The cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Chełmża
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The cathedral of the Holy Trinity



Along with the cathedral in Kamień Pomorski, the church in Chełmża remains the oldest surviving cathedral in northern Poland, having once served as the seat of the bishops of the Chełmno region. Despite having witnessed various turbulent historical events throughout the ages, including a devastating fire which engulfed the structure in 1950, the original silhouette, décor and fittings of the cathedral have all been preserved intact. Inside, the church houses an extensive collection of sepulchral art related to various eminent individuals who have made a name for themselves in the annals of the Chełmno region throughout the years.


The Chełmno diocese was originally established in 1243, after the former Prussian diocese was subdivided by decision of the papal legate William of Modena. The first bishop of the new diocese, ordained by pope Innocent IV in 1245, was Heidenryk, the prior of the Dominican Order in Leipzig and the provincial superior of the same Order in Poland. The foundation act for the construction of the new cathedral was issued in July 1251, after the town itself was chartered, which most likely took place during the same year. By 1257, the chancel had already been erected, as evidenced that donations for church service have already been made by that time by Casimir I, the duke of Kujawy and Łęczyca. A chapter based on the Rule of St Augustine was established alongside the cathedral; later on, the chapter adopted the Rule of the Teutonic Order, leading to its subsequent incorporation by the Order. It is now assumed that the construction of the transept and the tower adjoining the southern wing have also been completed at the time of bishop Heidenryk’s death in 1263. In 1260, the blessed Jutta von Sangerhausen was buried beneath the southern arm of the transept. The construction of the tower of the northern wing lasted until 1274. The newly erected parts of the structure were heavily damaged during the Prussian incursions of 1268. The damaged sections, however, have already been reconstructed by 1291. At the same time, works on the eastern gable, nave and westwork have also began. Somewhere around the year 1320, the wall positioned between the front façade towers was completed, incorporating a rose window typical of the structures erected by the Dominican Order. By 1359, the construction of the main body and the towers have been completed. It is suspected that the construction of the nearby conventual house, designed as a three-wing, two-storey building with an inner garth surrounded by cloisters, has begun during the second phase of the extension of the cathedral itself. The new building adjoined the southern façade of the main body of the church. The church and the conventual house were connected by means of the so-called canon portal. The date of the demolition of the chapter building remains unknown. It is believed that it may have taken place during the 19th century or even back in the Middle Ages, after 1422, when the cathedral, converted into a makeshift fortress by the Polish forces led by King Jagiełło, sustained significant damage. Both the towers, the gables and the vaulted ceilings have collapsed during the siege mounted by the Teutonic Order during their attempted counterstrike. The reconstruction of the church took 80 years to complete and resulted in the alteration of the roof layout, with the common gable roof above the entire main body being replaced by separate roofs above each of the naves; the transverse roof above the transept was also gone, while the southern tower has never been rebuilt, with a simple gable roof being constructed above the second storey. The interiors now featured new, different vaulted ceilings, the transept gables were removed, while the chancel was now graced by a new, stepped gable adorned with pinnacles. In years 1496-1530, the church received new fixtures and fittings, including the organ gallery, the main altarpiece, the choir stalls and the ensemble of sculptures surmounting the rood beam. During the early modern period, no major alterations were made to the main body and the chancel. In years 1662-74, the front façade was restored and extended upwards, with the original, Gothic portal now being graced by a curvilinear gable. The northern tower was extended upwards by a single storey, topped with a Baroque cupola. In 1753, a sacristy with a chapter hall on the first-floor level, designed by Giovanni Battista Cocchi, was added to the southern façade of the chancel. During the same period, Cocchi also oversaw the process of roof repairs and designed the altarpiece earmarked for the chapel of the Holy Cross.

In 1821, pope Pius VII extended the diocese and moved its seat to the town of Pelplin. As a result, the Chełmża cathedral lost its prestigious status and became an ordinary parish church. It was in connection with this new function of the structure that alteration works were performed in the mid-19th century. The canonry building has been demolished, as most likely also have other, earlier chapter buildings. In addition, in the years 1883-84, the southern façade received a new cladding, while all window traceries have been replaced (with the exception of the bricked-up window in the eastern chancel façade). The Gothic painted decorations adorning the vaulted ceilings inside were painted over. The alteration works continued into the 20th century, when the existing portals were redesigned. In 1903, the southern portal was bricked up, while the years 1904-05 saw the commencement of the construction of porches adjoining the front façade and the northern façade. The design for both these structures was the work of the Berlin-based architectural design studio of Hoßfeld & Weber. The addition of the western porch led to the demolition of the original, Gothic entrance portal.

During the interwar period, most of the peripheral walls received new cladding, while the southern tower had to be stabilised due to uneven subsidence. The front façade received additional reinforcement in the form of metal anchors.

In 1950, a lightning strike led to a fire which devoured the roof truss above the nave, side aisles and chancel as well as the Baroque cupola of the northern tower. Soon afterwards, the vaulted ceiling above the westernmost bay of the nave as well as the ceiling of the bay positioned beneath the southern tower have both collapsed under the weight of the falling roof tiles. The interior fixtures and fittings have also sustained damage during the fire.

The renovation works were only completed in the late 1970s. The first part of the church to be reconstructed were the vaulted ceilings, with the structure of the remaining ceilings being reinforced during the same period. The Gothic partition walls forming the chapter long choir section were removed, with the transept arms now being separate from the rest of the church. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the main body received a new roof, based on a steel truss. In years 1968-71, the cupola above the northern tower was reconstructed, with the roofs of the transept towers following suit in 1977. Some of the works performed - including the redesign of the interior layout - were clearly inconsistent with the accepted conservation practices.

In 1994, the status of the church was elevated to that of the co-cathedral of the Toruń diocese.


The cathedral is situated in the south-eastern part of the original chartered town, standing at the top of an elevation the southern side of which slopes towards the shores of the Chełmżyńskie lake. The churchyard is triangular in shape, its northern arm running along Tumska street which leads away from the nearby Market Square. The cathedral square, designed on an irregular plan, is located west of the church itself.

The cathedral is a brick structure oriented towards the east, featuring a slightly projecting transept and a westwork with a pair of towers, its interior occupied by the organ gallery. The two-bay chancel was designed on a rectangular plan, with a simple, rectangular end section. The cathedral is a three-nave, three-bay hall church with additional bays situated beneath the towers as well as inside the transept. The side aisles are unequal in terms of width with each of them being about half as wide as the nave. At the end of each transept arm there is a tower designed on a square plan, each of them adjoined by small, cylindrical staircase turret positioned at the northern and southern corners respectively. A rectangular sacristy with a chapter hall on the first-floor level adjoins the southern side of the chancel. The ground-floor level of the sacristy consists of two square rooms and a narrow vestibule. A rectangular porch is positioned on the middle axis of the front façade. Another porch, occupying the space between buttresses, adjoins the northern side of the nave, being positioned along the second bay thereof (counting from the west). The walls of both the chancel and the main body are reinforced with buttresses. The regular rhythm of the buttresses of the main body is distorted on the northern side thereof, where a total of five buttresses are present, the spaces between them occupied by windows arranged in a manner which does not correspond to the arrangement of the bays of the nave within. On the southern side of the church, there are seven buttresses and six windows in total. Inside, the interior space of the cathedral is partitioned with paired pilasters with a slightly flattened octagonal cross-section. The pillars support pointed-arch arcades separating the nave and the side aisles. The transept bays are likewise separated from the rest of the interior by pointed arches. The chancel features a stellar vault with a leading rib. Vaulted ceilings of the stellar type, with additional connecting ribs, can be admired in the transept bays. The easternmost bay of the southern aisle features an unusual, asymmetrical vault of the type sometimes referred to as a “crazy vault”. The remaining bays of the nave and the side aisles as well as the bays beneath the towers all feature stellar vaults.

The dominant feature of the silhouette of the cathedral is its monumental westwork, its northern tower being a five-storey structure crowned with a bulbous cupola, while the southern tower has only three storeys and features a simple, gable roof. Another aspect of the cathedral’s design which emphasises its verticality is the pair of slender towers topped with bulbous cupolas, positioned at the ends of the transept arms. The nave and the side aisles are covered with separate gable roofs. The roof above the nave is taller than those above the side aisles. The chancel is almost as wide as the main body and likewise features a gable roof. The sacristy adjoining the chancel is a two-storey structure covered with a shed roof.

The front façade features a recessed, single-axial middle section positioned between the two towers. A Gothic Revival porch topped with a shed roof and featuring a double, pointed-arch portal is positioned on the middle axis of the façade. The tympanums above the doorways incorporate figurative scenes in bas-relief. Above the porch rises a rectangular façade section with a ceramic border running along the bottom and the sides of the wall and incorporating a quatrefoil motif, with the bottom section being split into two by an inscription plaque. In the middle of this section of the façade there is a rose window with splayed reveals, framed by a surround consisting of a single ring of projecting bricks on the inside, surrounded by a recessed, circular band with a plaster-covered surface. At the very top of the front façade rises a mono-pitched roof leading up to a curvilinear gable with a triangular pediment, its surface adorned by a row of blind windows topped with round arches. The two middle blind windows are positioned inside segment-headed niches flanked by profiled lesenes.

The outer corners of the towers are supported by diagonally positioned buttresses. The northern tower features four storeys from the Gothic era as well as an early modern top section. At the ground-floor level there is a deep, pointed-arch niche with splayed reveals. Above, the rhythm of the façade is defined by a row of four pointed-arch blind windows, with the two middle ones incorporating a pair of narrow, lancet-shaped windows each, set against the background of a slightly lower, pointed-arch blind window with a plaster finish, positioned inside the larger blind window and reaching slightly above the middle of its height. A frieze consisting of diagonally positioned bricks can be seen between the first and the second storey of the tower. The third storey features a pair of slender pointed-arch windows filled with horizontal slats. In addition, there are also lancet-shaped blind windows positioned at the edges, even taller than the windows in the middle. The fourth storey is separated by a brick string course and topped with a profiled crowning cornice. In the middle of the façade there is a pair of windows mirroring the design of the ones one floor below, set into a rectangular recess. These are flanked by paired blind windows of the same height as the window recess, topped with blunt pointed arches. The uppermost storey takes the form of an octagonal tholobate, its corners adorned with pilasters supporting the crowning cornice above. Every second wall features a narrow, slit-like window. The western side of the uppermost section of the tower features a tower clock. The entire section is crowned with a tall, bulbous cupola designed on an octagonal plan and featuring a tall, two-tier roof lantern.

The southern tower is significantly lower than its northern counterpart. At the second-floor level there are four pointed-arch blind windows, while the third storey likewise features four blind windows, albeit of varying width, topped with blunt pointed arches which were added at a later date. The three blind windows on the southern side of the tower are split into half by a single, vertical roll moulding. The façade is crowned with a triangular gable with a small oculus.

The façade of the nave as well as the front sections of the transept arms feature an architectural articulation in the form of rhythmically arranged, single-step buttresses. Pointed-arch windows with splayed reveals are positioned between the buttresses. The southern façade features a bricked-up pointed-arch portal, above which runs a ceramic frieze incorporating a trefoil motif. A porch with a pointed-arch portal occupies the space between two buttresses alongside the second bay from the west.

The eastern ends of the transept arms are topped with triangular gables which partially blend into the corner towers. The gables are separated from the rest of the façades by cornices, their triangular surfaces incorporating small windows set into shallow, pointed-arch recesses in the wall. The transept towers differ slightly in both height and appearance of their façades, their walls supported by buttresses at the bottom. The façades of the northern tower are adorned with niches topped with a trio of pointed arches, transected at about mid-height by a double frieze consisting of diagonally positioned bricks. Directly above the said frieze runs another, decorative ceramic frieze designed around the trefoil motif. Small, pointed-arch windows can be seen inside the niche, below the crowning cornice. The bottom storeys of the southern tower feature single, pointed-arch blind windows above which runs a string course made of diagonally positioned bricks; above the frieze there are several pointed-arch windows, some of the bricked up. Both towers are topped with slightly flattened, bulbous cupolas.

The eastern façade of the chancel is supported by diagonally positioned buttresses at the corners and features a pronounced, bricked-up pointed-arch window adorned with tracery made of profiled brick and artificial stone. Above the façade rises a stepped gable separated by a frieze made of bricks positioned in a diagonal layout, above which runs a second, overhanging cornice with a heavily moulded surface. A ceramic frieze incorporating a triple arcaded motif runs at the bottom of the gable. In the middle of the gable there is a trio of pointed-arch blind window, following a bipartite or tripartite design and adorned with brick tracery. At the edges of the gable there are additional blind windows in a stacked arrangement, their surface covered with plaster. The steps of the gable are topped with elaborate pinnacles. At the top of the middle step there is a wimperg, its surface adorned with blind windows. The northern façade features a rhythmic arrangement of two-stepped buttresses, with the spaces between them occupied by pointed-arch windows.

The façades of the sacristy are likewise supported by buttresses and positioned on a tall wall base, with the window openings featuring broad, eared surrounds. The eastern façade of the sacristy is topped with a volute-shaped half-gable, its edge accentuated with a plasterwork band. A segment-headed window is positioned in the middle of the gable.

Inside, the cathedral features a profusion of Gothic detailing in the form of wall ribs topped with capitals adorned with geometric or floral motifs as well as with sculpted masks. The southern chancel wall features a triple stone sedilia topped with a trio of arches and adorned with painted decorations. Fragments of 14th-century painted decorations can still be seen on the vaulted ceilings and pillars. The altarpiece of the Holy Cross in the northern arm of the transept was crafted by Giovanni Battista Cocchi. The main, Early Baroque altarpiece incorporates an image of the Holy Trinity. The church also features several Baroque side altarpieces, a Renaissance pulpit and Late Gothic choir stalls which were subsequently modified in the 17th century. The cathedral also remains home to a substantial collection of commemorative art, including the headstone of bishop Piotr Kostka, believed to originate from 1595 and featuring a figurative tomb effigy surrounded by lavishly designed architectural motifs, a fragment of the tombstone of Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, the Grand master of the Teutonic Order (ca. 1311) as well as numerous epitaph plaques from the 17th and 18th century.

The monument is partially open to visitors. The interiors are accessible before and after church service and other religious ceremonies. The building can be viewed from the outside. Organised groups can explore the interior outside the hours of church service upon prior telephone appointment.

compiled by Mirella Korzus, Historical Monument and National Heritage Documentation and Popularisation Department of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Cultural Centre in Bydgoszcz, 10-12-2014 - 19-12-2014.


  • Birecki P., Dzieje sztuki w Chełmży, Chełmża 2001,
  • Dorawa M., Chełmżyńska katedra Św. Trójcy, Cracow 2003,
  • Dorawa M., Katedra Św. Trójcy w Chełmży, Warsaw-Poznań-Toruń 1975,
  • Katalog Zabytków Sztuki w Polsce, vol. XI: Dawne województwo bydgoskie, issue 16: Powiat toruński, T. Chrzanowski, M. Kornecki (eds.), Warsaw 1979, pp. 5-21.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: do 1257 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Tumska 2, Chełmża
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district toruński, commune Chełmża (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland


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