The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kalisz
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The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Kalisz

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The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Sanctuary of St Joseph) is the historic collegiate church of the city of Kalisz, founded back in 1359. Along with the Franciscan church and the church of St Nicholas, it remains one of the oldest churches in the city. In 1978, Pope John Paul II elevated it to the rank of a Minor Basilica. Among the many ecclesiastical buildings in Kalisz, this church is distinguished by its monumental design and architectural beauty. The church remained linked with the city from the 13th century onwards, being the site of the cult of the Holy Family. In addition, the basilica in Kalisz remains the most significant centre of the cult of St Joseph (the patron of families) in the country.

History

The original, Gothic church was erected before 1359; it was funded by archbishop Jarosław Bogoria Skotnicki, even though it is suspected that its construction has begun at a much earlier date. The funds provided by the archbishop facilitated the construction of many outstanding buildings, including the Gothic cathedral in Gniezno, the collegiate church and the castle in Uniejów.

In 1583, the old bishop’s palace was restored and donated to the Jesuit order.

In 1609, the roof of the church was destroyed during a fire.

In 1783, the inexpert handling of the process of extension of the former archbishop’s mansion and other Jesuit buildings located alongside the church resulted in a construction disaster. The southern nave and chapels as well as the façade of the church have all collapsed in the process. Only the chancel and the sacristy remained intact.

In years 1790-1792, the church was rebuilt and extended through the addition of a single bay, designed in the fashionable Late Baroque style. Most of the stylistic changes incorporating the elements of this style applied to the tower and the interior decor. The architect responsible for the redesign remains unknown. The former collegiate church in Chocz and the parish churches in Błaszki and Tursk are attributed to the same designers due to the striking similarity of their appearance. The chapel dedicated to St Joseph was added on the extension of the southern nave; in 1831, the chapel received its decorative wall paintings. A tower was also added during the period in question

Later on, somewhere around the year 1820, a belfry, designed in the Classicist style, was erected next to the church. The architect responsible for the design of the belfry was Sylwester Szpilowski.

In years 1925-26, the tower was reconstructed following the damage which it sustained as a result of the clashes which took place in the city of Kalisz in 1914. The architect responsible for the reconstruction of the tower was W. Wardęski.

In 1948, the tower’s cupola was reconstructed, having suffered extensive damage in 1945.

Description

Kalisz is the oldest city in Poland, mentioned in the works of Claudius Ptolemy written in the second half of the 2nd century, located at the eastern edge of the Kalisz Upland, by the Prosna river. The first traces of human habitation here date back to the 8th century B.C., with the first fortified settlement in Zawodzie having been built back in the 10th century. The famous amber trial led through the city of Kalisz. The new city of Kalisz was founded on its current site by duke Bolesław the Pious around the year 1257. The city was founded at the junction of crucial trading routes and has always been the second-most significant city in Greater Poland, with only Poznań surpassing it in terms of both importance and size. It was here, for example, that Casimir the Great signed the “everlasting” peace treaty with the Teutonic Order. After 1793, the city was incorporated into the Prussian Partition, while in 1815 it found itself within the Russian territory, serving as the centre of the governorate. In the 19th century, the textile industry began to flourish in the city of Kalisz. Having sustained heavy losses in the early days of World War I, the city has managed to rise from the ashes during the interwar period. Famous Poles who had their roots in the city of Kalisz included the poet Adam Asnyk, the illustrator and graphic designer Tadeusz Kulisiewicz, the renowned traveller Stefan Szolc-Rogoziński as well as the Polish president Stanisław Wojciechowski.

In 1359, the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary attained the status of a collegiate church and was formally designated as the seat of both the chapter and the archdeacon. Archbishop Bogoria Skotnicki built his mansion next to the church; the building was positioned right in front of the front gable end of the collegiate church so that one could walk directly from the mansion’s porch to the choir gallery of the church. The archbishop lived at the mansion from 1374 right until his death in 1376. The church was only consecrated in 1445.

Today, the church remains an example of the Late Baroque style, with a Gothic chancel and sacristy. The chancel is oriented towards the northeast. The building is a brick structure with plastered façades; its main body follows a three-nave basilica layout with a quadrangular tower projecting from its front façade. The nave of the church, built on a rectangular floor plan and following a four-bay layout, was originally a Gothic structure the floor plan of which was almost square in shape. The chancel, slightly narrower than the nave, is rectangular in shape and follows a two-bay layout. The sacristy is positioned at the extension of the northern nave, while the octagonal chapel of St Joseph forms an extension of the southern nave. The porch is located in the ground-floor section of the tower. Fragments of the preserved Gothic foundations of the original, western façade of the church can still be seen in the basement of the Chapel of Gratitude and Martyrdom, which is a tangible proof that the church was extended following its reconstruction in years 1790-92. The western façade of the church, framed with pilasters, features an avant-corps projecting from its axis, flanked by volute-shaped fractables. The window openings are rectangular, topped with semicircular arches. Small, oval windows pierce the upper sections of the gable walls of the side naves. The main entrance features a faux-panelled decorative double door dating back to 1790.

The main nave features a barrel vault supported by a series of arches, flowing seamlessly onto the pilaster capitals, while the side naves features sail vaults, also supported by arches. The chancel, on the other hand, features a Late Gothic lierne vault with two keystones and supports; the sacristy features a stellar vault. The chapel of St Joseph features a cupola ceiling consisting of four sections, resting upon supporting arches and adorned with painted decorations dating back to 1831, depicting various scenes from the Old Testament. The side altarpieces, the altarpiece in the chapel of St Joseph as well as the pulpit, the pipe organ casing and the pews feature both Late Baroque and Rococo ornamentation. The most valuable artifact contained in the basilica’s interior is the painting of the Holy Family, painted on canvas and considered to be a miraculous image from the late 18th century, when it was adorned with papal crowns. With its immense size (1.5 x 2.5 metres) and its captivating imagery featuring the Holy Family against the background of a typical Polish town, the painting left all those who saw it with a feeling of astonishment and awe. A dove symbolising the Holy Ghost as well as God the Father with outspread arms seem to hover above the figures depicted on the canvas, accompanied by an inscription which says, “Go Thou to Joseph”. One is led to believe that the painting in fact portrays the return of the 12-year-old Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St Joseph from Jerusalem to Nazareth. The lavish interior fittings can be seen in the church treasury.

The site is accessible to visitors. Viewing of the building is only possible by prior arrangement. More information about the parish and the Holy Mass schedule can be found on the website of the Kalisz diocese: www.diecezja.kalisz.pl.

compiled by Teresa Palacz, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Poznan, 15-10-2014.

Bibliography

  • Anders P., Województwo kaliskie, szkic monograficzny, Poznań 1983.
  • Rocznik Diecezji Kaliskiej - 2002, Kalisz 2002.
  • Łęcki Wł., Wielkopolska - słownik krajoznawczy, Poznań 2002.
  • Barokowe kościoły Wielkopolski, red. Maluśkiewicz P., Poznań 2006.
  • Katalog Zabytków Sztuki w Polsce, Ruszczyńska T., Sławska A. (red.), t. 5, z. 6 pow. kaliski, s. 12-19, Warszawa 1960.
  • Kolegiata kaliska na przestrzeni wieków 1303-2003, materiały pokonferencyjne, Kucharki G., ks. Plota J. (red.), Kalisz 2004.
  • Tomala J., Miasto lokacyjne w XIII-XVIII wieku, Kalisz 2004.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: przed 1359 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: pl. Św. Józefa , Kalisz
  • Location: Voivodeship wielkopolskie, district Kalisz, commune Kalisz
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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