St. Mary's Church – History

St. Mary's Church

The famous St. Mary's Church is located in the eastern part of the Market Square, whose full name is the Archpriestial Church of St.. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It stands diagonally in relation to the axis of the square, and that's why, that he already existed then, when the Market Square was marked out in the 13th century. From the very beginning, St. Mary's Church was the main parish church of the city of Krakow, under the patronage of wealthy bourgeois families. Without diminishing the rank of the works of art gathered in it, to this day it has retained its bourgeois-plebeian character. Compared to the Wawel Cathedral, there is less pathos and less burden of tradition. The most famous monument of the temple is the altar of Veit Stoss, considered the most magnificent of the Gothic carved altars in Europe. They are also of great artistic value: polychrome by Jan Matejko, gothic stained glass, and the newer ones, made by Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer. Epitaph plaques of Krakow patricians and wooden stalls also deserve attention, being part of the baroque furnishings of the temple. Hundreds of coffins of wealthy and influential townspeople are hidden under the floor, for whom the burial in the St. Mary's underground was the honorable end of the earthly journey and emphasized the importance of, which they enjoyed while they were alive. The peculiarity of the St. Mary's Church is the fact, that most of the really old equipment and works of art is at hand. So you can sit in the stalli, in which one of the Boners or Matejko himself used to sit. Closeness in communing with the Stoss altar, with the works of baroque masters or even with such a detail, like a piggy bank of a sixteenth-century bourgeoisie, it is very clearly felt here.


The original St. Mary's Church was built of wood. When he served his, in his place in the years 1221-1222 a romanesque temple was built, with dimensions similar to today's church, which unfortunately was destroyed during the Tatar invasions. The Romanesque foundations were partially used, when in 1290 r. the construction of a new one was started, a brick gothic building with two towers and three naves of equal height (if the three aisles are of equal height, we are dealing with a hall system). From the very beginning, it was the main parish church in Kraków, over which the patronage was exercised by mighty families of Krakow patricians: Boner, Montelupich, Solomon Islands, Bet-men, Łukowice, Gałeczko, Moczarski, Klosowicz and many others. The king and the court had a representative Wawel cathedral, Cracovians have their St. Mary's Church. For centuries, they spared no effort and money, that the temple would be their pride and a worthy showpiece of the city. Donations from the faithful flowed in a wide stream: valuables were offered equally generously, what earthly goods were recorded. It didn't take ages, so that Mariacki becomes the richest church in Krakow. The donors included roughly the same number of Poles as Germans, therefore, at the end of the 14th century. sermons were given in both languages, and a little later only in German. The situation changed only in 1537 r., together with the clear polonization of the Krakow bourgeoisie and the decisive policy of the Krakow bishopric. The preaching of German sermons was then transferred to the neighboring church of St.. Barbary. Until today, masses are celebrated there. in German.

In the mid-fourteenth century, thanks to the generosity of Mikołaj Wierzynek - a prominent burgher and a Sandomierz carpenter, an elongated presbytery was added to the main body of the church. At the end of the same century, master Nicholas Werner transformed the interior from a hall to a basilica (i.e. with the nave illuminated by windows located above the roofs of the aisles), and in the mid-15th century. Franciszek Wiechoń from Kleparz added chapels to the outer walls of the aisles. At that time, the appearance of the north tower was significantly changed. Archpriest Jacek Augustyn Łopacki, who was active in the 18th century, erased the traces of the Gothic and introduced the late Baroque into the interior. A century later, the parish cemetery that existed right next to the church since the ancient Middle Ages was liquidated and this is how the intimate Mariacki Square was created. In the last decade of the 19th century. a blast of new art burst into the temple, leaving behind the Matejko polychrome illuminated to this day with stained glass windows by Wyspiański and Mehoffer.

The decision to build a new altar for St. Mary's Church was an extremely serious undertaking, proving the wealth and stability of the then bourgeoisie. The City Council chose the sculptor Wit Stoss as the contractor (1447-1533), previously working probably in Swabia and the Rhineland. It is said that influential Freemason brothers whispered a word behind him, because then it was worth having protection, especially when it comes to prestigious orders, and profitable – the altar cost so much, how much was the city's annual budget.

Wit Stwosz set up a studio at Grodzka Street, in which with helpers and students for twelve years (from 1477 do 1489 r.) worked on the order. The construction of the altar was controlled by a special commission composed of city councilors. Day 25 July 1489 r. there was a solemn unveiling and consecration of the Marian altar. A few years later, Stoss left for Nuremberg forever, leaving in Krakow, except for the son of Stanisław, the following works: Kazimierz Jagiellończyk's tombstone in the Wawel Cathedral, the statue of St.. Anna Samotrzenie in the Bernardine church, the epitaph of Callimachus in the Dominican church, sculpture of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (National Museum) and the miraculous crucifix in St Mary's Church. In Nuremberg, Wit Stwosz provided sculpting services for the patriciate and the clergy, but unhappily involved in a fraud scandal (indirectly thanks to Jakub Boner) he was imprisoned and branded.

A grim legend goes, that the towers of St Mary's Church were built by two architectural brothers. In the course of work, one of them showed greater talent and surpassed his brother, building towers taller and more beautiful. A jealous architect, unable to endure competition and defeat, stabbed the knife into his brother's heart, but unable to bear the remorse, he threw himself from the top of his inept structure onto the pavement of the Krakow Market Square.