The parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, Białystok
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The parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

Białystok

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The oldest surviving building in Białystok. The church, with its single-nave layout and a single tower, exhibits features of both the Gothic style (the layout, the overall silhouette, the buttresses supporting the walls), the Renaissance style (the entrance portal, the tower with its cupola topped with a tall, gloriette-like roof lantern) and the Baroque style (interior, fixtures and fittings); throughout the ages, it has also served as the mausoleum of both its benefactors and the successive owners of the town of Białystok: Piotr Wiesiołowski as well as the members of the Branicki family of the Gryf (Griffin) coat of arms, including, in particular, Jan Klemens Branicki, whose involvement has brought upon the era in the city’s history which is now considered to be its halcyon days. Today, the building retains a significant historical and artistic value, its importance reaching far beyond the region in which it is located.

History

The church was originally erected in 1617 at the request of the erstwhile owner of the town of Białystok, Piotr Wiesiołowski. The name of the benefactor as well as the date of construction of the church are proudly displayed on a silver plaque which was discovered in 1902 beneath the foundations of the altarpiece. After Piotr Wiesiołowski’s death, the construction efforts were carried on by his son, Krzysztof. The works were finally completed in 1625, with the consecration of the church taking place during the following year; the ceremony was conducted by Eustachy Wołłowicz, the bishop of Vilnius. Thanks to generous donations, the church has received excellent fixtures and fittings which were all ready by the end of the 1620s. After Krzysztof’s death in 1637, his wife Aleksandra took over the patronage over the church; it was at her initiative that the church cemetery was surrounded with a wall with low, polygonal turrets. In the early 18th century, Stefan Mikołaj Branicki commenced the renovation of the church. The subsequent owner of the lands surrounding Białystok, Jan Klemens Branicki, wanted the church to be redesigned in the Baroque style so that it could serve both as a representational palace chapel and a mausoleum. It was at that point that the shape of the windows was altered, with new, oval oculi being added; inside, galleries opening towards the chancel through arcaded apertures now rose above the sacristy and the treasury, while a series of alcoves crowned by semi-domes was added in the walls of the nave. The vaulted ceilings and walls were now graced by painted decorations, while the flooring was replaced, with three crypt entrances being added. Branicki also provided the funds for new side altarpieces as well as the sepulchral monument commemorating Stefan Mikołaj Branicki and his wife. After J. K. Branicki’s death, his wife Izabela Branicka extended her patronage over the church; before her death in 1808, she handed over the responsibility for the church to the Institute for Missionary Priests. The parish remained under its administration until 1846 and was then taken over by the local diocese. In the mid-19th century, the church underwent renovation works. In the year 1900, the construction effort referred to somewhat misleadingly as “extension works” began, with a completely new, Gothic Revival church being constructed east of the church, on the adjacent piece of land. This resulted in both the chancel of the old church and a part of its perimeter wall being torn down. The altarpiece was now placed against the eastern wall. The church itself underwent a full-scale restoration.

Description

The church is situated on a small hill in the city centre; it is partially surrounded by a perimeter wall. The eastern side of the main body of the church adjoins a larger, Gothic Revival cathedral. The church is oriented towards the east. The church was designed in the Baroque style. Designed on a rectangular floor plan, initially with a narrower chancel, it features a tower in its western section, designed on a square floor plan and flanked by two quarter-circular turrets. The cuboid main body of the church is crowned with a tall gable roof. The slender, three-storey tower on the western side features a pair of cylindrical (quarter-circular) annexes filling the space between the western wall and the tower. The two lower storeys of the tower are designed on a square plan, while the uppermost level is octagonal in shape, its walls pierced with slender bell openings. The tower is topped with a bell-shaped cupola topped with an openwork arcaded lantern and a spire surmounted by a cross. On the ground-floor level of the tower there is the main entrance, framed with a Late Renaissance sandstone portal. The three-axial side façades are reinforced with buttresses and topped with a profiled cornice. Slender windows and oculi are positioned on the axes of the side walls. The interior is a single, open space with a series of alcoves in the side walls, each of them topped with a conch-shaped semi-dome. The organ gallery in the western section rests on a pair of pillars. The fixtures and fittings bear the hallmarks of the Baroque style. The main altarpiece is flanked by a pair of doors leading into the cathedral, surmounted by niches incorporating the sculptures of St Peter and St Paul. The ornate headstone of Jan Klemens Branicki as well as the unusual, embroidered epitaph plaque of Izabela Branicka are kept in the mausoleum of Stefan Mikołaj Branicki and his wife, Katarzyna.

The church is open to visitors.

compiled by Grażyna Rogala, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Białystok, 22-12-2014.

Bibliography

  • Jabłoński K. A., Biały i Czerwony. Kościoły białostockiej parafii farnej, Białystok 2008, pp. 15-89;
  • Record sheet, The parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, compiled by M. Pawluczuk, R. Sylwanowicz, E. Narolewska, 1998, archive of the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Białystok.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1617-1625
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: pl. Jana Pawła II , Białystok
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district Białystok, commune Białystok
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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