The St John parish church, Gdańsk
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The church of St John is a typical example of the Gothic ecclesiastical architecture of Gdańsk, built during the 14th and the 15th century. It features a hall layout with transept. The characteristic features of the church are its massive structure with interior buttresses as well as the tall tower in its western section. Being the second parish church in Main Town, it competed against St Mary’s church in terms of sumptuous interior decorations. Despite the damage sustained, the church still contains many original works, including the stone main altar - an extraordinary work of art created by Abraham van den Block.

History

The very first church that stood in this spot was a small structure erected in the 1340s. Construction of a new, larger church of St John began around 1370, with seven additional plots of land being acquired for the purposes of the project. The church was initially to feature a three-nave layout with a tower and transept as well as a three-nave chancel. It was also designed as a lower building and only attained its present height during the first half of the 15th century. In 1465, the church received its vaulting; following the end of the Thirteen Years’ War, the tower was extended upwards; the church also received a new chapel at this time, the chapel of Corpus Christi (later renamed as the chapel of the Holy Ghost). In 1456, a new parish division was introduced, with the church of St John, previously serving as a filial church, became an independent entity. In 1559, the church became a Lutheran temple. The interior fittings of the church was truly lavish during that period; the inventories of 1552 mention a total of thirteen altars, founded by guild brotherhoods and wealthy noble families. In 1543, the tower was engulfed by fire; it was only rebuilt in 1568. The church was built on a waterlogged soil, which caused a part of its vaulting to develop cracks as a result of subsidence, ultimately collapsing in 1572. The renovation took place in 1588-1595, with the foundation of five pillars receiving additional reinforcement. In 1679, the problems reocurred, with the eastern wall of the chancel beginning to list. In order to prevent further damage, three gable walls of the chancel were torn down and additional bracing was installed in the roof section. The wall itself was reinforced using two massive buttresses; nevertheless, the church continued to suffer from stresses which affected its structure. From the early 17th century, the church began to receive new interior fittings - the main altar (1612), the pulpit (1616-1617), the massive pipe organ (1625-1629), the baptismal font (1669) as well as numerous epitaph plaques. Abour 1650, two identical houses for church servants were erected alongside the southern wall of the chancel; in years 1680-1690 a library was built on the northern side of the chancel, funded by a merchant known as Zacharias Zappio.

In 1734 the roofing was destroyed by fire; reconstruction followed shortly afterwards. In 1737 the roof of the tower was crowned with a turret with a lantern on top. In years 1865-1870 the church received stained glass windows, while in 1913 central heating systems were installed underneath the floor. In 1939 it was discovered that the roof truss was in poor technical condition; in addition, the vaults and outer walls were found to have developed numerous cracks. During the final days of World War II, monuments conservation experts have managed to secure most of the moveable fittings. In 1945 the interiors were gutted by fire; some of the vaults have collapsed, as have the houses near the chancel. After the war, the church served as a lapidarium. In 1948 the north-eastern corner of the chancel was reinforced in order to prevent it from collapsing. In 1952 the roofs of the naves were repaired; works on the tower followed in 1967-1971; the tower received a new roof, staircase and reinforced concrete floors. In years 1965-1985 the foundations of the pillars were reinforced and the vaults were reconstructed. On May 1, 1986 the pillar in the northern nave collapsed, bringing down a part of the vault with it. During the reconstruction thereof, the remaining pillars of the nave were reinforced with concrete. The building was returned to the Catholic Church in 1991. The initial works performed at that time involved the restoration of the interiors of the library of Zacharias Zappio as well as the sacristy, in order to serve the needs of the parish. In 1992, the Association for the Reconstruction of the Gothic Church of St John in Gdańsk was established; along with the Baltic Cultural Centre, the Association has made efforts intended to restore the medieval church to its former glory and importance. In 1995, the church was handed over to the Baltic Cultural Centre for fifty years; apart from being used for cultural purposes, it would also be used by the Church, serving the needs of chaplaincy among the representatives of the world of art. The newly established St John Centre performs the function of a concert and exhibition hall; extensive works aimed at the reconstruction and conservation of the building are also being performed on an ongoing basis. The works of art stored outside the building are successively being brought back to the church of St John, even though some of them have already been permanently incorporated into other buildings (for example, the pipe organ and the pulpit are now installed at the St Mary’s church).

Description

The church, oriented towards the east, is located on a plot of developed land between Świętojańska, Minogi, Straganiarska and Warzywnicza streets. The original site of the cemetery was subsequently reduced to a narrow yard leading alongside the northern and eastern facades (next to the Zaułek Zachariasza Zappio street); the western section is circumscribed by a fence. The church was built in the Gothic style on a Latin cross floorplan and features a three-nave, four-bay layout with a three-bay chancel with a rectangular end section and a single-nave transept with symmetrical arms featuring two bays each. A two-bay sacristy (currently serving as a chapel) and the single-bay library of Zacharias Zappio abut the chancel from the north. Two virtually identical houses built for church servants and the chapel of the Holy Ghost, built on a square plan, are situated on the southern side of the chancel, while the tower, also built on a square plan and adjoined by a staircase on its northern side, is located west of the chancel. The church features a massive shape with an unusual, leaning eastern wall and a tall, four-storey tower. Each of the naves is covered with a separate gable roof; the transept roof is positioned perpendicularly towards other roof sections and features a small steeple perched atop the junction of roof ridges. The tower is covered with a tented roof surmounted by a steeple which features a lantern near the top. The side naves and both arms of the transept end with decorative gables, whereas the roofs of the chancel in the east feature hip ends. The church of St John is a brick building featuring a Gothic brickwork pattern (otherwise known as the Polish bond). Its ceramic brick stellar vaulting features a varied pattern; the ribs feature a pear-shaped cross-section. A diamond vault was used for the library. The roofs are covered with ceramic roof tiles. The steeple and the turret crowning the tower roof feature copper sheet cladding. The facades feature a rhythmic arrangement of buttresses and massive pointed-arch windows; the entire building is crowned with a band frieze and the solid wall of the attic. The gable walls are embellished with blind windows and pinnacles. The main portals are positioned on both sides of the transept and in the northern and southern walls of the tower. The tower facades are embellished with friezes separating the individual storeys, pointed-arch and circular blind windows as well as paired openings with central mullions. The interior of the church features a hall layout and vaulting, with a separate porch located underneath the tower. The main nave opens up towards the side naves with passages topped with pointed arches resting on octagonal pillars; four monumental cross-shaped pillars are located at the intersection of the nave and transept. Numerous wall paintings and inscriptions can be found on the walls of the church (including, in particular, the chancel), some of them originating from the Middle Ages, others dating back to the early modern period. The modern interior fittings include the stage in the western section of the church and the changing rooms for artists located on individual levels of the tower. The building comes equipped with a modern floor heating system, lighting systems, window blinds and rotating seats. The period fittings include the three-level stone main altar, the baptismal font, the Gothic sculptural Crucifixion scene mounted on the rood beam, the choir stalls, numerous epitaph plaques on the walls, headstones incorporated into the floor as well as a clock bell cast in 1543.

Limited access to the historic building. The building is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00; detailed information can be found at http://www.centrumswjana.pl).

Compiled by Krystyna Babnis, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Gdańsk, 03.09.2014.

Bibliography

  • Berent I., Szczepański J., Kościół św. Jana w Gdańsku, Gdańsk 2012.
  • Strzelecka I., Dawny kościół par. pw. św. Jana, [w:] Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce. Miasto Gdańsk, cz. 1: Główne Miasto, Warszawa 2006, s. 148-159.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 2 poł. XIV w. - 2 poł. XV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Świętojańska 50, Gdańsk
  • Location: Voivodeship pomorskie, district Gdańsk, commune Gdańsk
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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