The church of St Michael the Archangel, Żernica
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The church of St Michael the Archangel

Żernica

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The building forms a notable example of ecclesiastical wooden architecture, with its artistic, architectural and research value making it a historical monument of regional importance. Its most extraordinary features include the well-preserved 17th-century painted decorations designed in the Biblia Pauperum (Paupers’ Bible) tradition as well as the numerous period items such as the sumptuously decorated two-tier main altarpiece from 1648. The inclusion on the Wooden Architecture Trail of the Silesian Region is likewise a proof of the exceptional quality of the church. In addition, the location of the church, perched atop a hillock and surrounded by a few specimens of ancient trees, is reminiscent of rural traditions and spatial arrangements which manifested themselves in the form of the so-called “sacred groves”, whereby a church surrounded by dense vegetation would tower majestically above the rest of the village.

History

The very first mentions of the existence of a church in Żernica date back to 1279, with the documents from the years 1376 and 1447 referring to it as a parish church. The original church was destroyed in the course of Hussite wars in the 1st half of the 15th century. The current church of St Michael the Archangel was erected in 1661, with the necessary funds being provided by the Cistercian abbot from the village of Rudy, Andrzej Emanuel. In the years 1283-1810, the church remained under the administration of the Cistercian monastery in Rudy Wielkie. The dendrochronological analyses performed so far have proved that the tower is the oldest surviving part of the church, having originally been constructed back in 1518 and later joined by the new nave and chancel. Due to the perishable nature of wood, the church was renovated and refurbished on numerous occasions, with the first documented repairs having been carried out on the tower in 1813, later followed by the first comprehensive renovation of the church in 1864. In 1889, a new fence was erected; the subsequent works were mostly performed in the first half of the 20th century. In the wake of the establishment of a new parish in Żernica, the church became abandoned in 1970. In years 1998-2008, the church underwent a full-scale restoration in the course of which more than 500 square metres of painted decorations were revealed, with some of these decorations dating back to the period when the church itself was built, i.e. from the year 1661.

Description

The church of St Michael the Archangel stands at the top of the hill in the middle of the Żernica village, at 3 Leopolda Miki street. The single-nave church, oriented towards the east, was designed as a wooden log structure, positioned on brick and stone foundations. Its design shows influences of the Gothic Revival style, with the silhouette of the building consisting of the tower, the nave and the chancel. The tower, a post-and-beam structure designed on a roughly square plan and clad with wood shingles, is topped with a distinct belfry clad with weatherboards. The ground-floor level of the tower serves as the vestibule, accessible by means of a small western porch. The nave, designed on a rectangular floor plan, is a log structure, its southern section reinforced with vertical supports. The northern side of the nave is adjoined by a small porch, a storage annex and cloister-like walkways situated in the north-western corner. Like the nave, the chancel is also a wooden log structure; it features a semi-hexagonal end section and is adjoined by a rectangular sacristy to the north. The building is characterised by a complex silhouette, consisting of several adjoining sections covered with gable roofs, with a hexagonal turret with a roof lantern crowned with a pyramid-shaped roof jutting from the roof ridge above the nave. The end section of the chancel is covered with a multi-faceted roof. The sacristy and the porch are covered with shed roofs, while the tower is crowned with an octagonal spire topped with a Cross of Lorraine. The church also features an additional decorative flourish in the form of 17th-century decorations made of sheet metal - the figure of St Michael the Archangel locked in the struggle against the dragon positioned above the chancel roof as well as the figure of the Virgin Mary on a crescent, displayed atop the roof of the steeple. The middle section of the chancel features a false barrel vault, while the other spaces inside the church come equipped with flat ceilings. The nave ceiling is supported by a pair of intersecting, decorative crossbeams. The chancel is separated from the nave by a simple, profiled rood beam, with the western part of the nave housing an organ gallery which had originally served as the narthex, supported by a pair of wooden pillars with decorative capitals. Only the southern façade of the church features windows. The windows of both the nave and the chancel are framed by massive, wooden casings, adorned with a profiled lintel cornice on the outside. The church has two entrances, with the main entrance leading through the porch preceding the western façade. The side entrance is positioned on the northern side of the structure and likewise leads through a small porch. Notable fixtures and fittings include the two-tier, Baroque main altarpiece from 1648, featuring a profusion of gilded decorations and a centrally positioned painting of St Michael the Archangel locked in a mortal struggle against the devil, dating back to the 17th century. Other items which deserve a mention at this stage include the two side altarpieces - the left altarpiece, designed in the Late Baroque style and dating back to 1756, incorporating the painting of the Virgin Mary with Child, as well as the Classicist altarpiece on the right, dating back to the mid- 19th century and incorporating the painted portrayal of St Joseph and St Barbara. The church also contains a Baroque pulpit and organ gallery, both of which display influences of the vernacular style. The most impressive feature of the interior, however, are undoubtedly the 17th-century painted decorations covering almost the entire surface of the walls and ceilings. The themes explored by the painted decorations are directly linked to the Gospel, including Biblical scenes, various saints as well as the portrayal of the Seven Sacraments, with the entire arrangement forming a narrative known as the Paupers’ Bible.

It can be viewed from outside.

compiled by Agata Mucha, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Katowice, 18-09-2014.

Bibliography

  • Katalog Zabytków Sztuki w Polsce, vol. VI woj. katowickie, I. Rejduch-Samkowa, J. Samka (eds.), issue 5 Powiat Gliwicki, compiled by E. Dwornik-Gutowska, M. Gutowski, K. Kutrzebianka, Warsaw 1966, pp. 113-115
  • J. Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska, Warsaw 2008, p. 419
  • Record sheet of monuments of architecture and urban design. Parish church of St Michael the Archangel, compiled by E. Caban, 1997
  • Record sheet of monuments of architecture and urban design (the so-called green record sheet). Parish church of St Michael the Archangel, 1959.
  • Konieczny A., Sprawozdanie z badań dendrochronologicznych zabytkowych kościołów w województwie śląskim przeprowadzonych w 2008 roku, [in:] Wiadomości konserwatorskie województwa śląskiego, Vol. 1, G. Bożek (ed.), Katowice 2009, pp. 95-126
  • Kontny I., Ratowanie drewnianego kościółka w Żernicy, [in:] Wiadomości konserwatorskie województwa śląskiego, Vol. 3, G. Bożek (ed.), Katowice 2011, pp. 43-60
  • Poloczek A., Konserwacja polichromii w kościele pw. św. Michała Archanioła w Żernicy k. Gliwic, [in:] Wiadomości konserwatorskie województwa śląskiego, Vol. 1, G. Bożek (ed.), Katowice 2009, pp. 45-50
  • Pleszyniak J., Drewniane kościoły na spichlerzowym szlaku powiatu gliwickiego, Katowice 2012, pp. 80-89

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1518 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Leopolda Miki 3, Żernica
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district gliwicki, commune Pilchowice
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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