Klępsk – the church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Zabytek.pl
woj. lubuskie, pow. zielonogórski, gm. Sulechów-obszar wiejski
Initially a Catholic church, the building was then converted and adapted to meet the expectations of the local Evangelical community; today, it constitutes an important material testimony to the multi-national and multi-faith history of Poland, with the successive generations of its residents incorporating the cultural and material legacy of their predecessors into their own, thus leading to the constant enrichment of the local cultural heritage.
The church in Klępsk remains an important source of information on the history of wooden ecclesiastical architecture. According to the findings of latest research, this church contains one of the oldest surviving remnants of an ecclesiastical building with wooden log structure anywhere in Poland. In addition, it also remains one of the oldest timber-framed Protestant churches in the country today. This building constitutes an interesting mix of a Gothic rural wooden church typical of the late Middle Ages and an early Protestant temple, with its typical functional solutions and ideological programme which underpin its architecture.
The most valuable artistic feature of the church are its exquisite painted and woodcarved decorations, which place this building among the leading Lutheran churches of the Reformation period in all of Central and Eastern Europe. The surviving set of 117 paintings and 90 accompanying inscriptions incorporated into the architecture of the church remains of exceptional value today - indeed, one does not have to be an art historian to immediately appreciate its quality. The lavish iconography, featuring a wealth of themes, motifs and narrative threads, also constitutes a fascinating compendium of knowledge on the Lutheran religious thought. The church boasts many outstanding interior fittings, including the Mannerist baptismal font from 1581, the pulpit dating back to 1614 as well as the Gothic altarpiece originally made somewhere around the year 1400 and subsequently extended during the 17th century. The incorporation of a medieval retable into an early modern interior is an exceptional proof of the spiritual and cultural links between the former Catholic parish and its Protestant successor.
What makes this church truly unique is the remarkable authenticity of both its architecture and its interior fittings as well as the stylistic unity and consistency of the underlying artistic concept. The value of the historical monument is further emphasised by the fact that in this church all of the fixtures and fittings from the Lutheran period have been retained and are looked after with meticulous care despite the fact that the building has since once again become the property of the Roman Catholic Church.
Based on dendrochronological research conducted in 2006, it is now believed that the original, wooden church in Klępsk was erected back in years 1367-1377, whereas the oldest surviving mentions of the temple in written sources date back to 1421. For nearly two centuries, right until the Reformation, the church remained the seat of the local rural Catholic parish which formed part of the Poznań diocese.
In 1537, the land of Sulechów in which Klępsk itself is located was acquired by the Margraves of Brandenburg, with the local Evangelical community taking control of the church in 1576. The first pastor of the new Evangelical parish was Baltazar Nevius from Lubsko, who initiated the long process of transformation of the building to serve the needs of the Protestants. During the first stage of this process, the medieval log building was converted into a timber-framed structure, although the eastern chancel wall was allowed to remain. The construction works were completed in 1593 - a date inscribed on the Renaissance frieze which crowns the nave walls. The works in question included, among others, the installation of galleries inside the nave, the construction of a vestibule with stairs leading to the galleries as well as of a brick sacristy with a gallery on the second-floor level. The works performed on the painted interior decorations and fittings of the church, intended to adjust them to the needs of the Protestant liturgy, were carried out alongside the major construction works. A substantial portion of these operations were carried out under the direction of the new pastor, Stefan Holstein from Sulechów, who performed his functions in years 1603-1622. In 1657, the church tower was erected, replacing the earlier structure which was lost to the blaze during the Thirty Years’ War, the design of the new tower closely following that of its predecessor.
The interior of the church, along with its fixtures and fittings, has managed to survive almost perfectly intact from the 17th century to the present day. The few changes introduced after World War I include the repainting of the gallery parapets on both levels in the eastern section of the church as well as the creation of the so-called Philipsborn family loge, the walls of which are covered with Modernist paintings portraying Adam and Eve in Paradise. After World War II, the church was taken over by the Catholics and currently serves as the filial church of the Catholic parish in Łęgowo.
The church in Klępsk stands on a hill near the road leading from Babimost to Sulechów. A sepulchral chapel of the house of Philipsborn, built in the first half of the 20th century, stands in the area surrounding the church, partially overgrown with trees - a reminder that this site had once served as a cemetery, even though from 1945 onwards it has fallen into disuse. The entire site is surrounded by a stone wall from the north, the south and the west.
The church itself, oriented towards the east, consists of the main nave, a slightly narrower and lower chancel with a rectangular termination as well as a tower which abuts the body of the church to the west. The entire structure is complemented by a brick sacristy which adjoins the northern sacristy wall. The nave and the chancel both feature gable roofs covered with wood shingles, with the church tower being topped with a tall, slender spire. The western and eastern walls feature a corner-notched log structure covered with clay from the outside, whereas the two longer walls - the northern and the southern wall - feature a timber frame with brick infill panels. A crypt with a barrel vault is located beneath the sacristy.
The most valuable feature of the church is its lavish, vibrant painted and woodcarved décor as well as its interior fittings. In the chancel, one can admire the Gothic altarpiece with a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Child, crowned by angels and surrounded by a group of saints, supplemented by a predella incorporating the portrayal of the Last Supper, with the sculpted Crucifixion scene in the upper section providing a finishing touch. The baptismal font, decorated with figural scenes and inscriptions of Biblical quotes, dates back to the period during which the church was being adapted to serve the Protestant community. The Theological programme encapsulated in the design of the altarpiece and baptismal font is supplemented by the lavishly decorated pulpit with sculptural depictions of the Four Evangelists, Reformation leaders - Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon - as well as the image of the Holy Trinity incorporated into the underside of the canopy above. The iconography present on the pulpit has been further elaborated upon in the decorative scheme applied to the gallery parapets. The parapet of the oldest, southern gallery is adorned with the scenes of Creation of the First Parents, while the parapet of the western gallery features a cycle of paintings inspired by the Ten Commandments. The two northern galleries in the chancel are adorned with a cycle of paintings focusing on the miracles of Jesus Christ as well as on the great sinners who grew to become examples of sincere penance, while the southern gallery of the chancel features personifications of human senses as well as portrayals of the glory of eternal life. The aforementioned scenes are divided by small pilasters, with foliate and geometric ornamentation providing the finishing touch. The third ideological component of the interior décor are the painted ceilings in the nave and chancel. The paintings on the nave ceiling feature portrayals of prophets and apostles as well as the personifications of Christian and cardinal virtues. The space inside the chancel features the most complex iconographic programme of all, with the upper section of the western gable wall incorporating the scene of Judgement Day, counterpoised by the depiction of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the eastern gable wall; between the two walls, on the false barrel vault above, one can admire the images of the Four Evangelists, the scene of Resurrection as well as typologically matched scenes from the Old and the New Testament, all set against a blue, starlit sky. The interior of the church also features a total of 90 inscriptions on both paintings and stone slabs; most of them are religious texts which provide a commentary to the accompanying illustrations. There is also a number of inscriptions related to the owners of the village and the founders of the church whose funds have made it possible to execute the interior artwork. The surviving original interior fittings also include the sumptuously decorated choir stalls.
compiled by National Heritage Board of Poland, 2017r.
Category: ecclesiastical complex
Protection: Historical Monument
Inspire id: PL.1.9.ZIPOZ.NID_N_08_PH.15188