally it was Henry The Bearder's court chapel. It started to be enlarged by building a tower around 1300. The next stages took place at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries when the aisles were added on the north and the south side which gave the church a cross plan. Later the nave was also made taller. The tower was completed in 1487. There were other alterations in 1569 and especially in the first half of 17th century when the church was partly redecorated in Baroque style which can be seen mainly on the outside. After the Order of Hospitallers which the church belonged to from the  13th century, was secularized, it became a parish church. It was renovated between 1895 and 1896. During the war it was slightly damaged, then in 1958 the northern part of the transept collapsed and shattered the Renaissance pulpit of 1607, the church was restored between 1961 and 1966. However, it still has a temporary tented roof and the dome has not been reconstructed yet. In the crypt of the church Johannes Scheffler is buried, famous Silesian theologian, mystic and poet. One of the plaques at the entrance to the church is dedicated to him. The other one is dedicated to Polish composer, Emanuel Kania (1827-1887) who played the organ there. In front of the church there is a splendid Baroque statue of St. John Nepomucene from 1723 by Jan Jerzy Urbański. At present it is a university church and is found just next to Academic Chaplaincy "Maciejówka".

St. Claire and St. Jadwiga's Church

The history of this place, belonging to the Order of Ursulines of the Roman Union, dates from the 13th century and is connected with the Order of Poor Clares who were brought to Wroclaw by Princess Anna Premyslid, Henry II The Pious' wife. The first church was wooden, then a Gothic church and convent were built which were completely remodelled in Baroque style in between 1696 and 1699. Poor Clare sisters lived and worked there for almost 500 years and had some important influence: in the elite chapel were buried Henry III The White, Henry V The Fat and Henry VI The Kindhearted, the last Piast prince of Wroclaw. Besides, numerous Silesian Piast daughters were buried there as well. Some of the tombstone have survived and are currently exhibited at Silesian Piasts' Mausoleum at St. Claire's Church. There is also an urn containing the ashes of Princes Caroline, last Piast Princess who died in 1707. The Order of Ursulines of the Roman Union took over the convent in 1810 and opened two female schools in Wroclaw. The church has an unusual construction as it seems to be single-naved but has a spacious oblong chapel adjoined of the width and the height similar to the nave's. During the remodelling they were covered by one common roof with a predominating tower which lost its dome during World War II. In 1945 the convent did not get destroyed, however the church did not have that much luck - the roof burned down and the vaults collapsed. After the reconstruction former St. Claire's Church was turned into Silesian Piasts' Mausoleum. Some formal change took place as well, German Ursulines handed over the place to Polish Ursulines arriving in Wroclaw in 1946 from Lvov, Kołomyja and Stanisławów, continuing their mission ever since. At present there is a public middle school and a private girls' high school.

Church of Virgin Mary on Sand

Let us begin with the sand. It is an island on Oder River but the name dates to a remote time and place. A Latin dedication of the church sounds Sancta Maria in Arena as the first Roman church dedicated to Virgin Mary was built on the area of former circus. In time the word arena started to be translated as sand. On the island the first Romanesque church and Canons Regular of the Lateran's convent were built in the first half of the 12th century - historians cannot agree whether it was in 1133 or 1148. It was a small church, 35m long where today's central part of the nave and the southern aisle are located. In the 13th century the first alteration works took place and the Romanesque shape of the church survived until 1334. Over the ages it was enlarged and redesigned a number of times, also after various fires. In 1945 the church and the convent were destroyed. Even though it was first thought to leave them ruined, they were rebuilt in stages in the years 1946-1948 and 1961-1963. The interior regained its original Gothic forms, the furnishings were brought from destroyed Silesian churches. The roof has maintained its shape from before 1730. The square plan convent adjoins the church. Originally it was Gothic, but it was redesigned and enlarged in Baroque style between 1709 and 1715. In 1632 the church was looted by Swedish troops. After the secularization the convent was used as a library from 1811. After being destroyed during World War II it was rebuilt by Marcin Bukowski between 1956 and 1959. Unfortunately, the Gothic wing was demolished to collect Gothic bricks. At present the former convent houses a branch of Library of Wroclaw University.

Former St. Anne's Church

It does not look like a church any more. Just an old Gothic brick building on Piasek Island. The line of the roof might make you think it used to be used for religious purposes, but its walls full of windows might not. However, if you take a careful look, even after all the alterations the division into a nave and a presbytery can be seen. Its former religious use is also suggested by a tombstone with a natural size figure of the founder, Abbot John of Prague, which has been preserved on the southern side of the church. It was built between 1375 and1386 serving as a cloister church and a cemetery chapel. It was turned into a hospital in 1810. Bodies became more important than souls and in 1818 it was divided into a few storeys and filled with hospital rooms and flats. At present there is a pre-school, among other things.

St. Cyril and Methodius' Orthodox Church

It dates from the 17th century and is Wroclaw's first Baroque church, one-naved with rich decoration and a façade topped with sculptures. At present it is an orthodox church of Wroclaw deanery. It is situated on Słodowa Island in a place where there used to be a medieval chapel dedicated to Saints Joseph,  Joaquin, Natalie and Adrian, demolished in the 17th century. St. James' Church was built between 1686 and 1690, designed by Zygmunt Linder. Until 1810 it belonged to an Augustinian Nuns' Convent. After secularization, a Catholic teachers' seminary was established in the convent. The place regained its religious character in 1852 and was added a new patron, St. Anne. In fact, there were some other changes. Between 1919 and 1921 the church was used by the Polish minority in Wroclaw, then by the Old Catholic Church. In 1945 it lived a tragic moment: the church along with 500,000 books moved there from Royal University Library, burned down. It took a long time to rebuild it. After the war it was just secured and finally in 1970 it was handed over to Polish Orthodox Church. It took six years to clear it of rubble and to renovate it. The first Orthodox service was celebrated in 1976 (though it had already been celebrated in 1973 in a temporary chapel). The services in the church are in Polish, however it is also a temporary seat of St. Peter Mohyła Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Archbishop's Residence

The Archbishop's Palace in OstrówTumski sits at 11Katedralnej St. It is a Classical building with a magnificent wrought iron gate which comes from a villa destroyed during the war. However, this palace is not the President of Cathedral Chapter's first residence. Earlier, in the second half of the 18th century there was a residential tower. The current residence, called Prepozytówka (Supervisor's place), was built as suffragan bishop's palace (this term applies to a bishop who is a full-time assistant to a diocesan bishop). It was given its Classical look after the fire in 1791, its two elevations can be admired: the front one from the street and the back one from Włostowic's or Dunikowski's Boulevards.

St. John The Baptist Catholic Cathedral

It is undoubtedly Wroclaw's most precious monument of sacred architecture. It is over 1000 years old. Before the present Gothic church was erected in the 13th century, there had been three other churches in its place. The oldest one was built between 983 and 988 and resembled a Czech church in Libice, which was proved by historians. The next church was built of fieldstone bonded with clay in 1000 when Emperor Otto III and Pope Silvestre II established a diocese in Wroclaw. Such honour was a proof of the city's great importance which was growing to become a crucial centre of politics, economy and culture in the region. What is preserved from the third Romanesque basilica  built from blocks of crystallized limestone  are the elements of its portal, specifically - fragments of St. John The Baptist's figure which are exhibited in the Diocese Museum. Though the proverb goes "third time lucky", it was the fourth building which eventually turned out to last for over 750 years. It was in 1244 when the construction works were started in Gothic style, the first Gothic building in Wroclaw. Its architecture partly derives from Cistercian tradition. It took a long time to accomplish the task due to numerous problems, among them Bishop Thomas I's being kidnapped by Prince Boleslav Rogatka. World War II, mainly the Soviet bombing in spring 1945 was merciless to the Cathedral. "The liberators" destroyed completely the vaults of the nave and partly the vaults of the aisles. The reconstruction has lasted since 1945 until now. Two Baroque chapels adjoining the Cathedral are worth mentioning: St. Elisabeth's and Electors'. The first one was founded by Cardinal Fredericof Darmstadt, landgraveof Hesse who believed himself to be St. Elisabeth of Thuringia's descendent. The other one was founded by Archbishop Franz Ludwig von Pfalz-Neuburg, prince-elector and archbishop of Trier, Empress Eleonor's brother and was designed by an eminent Austrian Baroque architect, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

St. Giles' Church

This is Wroclaw's oldest building in its original state and at the same time the oldest open church in the city. This late Romanesque church in Ostrów Tumski dates from the first half of the 13th century, probably from 1242. However, some fragments e.g. stone moulding of the base indicates there must have been another building earlier. Out of two portals, one is Romanesque, the other is Renaissance. The church was built in Wroclaw's characteristic medieval way: there is one pillar on which the vault leans. The brick arcade linking the church with the 16th century chapter creates Kluskowa Gate. During the renovation after World War II most Baroque ornaments were removed and some Gothic oneswere reconstructed, including the double chancel arch. At present the church belongs to Diocese Museum and houses a collection of sacred art as well as some other artifacts: an Egyptian mummy (325 BC) and stone reliefs from 3rd century AD coming from Syria .

Princes' Castle and St. Martin's Church

The castle in Ostrów Tumski was a seat of the first Piast as early as the 10th century. The settlement was built from wood and surrounded by a wooden and earth  embankment.  Later it was remodelled a number of times, first in 1163 by Prince Boleslav The Wry-mouthed, then in the second half of the 13th century by Henry IV Probus who introduced major alterations enlarging the residential part, demolishing some of the buildings and building new ones. After his death the castle ceased to be princes' residence and began to decline gradually. In 1315 all Ostrów Tumski, an island at that time, came under Roman Catholic Church jurisdiction. The castle cannot be admired any longer, its fragments are hidden in the convent building of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and of Norte Dame Sisters, also in the 13th century St. Martin's Church which is the only remaining part of Wroclaw's Piast castle and the city's second oldest sacred building, after St. Giles' Church. It was built by Henry IV Probus' court architect, Wiland. The castle was rebuilt in the 14th or 15th century. During World War II 80% of the building was destroyed and its reconstruction lasted from 1957 to 1960. The church was rebuilt in a changed shape, though, and resembles the original Wiland's form. Nearby there is Pope John XXIII's statue.

St. Archangel Michael's Church

This 14th century brick church in Muchobór Wielki is surrounded by a brick fence and built on a square plan. Its architecture is highly unusual, it has a palm vault leaned on one column. The church was first mentioned in 1347 when Wroclaw's Bishop Przeclaw issued a decree in which he allotted the village with the church to St. Nicolas' parish in Wroclaw. In this document a local priest is allotted one lan (over 20ha) of field. The first alteration took place in 1570 when frescos were painted, whose fragments have been preserved until today. Then it was enlarged as a parish was established in Muchobór in 1907. It was a perfect pretext to do so and the plan was quite original. A new church, identical to the old one, was built and started to be used in 1915. That is when a complex structure appeared and survived until today. After World War II the tower was lowered due to the runway nearby.

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