Świdnica – the cathedral of St Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr and St Wenceslaus the Martyr, Świdnica
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Świdnica – the cathedral of St Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr and St Wenceslaus the Martyr

Świdnica

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The cathedral of St Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr and St Wenceslaus the Martyr in Świdnica, initially serving as the town’s parish church, is a building with many exceptional historical and artistic features which is also extremely valuable as a source of knowledge for researchers and experts. This 14th-century church remains a lasting manifestation and testimony to the wealth and ambition of its founder, duke Bolko II the Small of Świdnica, as well as of the residents of the town itself, which remained one of the two largest economic and cultural centres in all of Silesia at the time, rivalled only by the city of Wrocław.

The monumental silhouette of the church - one of the largest Gothic churches anywhere in Europe - remains the dominant feature in the city landscape as it had done for centuries. The cathedral - one of the most important churches in Lower Silesia - is known both for its outstanding architectural features and for the artistic splendour of its interior fixtures and fittings that transcends the boundaries of the region and places it among the most impressive buildings of its kind. Adding to the significance of the cathedral is the fact that the parts of its fixtures and fittings which originate from different periods are complementary in nature, forming a consistent, harmonious whole. The form of the cathedral itself was shaped by two stylistic periods: the Gothic period and the Baroque period, with the spatial layout of the building - bearing the hallmarks of the Silesian architecture of its time - as well as its stone sculptural detailing owing their appearance to the Gothic phase. During the Baroque period, on the other hand, the church - which remained under the control of the Jesuit Order at the time - received its Baroque interior décor which was nevertheless designed in a manner that paid respect to its medieval architectural form. The interior décor and fittings are the work of many eminent artists who were active in Silesia at the time, including, first and foremost, Johann Riedel, a Jesuit woodcarver, as well as the sculptor Georg Leonhard Weber and the painters Johann Georg Etgens, Michael Leopold Willmann and Jeremias Josef Knechtl. The remarkably lavish iconography featured inside the cathedral, founded upon the ideas of the Counter-Reformation, constitutes an important legacy of its times, bearing testimony to the endeavours of the Jesuit Order. The fact that the Baroque interior décor has managed to avoid the fate of many others of its kind, resisting the wave of Gothic Revival that led to many interiors being redesigned during the 19th century, makes it all the more valuable today.

The church sustained little damage during World War II, making it an invaluable source of information for researchers.

History

In years 1290-1392, Świdnica played the role of the capital of the autonomous Duchy of Jawor-Świdnica, ruled by a line of the Piast royal family which had its roots among the dukes of Wrocław. The city was making rapid strides towards prosperity, which soon allowed it to attain the status of one of the most important economic and political centres in all of Silesia. The parish church in Świdnica was most probably founded by Bolko II the Small - the duke of Świdnica and grandson of Władysław the Elbow-high. According to the local tradition, the duke laid the cornerstone for the church back in the year 1330. The duke’s involvement and financial support as well as the construction of a crypt in the eastern part of the church may indicate that the temple was also intended to serve as a family necropolis - a plan which, however, has never materialised. After the duke passed away without leaving an heir, the burghers of Świdnica and the local knightly families took over as the donors of the church. The construction works were conducted, inter alia, under the supervision of Jakub of Świdnica, who also had a role in the construction of the church of the Order of Saint John in Strzegom. Following a series of extension works in the early 15th century, the church was lost to the blaze in 1532; it was subsequently reconstructed, albeit with some changes, such as the ceiling of the main nave, which was now suspended at a lower height than it had been before. In years 1561-1629, the church remained in the hands of Evangelicals, only to be taken over by the Jesuit Order in 1660. Once under Jesuit control, the church interiors underwent a comprehensive redesign in the Baroque style; the neighbouring Jesuit college, school and dormitory for students were also erected during that period, i.e. in years 1664-67. Towards the end of the 19th century, the church was partially regothicised, although the Baroque interior décor remained intact. Most of the sculptures in the series of portals in the front façade, however, have been completely reworked during that period. The hostilities of the Second World War did not lead to any major damage being done to the building. In 2004, the Świdnica diocese was established, with the former parish church now officially receiving the status of a cathedral.

Description

The cathedral is located in the south-eastern part of the Świdnica Old Town, near the line of the former defensive walls. The three-nave structure, designed in the Gothic style and following a basilica layout, was erected out of brick and split stone, its outer walls supported by prominent buttresses. The main nave features a lierne vault, with cross-rib vaulting being used for the side naves. Apses abut the naves from the east, with chapels adjoining the side naves from the north and the south. The front façade was originally intended to have two massive towers, yet the northern tower was never finished, its structure only reaching up to the height of the side nave. The south tower is crowned with a spire designed in the Renaissance style. The façade is adorned by a large, pointed-arch window filled with 16th-century tracery as well as four lavishly profiled Gothic portals incorporating both figural and ornamental stone decorations, including the images of St Stanislaus - the patron saint of Poland, and St Wenceslaus - the patron saint of Czechia. To the north of the chancel there is a dodecagonal crypt partially submerged in the ground, its ceiling supported by a single pillar.

The interior of the church is Baroque in style and features many lavish fixtures and fittings, including works created both during the Baroque era and those of an earlier age; notable examples include the main altarpiece created in 1694, the pipe organ casing from years 1704-1710, a triptych portraying the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (1492, created by an anonymous artist evidently inspired by the works of Veit Stoss), a painted Pietà dating back to ca. 1410, a Late Gothic Burghers’ Choir Gallery, a lavishly decorated baptismal font (ca. 1585), painted choir stalls from 1581 as well as numerous 15th-century grave slabs and 16th-century stone plates and epitaph plaques which bear testimony to the Protestant ownership of the church during that period.

The cathedral is preceded by a courtyard with a Baroque column of St Florian, framed from the south and west by the Baroque buildings of the Jesuit college (currently serving as the rectory and offices of the Diocesan Curia). The three-storey Jesuit college building was designed on a T-shaped floor plan.

compiled by National Heritage Board of Poland, 2017r.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1330 r.
  • Form of protection: history monument
  • Address: Świdnica
  • Location: Voivodeship dolnośląskie, district świdnicki, commune Świdnica (gm. miejska)
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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