Lidzbark Warmiński – The Castle of Bishops of Warmia, Lidzbark Warmiński
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Lidzbark Warmiński – The Castle of Bishops of Warmia

Lidzbark Warmiński

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The castle of bishops of Warmia is located today in the eastern part of Lidzbark Warmiński, but in the past it remained outside the town’s defensive walls. The castle lies at the junction of the Symsarna and Łyna Rivers, with which a wet castle moat (currently a pond) was connected that ensured the complex good defensive conditions.

It was one of the seven episcopal castles in the former dominium, which remained under the rule of bishop and the chapter, and, at the same time, constituted part of the diocese of Warmia, separated in 1243 together with the dioceses of Pomezania and Sambia. The location of castles in the dominium was not accidental; they were situated within a distance of maximum one-day trip from each other, which was important for administrative and defensive reasons.

We do not know much about the oldest, probably woodand- earth castle at Lidzbark Warmiński. There is no certainty as to its location, although it is assumed to be built by the Teutonic Knights (around the mid-13th century), but shortly after it was to be taken over by one of the Prussian tribes. The castle passed in the possession of Warmia bishops around 1300, and in 1308, it was mentioned in a privilege that granted municipal rights to Lidzbark Warmiński. The construction of the existing brick castle began in the mid-14th century. The most important construction works were completed in 1373–1401, under Bishop Henryk Sorbom; at that time, the vaulted cloisters were built, the water supply system was developed, the ward was expanded and the defensive walls and moats were erected. From the fifteenth to 17th century, the castle was destroyed several times, but each time it was restored. In 1562, a clock with two bells bearing Bishop Stanisław Hozjusz’s coats of arms was placed on the castle tower. During the reign of Bishop Andrzej Batory, the ground floor of the southern wing was transformed into apartments (ca 1656), while under Bishop Wacław Leszczyński (mid-17th century) rooms on the first floor of the castle were renovated and gained a name of the archbishop’s chambers. Under Bishop Adam Stanisław Grabowski (mid-18th century), several renovations were carried out, including a thorough change of the chapel decor. Over time, the residential functions took precedence over the defensive and administrative functions. Changes in the way of use of medieval castle spaces led not so much to their modernisation, as to decision to build new facilities or entire buildings that would meet the needs of the time. For example, these were now non-existent cardinal’s chambers and, also non-existent, a palace of Bishop Jan Stefan Wydżga as well as a residence of Bishop Adam Stanisław Grabowski, and a summer residence of Bishop Jan Stanisław Zbąski, today called Bishop Krasicki’s orangery. The castle complex served its functions until 1794, when it was abandoned by the last pre-partitioning bishop of Warmia, Bishop Ignacy Krasicki.

In 1807–1812, the building was taken over by the Napoleonic troops for military and economic purposes. As a result of the damage done at that time, it was qualified for demolition. In the 1850s, it was planned to locate a prison in it, but eventually the Saint Joseph Foundation was established, running a hospital and an orphanage, which existed until 1932.

The significance attributed to the castle in the early 20th century, both due to its artistic and historical values, is indicated by the fact that in 1903, the first examination on frescoes were carried out in the great refectory, and in 1925, the Castle Reconstruction Society was established. Over the following years (1926–1937), systematic conservation work was carried out, emphasising the values of Gothic architecture. In 1927, the Castle Museum was established. Thanks to the lack of major war damage, since 1958, the castle again has served cultural functions, and since 1961, it has been a museum facility.

Formerly, the castle complex consisted of three parts: the main castle and two wards – northern and southern. The most important and at the same time the best preserved element, giving an idea of the size and significance of the entire complex, is the main castle. It is a four-wing building on a square plan, with a centrally placed courtyard and a high tower (on a square plan, and octagonal in the upper part) at the northeast corner. At the other corners, there are hung turrets, also on a square plan. The entire castle has a full basement, some basements are two-storey. In the aboveground part, the north and west wings are four-storey, and the east and south wings are three-storey. The entire building is covered with gable roofs. Communication between individual wings and floors is enabled by arcaded, two-storey cloisters, open to the courtyard. The gate passage is located in the middle part of the southern wing, to which a bridge over a dry moat leads, connecting the castle with the southern ward. The rooms in the basement and on the ground floor are covered with a barrel or cross-rib vault, while the first-floor interiors are covered with star vaults of various patterns. The other floors have wooden ceilings. The type of vault on each floor reflects its purpose. On the ground floor there was a guardhouse, an armoury, a kitchen, presumably a brewery and other types of utility rooms. On the first floor there are representative rooms: a meeting hall, a great refectory, bishop’s apartments, a chapel. On the same floor there is also the so-called Watzenrode oratory, located in a tower. The upper floors served storage and defensive purposes. The representative and residential character of the first-floor rooms is emphasised by high-class polychromes and architectural sculpture, created between the 14th and 18th centuries, with religious and political-propaganda overtones. Looking at the rich painting decoration one should pay attention to the scene of the Coronation of Mary in the great refectory or images of the bishops of Warmia in the meeting hall. The group of Gothic paintings, which are located in all the arcades of the first-floor cloisters (Passion, Marian and Christological scenes, images of saints, Last Judgment, hell), have an exceptional significance in Central and Eastern Europe region. The selection of iconographic representations and the realism of their depictions, the soft pattern of robes and a rich range of colours associate the authorship of these paintings with the Czech circles. An example of a high-class work of modern fine arts is the castle chapel, which gained, with respect to the Gothic architectural structure, a comprehensive Baroque-Rococo decoration, mainly with a foundation by Bishop Grabowski.

The castle at Lidzbark Warmiński is one of the most important and best preserved works of Gothic residential and defensive architecture in the Polish lands. This is confirmed both by its spatial layout and the preserved structure, enriched with insignificant and harmonised style build-ups related to the functions served by the object. The form of the Lidzbark episcopal residence derives directly from the architectural and functional model of a regular Conventual castle of the Teutonic Order. Its unique artistic value is demonstrated by the outstanding qualities of Gothic brick architecture, the rare two-storey cloisters or the various stellar vaults as well as the extensive and well-preserved group of religious and political-propaganda painting decorations.

The castle served both church and secular administrative and judicial functions, but most of all, for several hundred years it was a political, intellectual and cultural centre of the Warmian dominium and the entire diocese. It was also a place of residence and work of many great personalities, such as Lucas Watzenrode, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Dantiscus, Stanislaus Hosius, Marcin Kromer, and Ignacy Krasicki. The castle was also a seat of the first Jesuits who came to Poland.

General information

  • Type: residential comlpex
  • Chronology: XIV - XV w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Zamkowa 1, Lidzbark Warmiński
  • Location: Voivodeship warmińsko-mazurskie, district lidzbarski, commune Lidzbark Warmiński (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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