The parish church of St John the Baptist, Pilica
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The parish church of St John the Baptist

Pilica

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One of the most valuable surviving churches in all of the historic region of the north-western Lesser Poland (Małopolska) and the oldest church in Pilica. The building is a representative example of a small, Gothic parish church extended during the early modern period and redesigned in the Baroque style. Another notable feature of the building is the preserved central tomb chapel of the Padniewski family, designed by Kacper Fodyga in the Renaissance style and graced by wall-mounted epitaph plaques, some of which were created by the renowned sculptor Jan Maria Padovano.

History

The original parish church in Pilica, located on the St Peter’s Hill situated east of the site of what would later become the town as we know it today, was originally mentioned back in 1325. The oldest surviving sections of the existing church, on the other hand, date back to the late 14th/early 15th century, i.e. to the period when the town itself was chartered. In 1432, the local parish was elevated to the status of a provostry at the initiative of the erstwhile owner of the town, Jan Pilecki. From the late 16th century, i.e. from the moment when the town of Pilica was acquired by the Padniewski noble family, the church was gradually extended, with the remodelled nave now flanked by side chapels. The Late Renaissance tomb chapel of the Padniewski family, designed by Kacper Fodyga and adjoining the southern side of the chancel, was completed in 1604. In 1611, the building attained the status of a collegiate church at the initiative of the erstwhile owners of the town. The Baroque décor of the nave, which can still be admired today, was created during the works performed in the 17th and the 18th century. In the early 18th century, the new owners of the town - the members of the Warszycki family - funded the construction (or redesign, since the new structure was based on an earlier one) of the Late Gothic chapel of Our Lady of the Scapular and St Anne, erected on the northern side of the nave. In years 1720-1710, a Baroque chapel of St Joseph was added on the southern side of the nave, while in the years 1710-1720 another chapel - the chapel of Jesus the Merciful - was constructed on the northern side of the church. In 1820, the Late Baroque, free-standing bell tower positioned east of the church itself was completed. In 1913, Adolf Hiroń created the painted decorations which still grace the nave.

Description

The church is located on Partyzantów street, forming part of the medieval urban complex of the town of Pilica. The building stands at the top of the hill situated west of the local market square. The churchyard is surrounded with an impressive brick perimeter wall incorporating the free-standing Late Baroque bell tower - a brick structure forming part of the eastern section of the wall.

The church itself is a brick and stone structure, oriented towards the east and designed on a rectangular, almost square floor plan. It consists of a rectangular nave, flanked by a pair of narrower, quadrangular chapels to the north and the south, as well as a short chancel featuring a semi-hexagonal end section, with a pair of annexes designed on a square plan and containing the sacristy and a third chapel adjoining the northern and southern sides thereof respectively. The dominant feature of the compact main body of the church is the short nave with a gable roof and a steeple, the lower sections of its northern and southern façades obscured by rows of early modern chapels covered with common mono-pitched roofs. The chancel, adjoining the eastern side of the nave, is much lower than the nave itself and features a semi-hexagonal end section. The walls of the chancel are reinforced with buttresses and partially obscured by the more recent annexes - including the Padniewski family tomb chapel, topped with a flattened cupola - which are positioned on the northern and southern sides of the chancel. The northern part of the polygonal chancel roof is extended to accommodate the adjoining chapels. The western and southern façades of the church are adjoined by small porches covered with gable roofs. The front façade of the church follows a three-axial layout, with the middle section - corresponding to the nave - accentuated with paired giant order pilasters supporting the split triangular pediment. The two side sections of the front façade are framed with corner pilasters supporting the entablature above and are topped with similar gables adorned with triangular pediments. The eastern façade of the sacristy is topped with a similar gable which also features an additional decorative flourish in the form of plasterwork foliate decorations and the coats of arms of the founders of the collegiate church. The architectural décor of the side axes of the front façade, consisting of pilasters and a split entablature, is carried over to both of the main nave façades as well as to the northern façade of the chapels and the sacristy. The southern façade, devoid of architectural divisions, is adorned with a Late Baroque plasterwork rendition of the coat of arms of bishop Felicjan Szaniawski, while the façade of the Padniewski family tomb chapel incorporates a sundial. The interiors of the two-bay nave and the single-bay chancel are divided by a semi-circular rood arch. The chancel features a Gothic groin vault, with ribs supported by decorative corbels. A Late Renaissance marble portal leading into the sacristy can be seen in the northern wall. The nave features an early modern vaulted ceiling of the barrel type, with lunettes, supported by structural arches. The appearance of the walls of the nave is enlivened by paired pilasters positioned between the semi-circular arched openings facilitating access to the chapels. In the west part of the nave, there is a wooden organ gallery designed in the Baroque Revival style, supported by a pair of columns. The interior of the Late Renaissance chapel of the Padniewski family, topped with a domed ceiling resting on pendentives and featuring a roof lantern which provides additional illumination, is partitioned with a faux arcade adorned with rustication in the form of diamond-shaped quoins. Many members of the Padniewski family were buried inside the crypts beneath the chapel. The two-bay, Gothic chapel of Our Lady of the Scapular and St Anne features a ribbed groin vault and is adorned with Rococo painted decorations focusing on various architectural motifs. The Baroque chapel of St Joseph features a vaulted ceiling of the barrel type, with lunettes, adorned with plasterwork decorations incorporating decorative scrolls, foliate motifs and putti, whereas the decorative cartouches and designates spaces on the walls are graced by painted scenes from the life of the patron of the chapel. Notable items of the original interior décor include the gilded main altarpiece from the 1st half of the 17th century, incorporating the painting of Our Lady of the Snow (1614), the two side altarpieces, including the northern altarpiece dedicated to St John Cantius and the southern, Baroque altarpiece of St Barbara as well as the Late Baroque altarpiece in the chapel of Jesus the Merciful with a Late Gothic crucifix from the 16th century. The altarpiece in the Padniewski family chapel, adorned with stucco decorations and designed in the Late Baroque style, likewise deserves a mention at this stage, as does the 15th-century wall-mounted tabernacle, the Early Baroque pulpit from 1630 as well as the two organ galleries - the Baroque Revival gallery from 1884 in the nave and the Late Baroque organ gallery in the chapel of St Joseph. A Renaissance headstone commemorating Katarzyna Pilecka (1555, crafted by the sculptor Jan Padovano) is suspended above the entrance into the chapel of Our Lady of the Scapular; a two-tier, Late Renaissance tomb of Mikołaj Padniewski and his wife Anna (1601) can be admired in the Padniewski family chapel, while the chancel arch wall is graced by an ornate crucifix and Late Gothic sculptures of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist.

The historic monument is accessible to visitors. The church is open to visitors directly before and after Masses.

compiled by Agnieszka Olczyk, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Katowice, 22-09-2015.

Bibliography

  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, Vol. I: woj. krakowskie, issue 12: powiat olkuski, J. Szablowski (ed.), Warsaw 1953, pp. 23-26.
  • Wiśniewski J., Historyczny opis miasta Pilicy, Marjówka 1933, pp. 10-29.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: XIV/XV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Partyzantów 4, Pilica
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district zawierciański, commune Pilica - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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