Sep 18

St. Mary’s Church (Biserica Sf. Maria)

St. Mary’s Church is the Roman Catholic Church situated in the Gdansk region of Poland. The noteworthy information writers might be interested in learning is that the church is the largest religious institution in the entire world which is made out of brick. The construction work began in the later decades of the 14th century and as the project advanced, the impressive Gothic edifice began to take form.   

The colossal construction measures 105.5 m in length, being able to fit within its walls as much as 25.000 people. But in order to reach this stature, the edifice underwent a progressive development.

Initially, the site housed a different construction which had been erected by Swietopelk II, the Duke of Pomerelia Gdansk. This earlier church was constructed in 1243 and consisted of a wooden structure. Only after a century had gone by, did the foundation stone for the new church was set. This construction work was completed in 1360 and its result was a basilica that featured a small steeple. Parts of this basilica are still preserved to our days, but these refer solely to the lower levels of the construction upon which additional layers were built.

The church that presents itself today before us has been erected between 1379 and 1496. Heinrich Ungeradin, an expert in masonry, was the person appointed to supervise the project, thus the result was bound to be impressive. The construction lingered on and by 1447 only the eastern segment of the edifice was erected.  Ungeradin did not manage to see the church completed, his successor Hans Brandt taking things from where Ungeradin had left off.

The history of Poland is quite troubled so it is no wonder that the church had witnessed several experiences which greatly impacted the institution. For instance the three partitions of Poland had affected the church in as much as the Prussian authorities deprived the cathedral of much of its treasures. Valuable objects such as sacred vessels, pieces of clothing, fabrics and garments made out of materials from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt were lost. The objects made out of precious metals were melted down in order to forge other items of value. Even the golden embroidery that adorned the vestments was carefully removed so as to decorate the uniforms of Prussian officers.

Even with these alterations, the church, as a building, was left unspoiled. The interior and the exterior had managed to preserve their appearance throughout the centuries, up until the Second World War. This time of warfare left a deep scare on the walls of the church, especially after the Danzing city had been the target of an air raid (in 1945). The ceiling came tumbling down almost in its entirety after having burnt. The devastation was impressive: the windows were smashed into millions of fragments and in several places the bricks melted because of the high temperature which was registered within the walls of the edifice.

But even under these dire conditions, the artwork encountered at the interior of the church had managed to maintain its original look – not because the pieces of art had survived the attack while contained within the walls of the church but because these had been removed from the premises long before the air raid was initiated and had been taken into safekeeping. After the restoration process was completed, many of these items had found their way “back home,” thus tourists have the opportunity to gaze on the original oeuvre encountered at St. Mary’s Church – or at least part of it because a number of items was transferred to several museums across the country.

The refurbishing process was begun immediately after the war, in 1946. By the end of summer, the following year, the ceiling had been reconstructed and was secured by a layer of concrete in order to prevent subsequent incidents from causing too much damage to the roof.

The interior decoration consists of various works of art which are representative for the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque painting. The exterior of the church bears the mark of the Gothic architectural design, the narrow windows being an accurate illustration of this style. There are no decorative items found on the exterior, the façades consisting solely of plain bricks. The elements that contribute to the majestic appearance, besides the actual stature of the edifice, are the towers which are located on each corner of the building and are topped by means of metallic headpieces, to which are added the gables and the pinnacles which pierce the roof every now and then.

The belfry shelters two bells: Gratia Dei, the larger one, which reaches an F sharp note, and Ave Maria, the smaller one which sounds in C sharp.