The Dominican church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (currently the “El Gallery” Art Centre), Elbląg
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The Dominican church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (currently the “El Gallery” Art Centre)

Elbląg

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A perfect example of a Gothic two-nave church of the kind erected by mendicant orders in the State of the Teutonic Order. One of the first brick churches that was erected in the territory of Prussia. The chancel of the church is one of the oldest brick and stone edifices in the Teutonic State.

History

The beginnings of the Dominican convent in Elbląg coincide with the formation of the city itself and the arrival of the Knights of the Teutonic Order in these territories. In around 1239, the church and monastery were founded; they were intended for a preacher congregation. In 1246, the Dominicans obtained the privilege entitling them to take advantage of the nearby the brickyard. Soon afterwards, they commenced the construction of the brick and stone chancel, with a sacristy on the northern side. At the end of the 13the century, the chancel was extended upwards along with the rood arch and was covered by a four-bay groin vault; outside, the existing buttresses were constructed and finishing works on the eastern gable were completed. The arcade in the northern wall of the main nave was also most likely built during that time. During the next phase of construction in the mid-14th century, the lower, southern aisle was constructed, separated from the rest of the church by a row of brick columns. During a fire which swept through the church in 1504, the vaults, the roof and both gables of the church were destroyed; the only surviving part of the church was the chancel and probably also a substantial part of the nave walls. Shortly after the disaster, reconstruction of the church commenced, which was combined with the upward extension of the southern nave to height of the main nave, as a result of which the church was converted to a hall layout, its interior featuring a lierne vault. The gables of the body were topped with pinnacle gables and covered with a common roof, accentuated by a steeple. At the end of the 16th century, some of the interior fittings were replaced, in accordance with needs of the new liturgy (the church was taken over by Protestants). The most important was construction of galleries (around 16th century) in the southern nave. On this occasion, two pairs of windows were added in the ground floor section of the southern wall in order to illuminate the space beneath the galleries; other additions included the impressive pulpit added in 1588 (made by Jakob Frech, currently in the Elbląg cathedral) and the pipe organ casing (1643). The surviving earlier fittings included the four Late Gothic altars (currently in the cathedral and Elbląg Museum). The interior of the church, the cloister wing adjoining the church from the north as well as the surface of the wall running along the northern border of the former monastery area were decorated with numerous epitaph plaques and gravestones during the 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th century, the gable of the chancel was lowered and covered with a common roof along with the sacristy. In the 1880s, the church was redesigned in the spirit of Romanticism; the interior of the nave and gallery was covered with neo-Gothic wall paintings, the rood arch was relocated so that it was now positioned on the axis of the nave, while the six window openings (which have since been bricked up) were embellished with Gothic Revival window surrounds. During this stage the western vestibule obtained the form of a neo-Gothic porch with a decorative gable, flanked with two avant-corps crowned with pinnacles. Similarly, the southern porch was also decorated in the Gothic Revival style. The church was seriously damaged and engulfed by fire during the wartime hostilities of 1945. The vaulted ceilings in both naves were destroyed; the entire eastern gable and parts of the western gable have collapsed. The interiors of the naves andparts of the vestibules have also sustained damage. The only part of the church which survived the war unscathed was the chancel with the sacristy and cloister, along with the roof structure above. After the war, the church remained in a state of ruin. As a result of the initiative of engineers of the “Zamech” Mechanical Plants and various artists from the city of Elbląg, the church was converted into a workshop and contemporary art gallery, which opened its doors in 1961. In the 1960s the western and southern porches were rebuilt, albeit in a simplified form deprived of Neo-Gothic features; the gables that once graced the main body of the church were reconstructed and the roof was covered with ceramic roof tiles. In years 1975 - 1982, the roof truss was replaced and strengthened above the naves; braces designed to hold the upper sections of the walls together were also installed. The interior space above the western porch and inside the southern porch were now used as offices, while the former sacristy served as an artists’ workshop. In 2011, a steel structure supporting a two-storey gallery was erected in the southern nave, enriching the exhibition arrangement; conservation works in the chancel, the cloister, the northern rooms and the western vestibule were also completed during that period.

Description

The church, along with the remains of the monastery buildings, is situated within the north-western part of the Old Town. The entire complex initially consisted of an oriented church, the monastery buildings adjoining it from the north, clustered around the garth, a yard in the western part of the complex and a cemetery. The surviving parts of the complex include the church, the southern wing of the cloisters, the ruins of the western part of the utility courtyard as well as a fragment of the northern monastery wall which formed the boundary of the area later used as a cemetery. The church is a brick building built in the Gothic style, oriented towards the east, its walls featuring both monk and Gothic (Polish) bond. It was erected on a brick and stone foundation as an asymmetrical hall church with two naves and a four-bay presbytery terminating with a straight wall; a three-bay sacristy and a cloister abut the northern wall of the chancel. A porch adjoins the western wall of the main body of the church. The nave section, significantly taller than the chancel, is topped with a gable roof and adorned with triangular gables partitioned with shallow blind windows and pinnacles. The chancel, along with the sacristy, are covered with a common gable roof, while the cloister features a shed roof. The facades of the church are supported by buttresses positioned between tall, pointed-arch windows; the windows in the nave section follow a tripartite design, while the windows in the eastern wall of the chancel feature a quadripartite design. All the remaining windows are bipartite, with all windows of the church featuring decorative tracery. The church and the cloister contain examples of stone epitaph plaques from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Accessible structure. The interior of the church performs the functions of the exhibition space of a gallery.

Compiled by Maurycy Domino

 

Bibliography

  • Abramowicz L., Jesionowski B., Od dominikańskiego kościoła do Galerii Sztuki. Epitafia i płyty nagrobne, Elbląg 1986, p. 6.
  • Dzieje sztuki polskiej, tom drugi: Architektura gotycka w Polsce, pod red. Teresy Mroczko i Mariana Arszyńskiego: t. II Katalog Zabytków, pod red. Andrzeja Włodarka, Warszawa 1995, p. 62-63.
  • Hauke K.., Stobbe H., Die Baugeschichte und die Baudenkmäler der Stadt Elbing, Stuttgartt 1964. p. 216 - 221.
  • Mamuszka F., Elbląg i okolice, Gdańsk 1978. p. 75-77.
  • Mroczko T., Architektura gotycka na ziemi chełmińskiej, Warszawa 1980, p. 153 - 155.
  • Rynkiewicz-Domino W., Budownictwo, architektura i kultura artystyczna, [w:] Historia Elbląga, t. II cz. 1, Gdańsk 1996, 1997, s. 237, s. 189 i passim.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1239-1350
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Kuśnierska 6, Elbląg
  • Location: Voivodeship warmińsko-mazurskie, district Elbląg, commune Elbląg
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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