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Gdansk St Mary’s Church

Gdansk St Marys Church
Gdansk St Mary’s Church / Łukasz Golowanow, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

WorldBlue  In short

For several long centuries the largest Lutheran church in the world was Gdansk St Mary’s Church – an enormous structure built from brick in Gothic style.

This is the third largest brick church in the world after San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, Italy and Munich Frauenkirche in Germany.

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GPS coordinates
54.3499 N 18.6532 E
Location, address
Europe, Poland, Pomerania, Old City of Gdańsk
Full name
Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Name in Polish
Bazylika Mariacka, Bazylika Mariacka Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Gdańsku
Architectural style
Brick Gothic
Year of construction
1379 – 1502
Branch of Christianity
Catholic
Height
82 m

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

History

Early history

The church is located in the historical center of Gdańsk – an old port city that started to develop around the late 10th century.

Christianity was introduced here around the same time. It is not known when the first church was built in the site of present-day St. Mary’s Church, but around 1243 here most likely was a wooden church.

The first brick church was built here in 1343 – 1360: fairly large for its time but considerably smaller than the present one.

Gdańsk around 1575 with St. Mary's Church dominating the skyline
Gdansk around 1575 with St Mary’s Church dominating the skyline / Braun and Hogenberg, Wikimedia Commons, public domain
Construction

In 1379 there was started the construction of the present church. Design and works were led by local craftsman Heinrich Ungeradin. The architecture of the church most likely was inspired by the St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck – the first great example of the Brick Gothic style. Such great churches devoted to St.Mary were built in numerous cities – members of the Hanseatic league.

Construction works of the enormous church continued for a long time until the 1502.

Lutheran church

After several upheavals in the city in 1525 – 1526 the Lutheran Christianity became the leading branch in religion in the city. Initially, in 1536 – 1572 St. Mary’s Church was used both for Roman Catholic and Lutheran services. Since 1572 for four centuries it was a Lutheran church – the largest Lutheran church in the world.

Interesting finds were made here in the 19th and 20th when in the church were found rich collections of medieval art: ornamented garments, altar cloths, paintings, and other items.

View on Gdansk St Mary's Church church in the late 19th century
View on church in the late 19th century / unknown author, Wikimedia Commons, public domain
Second World War and after

The church was heavily damaged at the end of World War II, in March 1945 as the city was stormed by the Red Army. The church was burned down and many vaults collapsed, floor of the church was demolished by Soviet soldiers pillaging the corpses in the basement. Happily many, some 60% of the artworks were preserved because many items were evacuated and hidden in the nearby villages around the city.

Local Germans were expelled from the city starting from March 1945. The city was almost empty but some years later it was repopulated again – now by Poles.

The church was transferred to a Catholic diocese and in 1946 the reconstruction of the church was started. In 1955 the main works were completed but further renovations of the interior are ongoing up to this day.

Description of Gdansk St Mary’s Church

The church is 105.5 m long and its nave is 66 m wide and up to 29 m high. There is enough room for 25,000 people inside.

The tower of the church is 82 m tall and dominates the skyline of the old city.

This is hall church: an enormous structure where the nave and side aisles have similar height and width, forming an enormous hall. Such planning is characteristic of the Late Gothic. The hall is crossed by transept.

Magnificent crystal vaults, Gdansk St Mary's Church
Magnificent crystal vaults / Barbara Maliszewska, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

From the outside the church has not too many embellishments – walls for most part are plain, the windows are narrow, arched. Roof is covered with ceramic tiles.

Vaults of the church are very impressive and are very sophisticated. Nave has net vaults but side aisles – crystal vaults – some of the best worldwide.

The organ in the church was built in 1625 and rebuilt in 1985.

Many artworks of this church are seen in various museums around Poland and abroad but part of the paintings and other art values have been returned.

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