Parish church of St James the Apostle, Toruń
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Parish church of St James the Apostle

Toruń

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The most outstanding among all of the Gothic churches in the Chełmno region and one of the earliest examples of churches featuring a basilica layout and as well as flying buttresses supporting the walls of the nave - a solution that, while commonplace in Western Europe, was used very rarely in the Polish territories. The inner wall of the organ gallery remains one of the most spectacular works of medieval brick architecture due to the highly unusual appearance of its eastern bay, designed to resemble a polygonal apse. The interior of the church is graced by surviving Gothic painted decorations as well as fixtures and fittings designed in the Baroque and Rococo styles.

History

The Church of St James the Apostle was erected as a parish church in the 14th century, with the funds for its construction being provided by the Teutonic Order. The cornerstone was laid in 1309 by bishop Herman; the chancel was the first to be completed, with construction works starting as early as 1309 or thereabouts. The main body, following a basilica layout, was completed during the second phase, i.e. in the years 1320-40. In years 1330-40, the church received its vaulted ceiling as well as the two lower storeys of the tower projecting out of the western bay of the main body. The final storey of the tower was only ready in the mid-14th century. During the period between 1359 and the first half of the 15th century, two rows of chapels were added to the sides of the main body. As a result of their construction, the roofs of the side aisles were raised, thereby concealing the flying buttresses that flanked the nave of the church.

In 1345, the Cistercian nuns have taken up residence in the vicinity of the church, with the church itself coming under their administration. It is suspected that later on the local Cistercian convent was merged with the Benedictine convent, with the Benedictine nuns taking over the administration of the church in 1425. During the Reformation period, the church of St James, much like the other churches in Toruń, was taken over by the Protestant community (1557). The interior of the church saw many substantial changes during that period. The church remained in the hands of the Protestants until 1667, when the Benedictine nuns have been reinstated as its administrators by parliamentary decree, reaffirmed later on by the judgement of the royal court of appeal. When the Prussian government ordered the Benedictine convent to disband in 1832, the church of St James became a parish church maintained by the priests from the local diocese. In years 1999 - 2003, a comprehensive restoration of the outer walls of the chancel was carried out. The restoration works also extended to the northern porch, which continues to stand out against the brick church due to its light-coloured plaster finish. In the 1950s, Gothic wall paintings have been discovered in the western part of the church, underneath the organ gallery. The conservation works and studies of these painted decorations continued in the years 1996 - 1999. In recent years, the roofs of the church have been restored, as have the outer surfaces of the nave and tower walls.

Description

The parish church forms part of the city block circumscribed by św. Jakuba street, św. Katarzyny street, Warszawska street and Wola Zamkowa street, near the north-eastern corner of the New Town Market Square. The churchyard is surrounded with a brick wall with wicket gates in the south-western and south-eastern corners. The chancel of the church faces the north-east - an arrangement necessitated by the existing New Town district street grid.

The four-bay main body of the Gothic church was erected on a rectangular floor plan and is adjoined by a five-bay, rectangular chancel to the east, its walls reinforced with buttresses. A rectangular, three-bay sacristy with a staircase tower abuts the north side of the chancel. The massive tower on the western side of the church rises above the front bay its main body.

The main body itself is uniform in shape and follows a basilica layout, dominated by the monumental, five-storey tower crowned with a pair of hip roofs. The walls of the main body are reinforced with buttresses and flanked by two rows of chapels on both sides; the chancel features a system of exterior buttresses topped with tall pinnacles adorned with wimpergs, projecting above the chancel walls. The nave and the chancel feature separate gable roofs.

The church is a brick structure, with the bricks themselves arranged in a monk bond. The structure features a tall wall base at the bottom. The roofs are clad with roof tiles of the monk-and-nun type. The nave, the chancel and the ground floor section of the tower all feature brick stellar vaults with four main diagonal ribs, while the side aisles and the porch feature ribbed groin vaults and a double barrel vault respectively. All of the windows are topped with pointed arches, with splayed reveals on the outside and profiled edges.

The façades of both the main body and the chancel feature a dense arrangement of buttresses.

The buttresses of the side aisles are now concealed beneath the raised roofline, with only the pinnacles at the top thereof being visible.

The chancel features a system of exterior buttresses topped with tall pinnacles projecting above the chancel walls, adorned with slender, lancet-shaped blind windows with a plaster finish and lavishly decorated wimpergs. The staircase turrets adjoining the chancel and the sacristy are likewise lavishly decorated.

The front (western) façade of the main body is flanked with two-stepped buttresses topped with pinnacles and features a profiled, pointed-arch portal in the middle. The tower façade and the front façade of the church form a single, almost uninterrupted surface, with the individual storeys of the tower separated by friezes and adorned with rows of decorative blind windows and bipartite mullioned windows, the same arrangement being also carried over to the other sides of the tower.

The northern and southern façades of the main body follow a three-axial layout and are largely obscured by adjoining chapels, with only the pointed arches of the windows being visible above the chapel rooflines.

The northern and southern façades of the chapels feature tripartite windows separated by single-stepped buttresses.

The façades of the chancel are adorned with a frieze running around their lower section, made up of yellow-green ceramic tiles which form an inscription commemorating the foundation of the church. The entire façade is topped with a triangular gable characterised by a profusion of decorative flourishes seldom seen in brick architecture, partitioned with lesenes crowned with slender pinnacles. The spaces between the lesenes, topped with wimpergs, are occupied by circular blind windows adorned with tracery.

Inside the church, the nave and the side aisles are separated by broad arcades, with both the edges of the arches themselves and the supporting pillars being lavishly profiled. The upper section of the nave walls features a rather peculiar design, with each bay of the nave featuring an arcaded niche on each side. Inside each of those niches there is a section of a gallery running alongside the windows, with the individual sections of the gallery being separated by walls pierced with tunnel-shaped passages. The large swathes of the walls between the niches are partitioned with clustered wall ribs flowing onto the pillars below. An inscription commemorating the foundation of the church, made up of ceramic tiles, runs across the walls of the organ gallery.

The current interior décor consists of numerous paintings, sculptures and other items created over the period of a few hundred years; some of them were designed specifically with the church of St James in mind, while others were relocated here as a result of various historical events, with the items brought here from the Dominican church of St Nicholas in Toruń, demolished in the 1820s, being a good example of the latter. Some of the works of art that had once graced the interiors of the church of St James, on the other hand, has been removed to different locations, such as the Pelplin Diocese Museum, while others still have been destroyed or stolen throughout the ages.

The chancel features numerous surviving Gothic wall paintings dating back to the years 1380-1390, depicting, among others, St James the Elder and St Philip; another notable feature is the main altarpiece from 1731, originating from the circle of craftsmen based in Chełmno and incorporating a depiction of St James, the patron of the church. Late Renaissance choir stalls from the early 17th century line the walls of the chancel. Yet another item which deserves a mention at this stage is the painting of the Passion of Christ on the northern wall, designed as a simultaneous panorama consisting of 22 scenes in total, dating back to ca. 1480-90 and evidently influenced by the art of the Netherlands.

Inside the main nave there is a Rococo pulpit from ca. 1770 and a Mannerist pipe organ casing dating back to 1611. The side altarpieces are positioned alongside the pillars between the naves. A group of wall paintings executed between 1350 and 1360 can be admired on the walls of the arcades positioned beneath the tower as well as on the pillars in the western part of the church, with the themes of the paintings revolving - among others - around Judgement Day, Christ the Judge and St Peter. Inside the southern nave, visitors can admire various works of art of the Gothic period, including the crucifix superimposed on the Tree of Life and accompanied by figures of various prophets, dating back to the late 14th century and relocated here from the church of St Nicholas. Inside the westernmost chapel on the southern side of the church there is a miraculous crucifix, likewise relocated from the now-vanished Dominican church, as well as the painting entitled “The Adoration of Christ Crucified” by Bartholomeus Strobel.

Among the various examples of fine goldsmithery, the Gothic ciborium from the fourth quarter of the 14th century, the reliquary crucifix from the same period as well as two Baroque monstrances made by Toruń-based craftsmen deserve a particular attention.

Church tours are available Monday to Saturday, 10 AM - 4 PM. Sundays: 2 PM - 4 PM. The interiors of the church are open during church service.

compiled by Marzenna Stocka, National Heritage Board of Poland Regional Branch in Toruń, 05-10-2014.

Bibliography

  • Krantz-Domasłowska L., Domasłowski J., Kościół świętego Jakuba w Toruniu, Toruń, Toruń Research Society, 2001
  • Klim A., Stocka M., Kościół pw. św. Jakuba w Toruniu, Toruń, Regionalny Ośrodek Studiów i Ochrony Środowiska Kulturowego w Toruniu, 1997
  • Błażejewska A., Kluczwajd K., Pilecka E., Tylicki J., Dzieje Sztuki Torunia, 2009, p. 64
 

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1309 r.-poł. XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Rynek Nowomiejski , Toruń
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district Toruń, commune Toruń
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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