Kwidzyn – The Cathedral-Castle Complex, Kwidzyn
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Kwidzyn – The Cathedral-Castle Complex

Kwidzyn

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The cathedral and castle at Kwidzyn are one of the most interesting monuments of Gothic architecture in the lands of the former state of the Teutonic Order. The idea to build the cathedral church and the castle of the chapter as a single defensive architectural complex has left a strong mark on the artistic expression of this monumental complex and does not find analogy in cathedral architecture of the time. The imposing shape of the temple with the high tower and the preserved castle wings, as well as the characteristic dansker, create a vast complex of extraordinary beauty, which has been towering over the city for centuries and reminds about its great history. It is also an invaluable document of the beginnings of the diocese of Pomezania and the interpenetration of bishops and the Teutonic Order competing for spiritual leadership in the region.

The history of the castle and cathedral at Kwidzyn is strongly connected with the history of church organisation on the conquered lands of Prussia in the 13th century. In 1243, by the decision of the Pope, the diocese of Pomezania was established, and from 1254 its seat was Kwidzyn. Already in 1285 the Pomezanian chapter with its seat at Kwidzyn was set, and the parish church was elevated to the rank of a cathedral. The growing importance of the town made it necessary to build a new castle of the chapter and a temple worthy of being called a cathedral. The chronology of the construction of the complex is still a subject of scientific research, it is assumed, however, that both buildings were erected in the first half of the 14th century, while finishing works were carried out in the cathedral in the following decades, and in the 1380s a dansker was built next to the castle. The buildings located on the hill were destroyed several times during the wars and were rebuilt in the 15th and early 16th centuries. The breakthrough date in the history of the cathedral was 1525, when, after the secularisation of Prussia, it was granted to the Protestants, and the Catholics were left only with part of the presbytery separated from the rest of the church by a stud wall. The Pomezanian bishopric survived under the rule of Protestants until 1578, and the temple remained in their hands. At that time, the interior of the cathedral was plastered, covering medieval wall paintings, and in 1586 a porch of Gothic sandstone from the oldest castle of the Chapter was erected at the main entrance. Significant changes in the architecture of the temple include the construction of the burial chapel of Otto Frederick Groeben in 1705. In 1772, after the First Partition of Poland, Kwidzyn became the capital of the newly created province of West Prussia, and the castle was adapted for the needs of the court. Unfortunately, the project of demolition of the southern and eastern wings of the old castle was soon approved, and carried out in 1798. During the Napoleonic wars, the destruction of the castle progressed, and the cathedral was devastated, serving as a food storehouse and a training hall for soldiers. The first renovation work on the cathedral hill began after 1816, but the largest renovation was carried out in the 1860s and 1870s, under the direction of, among others, the outstanding Prussian architect Friedrich August Stuler. In addition to maintenance work, the collapsed vault in the presbytery was rebuilt, Gothic wall paintings were uncovered and repainted, the castle wings and their corner towers and gables were rebuilt. In the interwar period the castle continued to serve as a courthouse and prison. After 1936, the last dark episode of its history took place, as the interiors of the building were adapted for the needs of the Hitlerjugend Nazi school. Unlike the destroyed old town, the cathedral and the castle fortunately survived the war. After the war, the cathedral was returned to the Catholics and the castle was used as a museum.

The original concept of the cathedral-castle was close to the tradition of a regular four-winged Teutonic castle based on the plan similar to a square. However, contrary to the compact shape of Teutonic strongholds, the castle of the Pomezanian Chapter was extended by an eastward section of the cathedral church, thus creating a complex of buildings with a new planning and functional value. An additional strategic measure was to merge the cathedral and the castle into one defensive complex. The castle itself, originally four-winged, was built on a stone foundation of brick in Polish brickwork. In the ground floor there were mainly utility rooms, while the first floor was of a representative character. It included a chapel, a chapter house, a dormitory, a large and summer refectory, and an infirmary in the east wing. The second and third floors had storage and residential functions. The characteristic elements of the castle included: a defensive porch with arrow slits located above the third floor, surrounding all the wings and the cathedral, and corner towers partially blended into its body. The monumental dansker, connected with the western wing of the castle by a 55-metre-long porch above the valley, where a stream used to flow in the past, is the most noteworthy. The second part of the building complex – the cathedral – is located on the eastern side of the hill. Its form was largely determined by the castle itself, to which the width and proportions of the temple were adjusted. This monumental three-nave pseudo-basilica building without a transept has a polygonal closed two-storey presbytery on the east and a high bell tower on the west, which is still the central and highest point of the cathedral complex to this day. The body of the temple is also decorated by octagonal stair towers located in the corners of the nave body from the east, decorative gables and a system of external buttresses, while its interior is covered with decorative stellar vaults. An important feature that distinguishes the cathedral from other buildings of this type is the presence of defensive elements, such as the mentioned defensive porch.

One of the most valuable elements of the cathedral’s equipment is undoubtedly the cycle of medieval wall paintings covering a large part of the walls of the temple. The paintings in the presbytery depicting the throne Mother of God and Child, as well as seventeen Pomezanian bishops and three great Teutonic masters are particularly noteworthy. The set of sculptural decorations, which consists of more than eighty figurally decorated supports made of artificial stone is equally valuable. On the southern elevation of the church, above the entrance, there is a priceless mosaic painting from around 1380 depicting the martyrdom of St John the Evangelist. The interior of the cathedral itself, although it has preserved numerous original elements from the Middle Ages, is to a large extent an effect of 19th-century conservation work carried out under the direction of outstanding Prussian conservators of monuments. The oldest medieval paintings were discovered and repainted at that time and the interior of the cathedral was enriched with a neo-Gothic altar, a rood screen, an altar painting and a cycle of stained glass windows.

The cathedral-castle complex in Kwidzyn remains one of the most interesting monuments of Gothic architecture in Poland, the originality of which lies in the combination of sacral buildings and the castle of the Chapter, objects of various functional and chronological aspects, forming a unique and homogeneous architectural ensemble. The cathedral and castle remain aesthetically homogeneous in spite of numerous damages and reconstructions. They are also a rich source of knowledge about the history of the Pomezanian diocese and the organisation of religious life in the territory of the Teutonic Order state, and later Protestant Prussia. It is also a necropolis of the clergy, Catholic and Protestant Pomezanian bishops and great Teutonic masters. It is also worth mentioning the blessed mystic Dorota of Mątowy, whose legendary life came to an end in the Kwidzyn cathedral.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: XIV w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Katedralna 1, Kwidzyn
  • Location: Voivodeship pomorskie, district kwidzyński, commune Kwidzyn (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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