Pelplin - Former Cistercian Cathedral Complex, Pelplin
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Pelplin - Former Cistercian Cathedral Complex

Pelplin

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Amongst the Cistercian abbeys in Pomorze, the Pelplin abbey was one of the largest and most magnificent. The monks, brought in 1258 by Sambor II, the duke of Pomerania, from the town of Doberan in Mecklenburg (associated with the Morimond Abbey), originally settled in the Pogódki village. The town of Pelplin with the adjoining areas was granted to them in 1274 by Mestwin II. They started to erect their monastery complex among the marshes and overflow areas of the Wierzyca river at the end of the 13th century, completing their work somewhere around the year 1400.

The cathedral basilica has an exceptional architectural and artistic value. Its large size (84 m long) places it among the most impressive sacred buildings of the brick variety of Gothic architecture. The combination of traditional Cistercian basilica arrangement with a hall layout that was popular in Pomerania at the time is an unusual solution. The northern arm of the transept is certainly an impressive structure, with its original diamond vault supported by an octagonal pillar; the appearance of the southern wing was marred slightly through the addition of the corner section of the cloister. The vaulting was executed in 1557 by Antoni Schultes from Gdańsk. It is also in the northern arm of the transept that the portal is located, its exterior door reveals featuring exceptionally rich decorations, matched stylistically by the tympanum adorned by the image of Christ. Both façades of the shorter sides of the church are framed by pairs of octagonal turrets in which staircases are concealed and are crowned with decorative gables. In the western part, there is a wall dormer designed for the purposes of hoisting construction materials into the upper level by means of a crane.

The interior of the church is so lavishly decorated that it is impossible to mention all of even the most significant pieces. Of particular value is a masterpiece of 15th-century wood carving - a complex of choir stalls consisting of several segments, decorated with a multitude of images, sometimes referred to as the “medieval encyclopedia” due to their thematic complexity. The Baroque pipe organ casing and altars with paintings by Bartłomiej Strobel, Jan Krieg, Andreas Stech are also fascinating; all of them were founded by the abbots of Pelpin. The six-level main altar is one of the largest and most magnificent in Europe, even though many similar ones were created during the Mannerist period. Made in 1623-1624, its massive, sumptuously decorated structure incorporates an eminent painting by Herman Han known as the Coronation of the Mother of God.

Despite substantial reconstruction works which were performed in the 19th century, the monastery retains the typical Cistercian spatial composition with a garth surrounded by cloisters. Unfortunately, only a part of the oldest monastery rooms exists to this day, including the Gothic oratory (later serving as the chapter house) which features a stellar vault. The surviving medieval buildings accompanying the monastery include the “chapel in front of the gate” dating back to the early 14th century (currently the parish filial church of Corpus Christi) and, partially, also the remains of medieval monastery mills and gatehouse of the main entrance to the monastery.

During the 15th century, the peace of the monastery was disturbed by the invasion of the Hussites (1433), the thirteen-year war (1454-1466) and the epidemic (1474) which almost led to the extinction of the convent. The abbey survived the crisis of the Reformation period; secularisation and takeover by Protestants were prevented by Sigismund I the Old. After the 1st partition of Poland, by way of a decree of Frederic II, the land belonging to the monastery was secularised, and in 1823 Frederic William III finally forced the abbey to cease operations. A year later the cathedral of the Chełmno diocese was transferred here. In connection with the new function, some buildings, including the monastery, were considerably modified, and the complex was extended through the addition of classicist buildings of the canonry and suffragan’s house as well as the neo-Gothic main edifice of the Higher Theological Seminary; in addition, a neo-Classical bishop’s palace was built near the complex, surrounded by a picturesque landscape park. In 1894-1899 the basilica was comprehensively restored. The new Diocese Museum houses a collection of interesting works of art, mainly Gothic, works of goldsmithery from the 15th-18th centuries and a collections of manuscripts and old prints, including the priceless Gutenberg Bible from 1453-1455, the only book of its kind that remains in Poland.

The abbey in Pelplin remains a site of crucial importance for both the culture and history of Poland and of the Catholic Church. The Collegium Marianum which operated here was the only secondary school in the Prussian partition in which the Polish language and Polish history were taught.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: koniec XIII w. - XX w.
  • Form of protection: history monument
  • Address: plac Mariacki , Pelplin
  • Location: Voivodeship pomorskie, district tczewski, commune Pelplin - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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