The St Peter and St Paul parish church, Gdańsk
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The St Peter and St Paul parish church

Gdańsk

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The church of St Peter and St Paul is an example of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. Its distinguishing feature is the architectural form of the structure, unique among all other churches in Gdańsk - featuring a monumental front and a squat tower with a gable roof, its design reminiscent of that of a fortified castle. The history of the building reflects the religious heterogeneity of the population of Gdańsk over the centuries, the church having served as a Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Old Catholic and Armenian Catholic temple during the various stages of its life. The post-war struggle for the reconstruction of the building and for restoring the religious function thereof provides an excellent insight into the relationship between the Catholic Church and the communist authorities at that time.

History

The church of St Peter and St Paul was erected to serve the needs of the population of the Old Suburb. Initially it served as a filial church of the church of the Holy Virgin Mary in Main Town, while in 1454 it became an independent parish church. The construction of the church lasted from the late 14th century until the first quarter of the 16th century. In years 1393-1395, a low, three-nave church with a hall layout was erected, featuring a single-nave chancel with a sacristy. The church was extended in years 1486-1487 through the erection of a tower with its adjoining chapels; the nave section was extended upwards, the sacristy was enlarged and the chancel gable was modified. After 1497, the southern porch was added, while the vaulted ceilings above the nave were completed in 1514. The extension of the church was interrupted by the Reformation, which, among other things, prevented the completion of the southern nave of the chancel.

In 1577, the building became a Lutheran church, while in 1590 it was taken over by Calvinists. From 1622 until the end of World War II it served as the main Calvinist temple in Gdańsk. The Calvinists have removed a part of the interior fittings; in 1769, the chancel was separated from the nave section by a choir gallery with a pipe organ, with the chancel now serving as the “communion church”, while the nave functioned as the “great church” with a central altar. In 1807, the church was shelled by the Napoleonic army and served as a hay and straw storage facility for the next couple of years. In 1813 the building suffered further damage, this time due to shelling by the Russians. From 1820 onwards, the church served the Calvinist commune; in 1822 it was leased for a period of 25 years as an Evangelical church of the Gdańsk garrison. After 1848, the church also served as a temporary venue for Old Catholic church service. In 1851, the walls of the southern nave of the chancel were reduced to their current height. In years 1890-1900, a renovation of the church was conducted, with fragments of the walls being clad with machine-made bricks and parts of the original gables being replaced.

In 1945, the church suffered extensive bomb damage; the upper section of the tower as well as parts of its roofs and gables were destroyed. In 1946 and 1947 some of the pillars have collapsed due to the weakening of the structure, pulling the vaulted ceilings of the southern nave down with them. During the first years after the war, the church was taken over by the communist authorities. In 1958, the Roman Catholic Church regained control of the church and provided it to the Armenian Catholics. A rectorate was established at the church, with rev. Kazimierz Filipiak taking the duties of the rector. In 1958, he began the process of reconstruction of the church. The former sacristy was restored and converted into a chapel for the Armenian Catholics; the painting of Our Lady of Grace was brought in from Stanisławów and placed at the chapel. The next section of the church to be rebuilt was the northern nave. Works were performed despite the opposition of the authorities, which wanted the church to serve as a cultural centre. The rector’s determination however led to the first Catholic church service being held at the church in 1964. In 1971, the Roman Catholic church became the rightful owner of the building, which had the status of a parish church from 1979 onwards. In 1999, the seat of the Armenian Catholic personal parish was also established at the church. In 1973, the Roman Catholic Church, having become its rightful owner, began the process of reconstruction of the building. In years 1977-1986 the tower was reconstructed, as were the roofs and the pillars. Window glazing was also installed during that period. The vaults were reconstructed in years 1996-2005. The church was consecrated in 2006.

Description

The church is located in the Old Suburb district of Gdańsk. The building, oriented towards the east, forms part of the eastern frontage of the Żabi Kruk street. Fragments of walls with gates leading into the church yard flank the western (front) facade. The church is currently surrounded by commercial centres, high-rise residential buildings and a car park. The modern surroundings reduce the visibility of the historic building and make it appear separated from its historical background.

 

The church was built in the Gothic style; it is a brick building designed on a rectangular floor plan. The church follows a three-nave layout. The chancel has the same width as the main nave and terminates in a straight rear wall. The chancel is flanked by annexes, with the sacristy on its northern side and the unfinished nave performing the function of the parish office on its southern side. The length and width of both annexes are equal to that of the chancel. The western part of the church features a tower with side chapels, opening towards the porch and the side naves. A porch and staircase turret abut the nave section of the church from the south. The nave section of the church features a hall layout. Stellar vaults inside the main nave and diamond vaults in the side naves are supported by octagonal pillars. The chancel features a stellar vault, with diamond vaults used for the chapels adjacent to the tower.

The body of the church is compact and massive, although its individual sections can be easily distinguished. The nave section of the church is covered with three gable roofs, positioned in parallel to one another. The chancel, narrower and lower than the nave section, also features a gable roof. The sacristy is a two-storey structure with a shed roof which begins right underneath the eaves of the chancel roof above. The unfinished nave reaches up to a half of the height of the chancel facade and features a flat roof. The western part of the building comprises a low tower with two-storey chapels, which form the characteristic monumental, squat front section of the structure. The tower is crowned with a steep gable roof, its ridge positioned perpendicularly towards the roof ridges of the naves. The chapels are covered with shed roofs positioned almost at the same height as the roofs of the nave. A porch with a turret housing the staircase adjoins the southern nave. The upper part of the turret is octagonal in shape and features a bulbous dome surmounted by a lantern. Steeples are perched on the roof ridge of the central nave as well as on the chancel roof. The steeple above the nave is covered with a hip roof, while the one above the chancel features a slender spire.

The western (front) facade is monumental and austere in appearance. The lower section of the facade is mostly solid wall, interrupted only by a tall recess incorporating the entrance and a pointed-arch window. Small blind windows flank the central recess. The upper section of the facade features a greater amount of ornamentation. A wide blind window topped with a triple arch is positioned on the axis of the facade. The gable of the northern chapel features a hexagonal turret at its side and is crowned with a decorative Baroque pediment bearing the date 1659. The gable of the southern chapel features a lavish decorative arrangement of blind windows and densely clustered pinnacles. The upper storey of the tower features decorative blind windows and crenellation. The north and south gable ends of the tower follow a stepped design.

The eastern facade features a tall, stepped recess positioned on its axis, incorporating a pointed-arch window with decorative tracery as well as a blind window. The gables of the southern facade and nave are decorated with a series of blind windows and topped with triangular Baroque pediments.

The side facades of the building (the northern and southern facade) are smooth and unadorned, featuring buttresses and tall pointed-arch windows. The southern facade of the porch features a stepped recess positioned on its axis, incorporating a portal and a tall pointed-arch window. The austerity of the facade is in stark contrast to the lavishly decorated gable of the porch, with its blind windows and densely clustered pinnacles crowned with finials as well as the upper section of the staircase turret, with its light, slender shape and decorations in the form of profiled cornices and blind windows, topped with a complex, bulbous dome with a lantern on top.

The period fittings of the church currently include the miraculous image of Our lady of Grace from 1742, the main altar in the Rococo style (partially reconstructed), incorporating the painting depicting the Assumption of Mary and dating back to the 18th century as well as the Baroque portal leading to the sacristy (1644), the altar of St Clemens, incorporating a portal dating back to 1644, the Rococo tomb chapel of the Uphagen family built in the 18th century, the Baroque ambo created in 1696, the stone baptismal font designed in the Gothic style, the Late Renaissance choir stalls dating back to 1611 and 1626 and a Rococo choir stall built during the 18th century. Other notable pieces include the epitaph plaques, candleholders, chandeliers and headstones incorporated into the flooring.

The wall fragments with gates which flank the western facade were erected in the mid-17th century.

The northern wall features a gate and a smaller passage for pedestrians (which has subsequently been bricked up), both topped with basket-handle arches with voussoirs adorned with foliated scrolls and a gargoyle motif (the front section of the wall features copies of the sculpted decorations executed in concrete). A cartouche incorporating a coat of arms (a copy made of concrete) with an inscription that reads “DER KIRCHEN ZU EREN VERERTET 1645” is positioned above the entrance. The wall is crowned with a cornice with an inscreption that reads, “ADIUTORIUM NOSTRUM IN NOMINE DOMINI, QUO EST IN COELO ET IN TERRA” (a copy made of concrete).

The southern wall features a gateway positioned on its axis as well as two smaller passages on both of its sides, which have subsequently been bricked up. The gate is topped with a semi-circular arch with massive voussoirs made of two-toned stone. The bricked-up side passages are topped with basket-handle arches. The crowning cornice features a stone frieze with an inscription that reads “ANNO MDCLII”.

Limited access to the historic building. The building may be visited from June to September from 10:00, while during the remaining months access is possible before and after church service.

Compiled by Beata Dygulska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Gdańsk, 27.08.2014.

Bibliography

  • Drost W., Kunstdenkmӓler der Stadt Danzig, t. 5, Stuttgart 1972, s. 77-98.
  • Friedrich J., Gdańskie zabytki architektury do końca XVIII w., Gdańsk 1997, s. 144-149.
  • Hynca Z., Kościół św. Piotra i Pawła w Gdańsku, Pelplin 2010.
  • Śliwiński B., Kościół i klasztor franciszkanów Św. Trójcy, [w:] Śliwiński B. (red. nauk.), Encyklopedia Gdańska, Gdańsk 2012, s. 521-523.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: koniec XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Żabi Kruk 3, Gdańsk
  • Location: Voivodeship pomorskie, district Gdańsk, commune Gdańsk
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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