The church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Żywiec
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The church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Żywiec

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The Żywiec co-cathedral is one of the most impressive churches in the entire Żywiec region, presenting an immense architectural and historical value. Due to the close proximity of the castle, the church has long remained under the artistic patronage of the Komorowski noble family, later followed by the Wielkopolski comital family; this special care lavished upon the church resulted in the presence of a valuable, sumptuous décor, accompanying by one of the oldest Gothic ecclesiastical fixtures and fittings in the entire Upper Silesia region.

History

Parish church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected in the first half of the 15th century. It was subsequently extended on numerous occasions, with the first series of works carried out in the years 1515-1542 owing to the generosity of Wawrzyniec Komorowski and involving the extension of the chancel as well as the upward extension of the walls of the entire church. In years 1582-1585, the church was extended once again owing to the involvement and efforts of Jan and Krzysztof Komorowski. A new, Renaissance tower designed by the Italian architect Jan Ricci was erected during that period, while the nave was extended. In years 1596-1608, the chapel of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected on the northern side of the church, while in 1639 a Gethsemane shrine was constructed, the latter being a gift from the local writer, Krzysztof Mrzygłodowicz. The church sustained severe damage in the course of the devastating fire of 1711. The reconstruction efforts commenced right after the disaster struck, with most of the works being completed a mere year later, with the exception of the reconstruction of the tower, which was only completed in 1745, owing to the generosity of Karol Wielkopolski, who donated the necessary funds. Another notable part of the complex was the brick bell tower, erected in years 1723-1724 on the site of an older, wooden structure from the 16th century, funded by Franciszek Wielkopolski, which would later be lost to the blaze when the town was engulfed by a devastating fire in the first half of the 18th century. In 1903, a new sacristy was added, while in 1929, the tomb chapel of the House of Habsburg was erected, its designer being Franciszek Mączyński, an architect based in Cracow. In 1902, the church attained the status of a co-cathedral as a result of the reorganisation of the inner structure of the Catholic Church.

Description

The church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is situated in the city centre at 6 Zamkowa street, between the market square and the Old Castle. Originally, the church was surrounded by a cemetery. Today, no fence restricts the access to the churchyard, with the free-standing bell tower being located in the north-eastern part thereof.

Due to the numerous alteration works which have taken place throughout the years, the church has lost its former stylistic unity, exhibiting the features of both the Gothic and Renaissance style, with certain Baroque influences being present as well. The building, oriented towards the east, is a single-nave structure made of brick and split stone. At its centre lies the nave, designed on a rectangular floor plan, adjoined by the rectangular chapel of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven to the north, the square Habsburg family tomb chapel to the south and a seven-storey tower designed on a square floor plan to the west. The eastern side of the nave is abutted by the chancel, featuring a semi-hexagonal end section and adjoined by an annex to the south, originally designed to serve as the narthex and the sacristy. The eastern side of the chancel, on the other hand, is adjoined by the hexagonal Gethsemane chapel. Inside, the interiors are graced with vibrant painted decorations as well as lierne vaults in the middle and eastern parts of the nave, with the remaining interiors featuring mostly barrel vaults, some of them equipped with lunettes. The main entrance, located in the western façade, is accentuated by a lavishly decorated Renaissance portal, with the walls of the main body of the church - the nave and the chancel - being reinforced with buttresses. The main body of the church is covered with a gable roof, with the exception of the chapels, crowned with domed roofs, and the tower, which features a Baroque cupola. The roof ridge above the nave is surmounted with an octagonal steeple.

Inside, the church features many valuable fixtures and fittings from the 18th century, designed predominantly in the Baroque style. Notable items include the main altarpiece with a statue of the Virgin Mary of Immaculate Conception and the side altarpieces flanking the rood beam, with the left altarpiece incorporating the bas-relief depicting the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dating back to ca. 1500. Other items which deserve a mention at this stage include the Late Baroque confessionals, numerous valuable paintings, a Renaissance baptismal font, a Regency pulpit and a Late Baroque pipe organ casing.

A brick bell tower, visible all the way from the market square, rises above the north-eastern part of the churchyard. It is a five-storey structure designed on a square floor plan and covered with a pyramid hipped roof. Beneath the eaves, distinctive sgraffito decorations can still be seen.

The site is open to the general public.

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

Bibliography

  • Record sheet of monuments of architecture and urban design, The bell tower of the church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, compiled by Marek Cempla (2001), Archive of the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Katowice
  • Record sheet of monuments of architecture and urban design, The parish church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, compiled by Marek Cempla (2001), Archive of the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Katowice
  • Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska. Warsaw 2008, p. 422.
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, Vol. I: Województwo krakowskie, J. Szablowski (ed.), issue 15 powiat żywiecki, Dąbrowa Górnicza, Sosnowiec, compiled by J. Szablewski, Warsaw 1951, pp. 23-25.
  • Przewodnik po Kościołach Żywieckich, Towarzystwo Miłośników Ziemi Żywieckiej, Żywiec 1992, pp. 8-16.

General information

  • Type: church
  • Chronology: 1. poł. XV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Zamkowa 6, Żywiec
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district żywiecki, commune Żywiec
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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