Co-cathedral of St Alexander, Suwałki
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Co-cathedral of St Alexander

Suwałki

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The church, designed by Chrystian Piotr Aigner - one of the most distinguished Polish architects of the late 18th and early 19th century - forms an excellent example of the Classicist style. It was erected in the city’s halcyon days and forms a crucial part of its most representational, central part. From 1919 onwards, the church has been the site of various patriotic and military ceremonies commemorating the crucial events in the nation’s history as well as a place of remembrance of various national heroes.

History

The construction of the first, wooden church in Suwałki, known as the church of the Holy Cross, commenced in 1710, with the Bernardine monks from Tykocin being responsible for holding church service there on behalf of the Camaldolese Order in Wigry, which remained the owners of the town at the time. It was only in 1788 that a full-fledged parish was first established here. The wooden building was demolished in 1834, due to its poor technical condition. It was replaced by an impressive masonry structure erected in the years 1820-1829 based on the design produced by Chrystian Piotr Aigner and inspired by general Józef Zajączek, the governor of the Congress Kingdom of Poland. The construction process encountered certain difficulties along the way; the roof, for example, required repairs to be carried out before the church was even finished. In years 1843-1845, the church underwent another series of renovation works. It was at that point that a trio of wooden altarpieces were installed, with the altarpiece paintings and figures of St Romuald and St Benedict being brought from the monastery in Wigry. The sculptures of saints have been placed in front of the church entrance. On September 14, 1845, the grand consecration ceremony was held. In 1856, a tower was added, rising above the front façade; the semi-circular windows were enlarged, while the roof and the ceiling underwent the necessary repairs. The subsequent alteration works performed at the church were all necessitated by the increase in the number of parishioners: In 1881, the chapel of Jesus Christ Our Saviour was added on the eastern side of the church, followed two years later by the chapel of St Anne adjoining the western façade. In 1888, a sacristy was erected right behind the chancel. In 1919, the church became the venue of the ceremony marking the incorporation of the city of Suwałki into the boundaries of Poland - a country reborn. During World War II, the church was the only Roman Catholic place of worship in the city which was allowed to retain its religious function. In the end, however, on the night of October 22/23, 1944, the retreating German forces detonated explosive charges which destroyed both of the towers, resulting in severe damage to the front façade, the ceilings and the roof. The church was restored after the war, with the towers being reconstructed in 1961. In 1992, in connection with the establishment of the Ełk diocese, the church of St Alexander was elevated to the status of a co-cathedral.

Description

The church is situated in the Suwałki city centre, forming part of the northern frontage of the market square (known today as the Marshal Józef Piłsudski Square). The chancel of the cathedral faces the north. The building is preceded by a broad flight of steps flanked by plinths surmounted by the stone figures of St Benedict and St Romuald. The cathedral was designed in the Classicist style.

It was erected on a cruciform plan, with a cuboid nave preceded by a monumental portico, a pair of side chapels and a sacristy behind the chancel, consisting of a semi-hexagonal, single-storey middle section and a pair of two-storey annexes. A pair of towers rising high above the front façade provides the finishing touch. The church is a brick structure, its roof covered with sheet metal. The portico preceding the front façade features three pairs of Tuscan columns supporting the entablature with a triglyph and metope frieze, above which rises the triangular pediment framed with a profiled cornice. At the corners stand the two three-storey, quadrangular towers topped with bell-shaped cupolas, their two upper storeys featuring arched bell openings. The individual storeys of the towers are separated by entablature (with a corbelled cornice used for the lowermost storey); the walls of the uppermost storeys are divided by Tuscan pilasters supported by the cornice which runs just below the windows. A gable wall pierced with a large, semi-circular window, topped with a profiled cornice and a triangular pediment, fills the space between the two towers. The side façades of the main body of the church and of the chapels are partitioned with Tuscan pilasters supporting the entablature above, the entablature itself adorned by a triglyph and metope frieze. The windows of the side façades are topped with semicircular arches, with an additional embellishment in the form of a profiled cornice running between the windows. The chancel section of the rear façade is topped with a frieze running beneath a corbelled cornice, with a triangular gable rising above. This section of the façade features a single, semi-circular aperture with a stained glass window. The side annexes of the sacristy are adorned with a profiled string course and an entablature which, once again, carries a triglyph and metope frieze.

The interior follows a pseudo-hall layout and is divided into the nave and side aisles by two rows of Ionic columns supporting a full entablature with a corbelled cornice. The nave is wider than the side aisles and is covered with a false barrel vault supported by structural arches, while the side aisles feature simple, flat ceilings. The chancel is equal in height to the main nave and features a barrel vault; it is flanked by a pair of two-storey sacristies. The organ gallery above the entrance features an additional space in the form of an overhanging balcony having an outline shaped as a segment of a circle.

The interior fixtures and fittings include three Classicist altarpieces and an ambo dating back to the 1840s as well as a pair of Baroque Revival from the late 19th century, positioned inside the side chapels.

The building is open to visitors.

compiled by Aneta Kułak, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Białystok, 20-01-2016.

Bibliography

  • Jemielity W., Parafie Suwałk i okolic, Łomża 1990.
  • Matusiewicz A., Świątynie w Suwałkach w XIX wieku, “Rocznik Augustowsko-Suwalski” 2012, vol. 12, pp. 23-58.
  • Matusiewicz A., Radziwonowicz T., Skłodowski K., Historia Suwałk do 1945 roku, [in:] Kopciał J. (ed.), Suwałki miasto nad Czarną Hańczą, Suwałki 2005.
  • Naruszewicz T., Kilka uwag do początków parafii suwalskiej, “Rocznik Augustowsko-Suwalski” 2012, vol. 12, pp. 7-22.
  • http://suwalki-aleksander.diecezja.elk.pl/index.php/historia-parafii

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1820-1829
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Emilii Plater 2, Suwałki
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district Suwałki, commune Suwałki
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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