Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven – church complex consisting of the cathedral, Białystok
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Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven – church complex consisting of the cathedral

Białystok

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The complex consists of two conjoined churches, with the smaller church - habitually referred to as the “white church” - being the oldest church and mausoleum in Białystok, funded and then regularly redecorated by the successive owners of the town, who lived in the nearby residence - initially a manor house, subsequently followed by one of the most resplendent Baroque palaces anywhere in Poland, erected in the 18th century. The cathedral - often referred to as the “red church” - was designed in the Gothic Revival style and came into being in the difficult times of the Partitions of Poland, when both Poles and Catholics in general were facing tremendous difficulties in the course of their everyday lives. Today, the complex presents a substantial historical and architectural value.

History

The first Catholic church to be built on this site owes its existence to the Wiesiołowski family, who chose the town of Białystok as their main place of residence, erecting a manor house for themselves. The masonry church was erected in the years 1617-1625, with the funds for both the construction of the church and for its interior fixtures and fittings being provided by Piotr Wiesiołowski. The building was erected on the site of an earlier, wooden church which had been lost to the blaze; this church had also been founded by Piotr Wiesiołowski many years before. After Piotr Wiesiołowski died, his son, Krzysztof, took it upon himself to serve as the benefactor of the church until his death in 1637, when his wife, Aleksandra, took over his duties; it was at her initiative that the turrets forming part of the perimeter wall were built. In the mid-18th century, the successive owner of the town - Jan Klemens Branicki - redesigned the church in the Baroque style. In years 1760-1763, Branicki also erected a two-storey brick rectory, located east of the church, with a courtyard preceding its front façade; there was also a garden, located on the northern side of the structure. After Jan Klemens Branicki died, his widowed wife, Izabela Branicka, handed over the task of maintenance of the church in 1806 to the Vincent de Paul Institute of Missionary Priests which she had established. The parish remained under its administration until 1846 and was then taken over by the local diocese. The increase in the local Catholic population and the incorporation of the surrounding villages into the parish has resulted in a situation where the existing church was much too small to cater to the needs of the faithful; as a result, towards the end of the 19th century, the efforts to obtain the permit for the construction of a new church have begun, initiated by reverent Wilhelm Szwarc. However, all that the Imperial Russian authorities were prepared to allow was the extension of the existing church. In the year 1900, the construction of a Gothic Revival church which would adjoin the eastern side of the main body of the existing building began, with both the chancel of the old church and parts of its perimeter wall being demolished for this purpose. The design for the new building was created by Józef Pius Dziekoński. In 1907, the church was finally completed, allowing it to be consecrated shortly thereafter. In 1909, a Gothic Revival perimeter wall was constructed in front of the façade of the new church. In 1938, as the street grid was being readjusted, the wall was torn down, with a new, concrete retaining wall being erected in order to prevent the hill from subsiding; a flight of steps leading towards the cathedral entrance was incorporate into the structure of the retaining wall. The wall is surmounted by the sculptures of St Peter and St Paul as well as a modern sculpture of pope John Paul II, positioned on the eastern section thereof.

Description

The cathedral complex is located in the north-eastern part of the Kościuszko market square (known today as the John Paul II Square), on a small hill reinforced by a retaining wall from the south; the front flight of steps leading across this wall is supplemented by two side stairways positioned towards the east and west. The main stairway is flanked by the sculptures of St Peter and St Paul. The eastern section of the wall is surmounted by the sculpture of pope John Paul II. The most important part of the complex are the two conjoined churches: the old parish church from 1726, located in the western part of the complex and surrounded by the partially preserved western section of the perimeter wall with tower (mid-18th century) and the monumental Gothic Revival cathedral adjoining the eastern side of the said church, erected in 1907 and positioned perpendicular to the main body of the older structure. The rectory is located in the eastern part of the complex, its front façade facing the south; the building is surrounded by a fence.

The site is open to visitors.

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

Bibliography

  • Białystok. Kościół prokatedralny pw. Wniebowzięcia NMP, cz. 1. Dokumentacja historyczno-architektoniczna, compiled by J. Pyzia, Białystok 1982, typescript of the Polish Monument Conservation Workshops (PPKZ), archive of the Regional Office of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Białystok; Jabłoński K. A.,
  • Biały i Czerwony. Kościoły białostockiej parafii farnej, Białystok 2008, pp. 9-132.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1625 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: pl. Jana Pawła II 1, Białystok
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district Białystok, commune Białystok
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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