The first part of this paper aims to analyze the pattern of the network of Krakow town churches in the Romanesque and Gothic periods and studies the
role of these individual components of urban landscape taking into account the significance of their dedications (patrocinia) in the symbolic space of the town.
The rocky (Wawel) Hill, rising among the meanders of the Vistula River, constitutes the centre of Krakow. Since the very end of the 10th century it was the seat of the bishops and the ducal residence, and later it became the
main residence of the Polish kings. In the Romanesque period ten churches and chapels were built here: the cathedral complex consisted of the baptistery
chapel and two basilicas, and seven other small churches and chapels according to the concept developed in the early Middle Ages following the exegesis
of the apocalyptic vision of St John the Evangelist.
Beneath the castle, along the main trade routes, four churches were founded in modo cruces. Some historians have suggested that the idea of a cruciform layout came from Prince Kazimir, known as the Restorer. In the
second half of the 11th century the prince intended to re-create in his capital the layout of the imperial seat in Aachen, an arrangement rich in powerful association.
At the end of the 12th century, three more churches dedicated to the Roman Martyrs were founded in Krakow simultaneously as an attempt to reinvent the city as a similitudo Romae in its Early Christian glory.
The second part of this paper explains the distinguishing features of the cathedral church and other churches in town and argues that iconographic analysis of their architecture helps to explain their unique character and
During the 14th century the cathedral church was quickly becoming one the most important in the Kingdom, the true Königskirche. The idea of Christian Kingship was an important part of their iconographic program. Also
the monumental basilical churches in town can be seen as a manifestation of Kingdom and Kingship. In contrast to the importance of the monumental basilical churches, the meanings of the small hall churches concentrated
more on the devotion aspects.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages the city space gradually took on new symbolic meanings connected with the cathedral church as the sanctuary of St Stanislaw, Pater Patriae – the primary political patron of Poland.
Middle Ages; Krakow; Meanings of Architecture
The city of Krakow is unique in that its many medieval monuments - ecclesiastical
as well as secular - have been preserved and still dominate the townscape.
The medieval agglomeration can be clearly discerned in the centre of the
contemporary city. A lot has been written about the history of Krakow and its
monuments but the meaning of the structure of the medieval town still awaits
a proper study. Most important is an analysis of the network of Krakow town
churches in the Romanesque and Gothic periods together with the role of
these individual components of urban landscape and the signifi cance of their
dedications (patrocinia) in a symbolic space of the town. There are also some
important architectural elements which help create the sacral space of these
monumental dominant features.
The rocky Wawel Hill, rising among the meanders of the Vistula River,
constitutes the centre of Krakow. From the very end of the 10th century it was
the seat of the bishops and the ducal residence, and later it became the main
residence of the Polish kings.
In the Romanesque period ten churches and chapels were built here: the
cathedral complex consisted of the baptistery chapel and two basilicas, and
seven other small churches and chapels according to the concept developed
in the early Middle Ages following the exegesis of the apocalyptic vision of St
John the Evangelist. Probably the tallest among these structures was the double
storey tetraconchos - the palace chapel of St Mary placed in the middle of
the hill (Pianowski 1995; Węcławowicz 2005b). (ill. 1)
Beneath the castle, along the main trade routes, four churches were
founded in modo crucis: The Holy Saviour in the West, St Adalbert to the North,
St Nicholas in the West and St Benedict on the South side. No sources shed
any light on the circumstances of these four foundations, but their relics suggest
that they were built in the second half of the 11th century. Some historians
have suggested that the idea of a cruciform layout came from Prince Kazimir,
known as the Restorer, but was realized only later by his son King Boleslaus.
Prince Kazimir was related to the Emperor Otto III and spent his youth in
Aachen and Cologne. In Aachen he might have seen the realisation of a similar
imperial foundation - Otto III built three churches around the Carolingian
palace complex with the chapel of St Mary. Just as in Krakow, these were dedicated
to the Holy Saviour, St. Adalbert and St Nicholas (Michałowski 1989;
Skwierczynski 1993, pp. 36ff). It is important to emphasise that the Christian
name of Prince Kazimir was Carolus, and it was given to him to stress the relation
between the young Piast dynasty and the rulers of the Sacrum Romanum
Imperium. The Restorer was strongly supported by his uncle, the archbishop of
Cologne, in his campaign to renovate the Church organization in Poland. All
these links make it feasible for the prince to recreate in his Polish capital the
layout of the Imperial seat in Aachen, an arrangement rich in powerful association.
(ill. 2 and 3)
One hundred years later, at the end of the 12th century, three more churches
were founded in Krakow simultaneously. These were St Florian, St Stephen
and St Lawrence built on the western, southern and northern peripheries of
the agglomeration. In 1186 Bishop Gideon transferred the relics of St Florian
from Italy to Krakow in order to enhance the status of his cathedral. According
to a medieval legend of this transfer [Legenda translationis sancti Floriani
Martyri] the relics of St Florian rested in Roman catacombs together with
those of St Stephen and St Laurence. In view of this "holy affi nity" we may
interpret the foundation of their three Krakow churches as an attempt to
reinvent the city as a similitude Rome in its Early Christian glory (Translation
1888; Węcławowicz 2005a, pp. 134136). Till the end of the Middle Ages the
urban borders hardly transcended the approximate limits defi ned in ca 1200 by
the churches of St Stephen, St Florian and St Laurence. (ill. 4 and 5)
In the mid14th century, Central Europe experienced important political and
economic changes. In Poland, the ancient and revered Piast dynasty returned to
power with the coronation of King Ladislaw the Short in 1320, restoring political
unity after two hundred years of political fragmentation. Krakow became
the capital town of the new state. Under the royal and bishop's patronage old
churches were rebuilt in the city itself as well as in the two new satellite towns
outside the capital's defensive walls - called Kazimir (Casimirus) and Klepardia
(Clepardia). (ill. 5 and 11)
The rebuilding of Krakow cathedral as a large Gothic basilica was the first
of these modern foundations, and others soon followed suit - the main parish
church of St. Mary, the Dominican church, and two large basilicas (the church
of the Austin Friars and the parish church of Corpus Christi), which were constructed
in Kasimir. All these churches shared similar characteristics in their
ground plan, construction and architectural detail pioneered by the cathedral
workshop and have thus been treated in the literature as a one group, the so-called
‘Krakow school of fourteenth century architecture'. (Crossley 1985, pp.
1884; Crossley 1995; Węcławowicz 1993) (ill. 6 and 7a-d)
In the same period the second group of churches, among them some of the
above-mentioned Romanesque churches, were reconstructed, again following
a strikingly uniform model. (ill. 8a-c and 9a-e)
It is important to explain the distinguishing features of the churches belonging
to these two groups and to argue that iconographic analysis of their architecture
helps to explain their unique character and appearance. Especially helpful
in this can be an attempt to understand the intention of the founder. The four
nearly identical basilicas, following one scheme and constructed over a short
time, seem to have been conceived as a part of an artistic program for the
rebuilding of the Polish capital town. Their naves were modelled on the nave
of the cathedral and it is likely that it was their patrons' intention to convey
some of the ideas of the cathedral church. In the middle of the 14th century the
Krakow cathedral quickly became one the most important in the Kingdom, the
true Königskirche - the coronation church, the royal mausoleum and the shrine
of the national patron saint. The Gothic remodelling of the cathedral church
treated the sacrosanct places connected to the saint with great respect. The
location of his Romanesque tomb was unchanged and it became the geometrical
and devotional focus of the new basilica.
The arrangement of the royal tombs "in the orbit" of St Stanislaw's shrine
- those of Ladislaw the Short and his son Kazimir the Great are placed in the
eastern part of the ambulatory and those of Ladislaw the Jagiellon and his son
Kazimir the Jagiellon in its western part - emphasizes the role of St Stanislaw
as the patron saint of the Polish Kingdom and the meaning of the church space
as a microcosm representing that kingdom in both the territorial and historical
sense. Royal coronations took place in the centre of the cathedral church and
thus in the centre of the Kingdom. (ill. 10)
The disposition of the cathedral interior and surviving fragments of the
original cathedral decoration - e.g., the fi gure of St Stanislaw, the coat of
arms with the Polish eagle - testify that the idea of Christian Kingship was an
important part of their iconographic program. (Crossley 1995; Crossley 2001;
Rożnowska-Sadraei 2003, Węcławowicz 2005, pp. 65-98)
In the above-mentioned basilical churches some elements of decorations
refer to similar ideas: e.g., the coat of arms with the Polish eagle, and the coats
of arms of the members of the Royal family. The King's name KAZYMIRUS
was spelled out on the rib-vault bosses. These monumental churches can be
seen as a manifestation of Kingdom and Kingship.
The remains of the small Romanesque churches from the second group
have also been excavated and studied. Archaeological and historical research
has shown that all these buildings were redesigned to have Gothic hall naves
with a pair or a single pillar in the middle (Goras 2003). (ill. 8 and 9)
In contrast with the importance of the monumental basilical churches, the
intentions of this group concentrated more on the devotion aspects. According
to the biblical exegesis, the central stone pillar can be seen as an allegory
of the True Cross, in moral or so-called tropological interpretation as the Tree
of Paradise. Anagogical interpretation understands the pillar as the tree standing
in the middle of Heavenly Jerusalem as seen by St. John in his vision of the
During the 15th century the city of Krakow itself came to be seen as being under
the special protection of St Stanislaw - the primary political patron of Poland.
The city space gradually took on new symbolic meanings connected with
the cathedral church. In some of the 15th century descriptions the city space
gradually took on new symbolic meanings: towering above the town was the
royal castle surrounded by "crownshaped" walls - the seat of kings and the
cathedral church, the resting place of the holy relics of St Stanislaw, the Pater
Patriae (Dlugosz 1961, pp. 168169).
Moreover Krakow also appears (contrary to geographical facts) to be situated
in the very centre of Poland as well as in the very centre of Europe. The
topos of the town "in the centre" goes back to Ezekiel's vision of Jerusalem
existing amidst pagan states.
At the end of the Middle Ages Krakow's inhabitants had no doubt - the
omphalos was placed inside the cathedral church, at St Stanislaw's shrine. (ill. 11)
Crossley, P. (1985). Gothic Architecture in the Reign of Kazimir the Great. Church Architecture in Lesser Poland 13201380.
Crossley, P. (1995). Krakow Cathedral and the Formation of a Dynastic Architecture in
Southern Central Europe, In F. AmesLewis
(Ed.), Polish and English Responses
to French Art and Architecture. Contrasts and Similarities. Papers delivered at the
University of London and University of Warsaw History of Art Conference, (pp. 3145). London.
Crossley, P. (2001). Bohemia Sacra and Polonia sacra. Liturgy and History in Prague
and Krakow Cathedrals, Folia Historia Atrium, series nova, 7, 49-68.
Goras, M. (2003). Zaginione gotyckie kościoły Krakowa [Lost Gothic Churches of Krakow], Kraków.
Długosz, J. (1964). Annales seu cronicae inlicti regni Poloniae [Annuals or Chronicles of
Polish Kingdom], (Vol. I). Varsaviae-Cracoviae.
Michałowski, R. (1989). Princeps Fundator, Studium z dziejów kultury politycznej w
Polsce XXIII [Prince the Founder. Studies in the Political Culture in Poland of 10th – 13th centuries], Warszawa.
Mroczko, T., Arszyński, M. (1995). Architektura gotycka w Polsce [Gothic Architecture in Poland], (Vol. IIV). Warszawa.
Pianowski, Z. (1995). L’architecture préromane et romane au chateau royal de Cracovie [Early Romanesque and Romanesque Architecture of the Royal Castle in Krakow], Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale, 38/2.
Pianowski, Z. (1998). Architektura monumentalna Wawelu 1000 – ok. 1380
[Monumental Architecture on Wawel Hill 1000 – ca 1380]. In Civitates Principales. Wybrane ośrodki władzy w Polsce wczesnośredniowiecznej, (s. 6164). Gniezno.
Rożnowska-Sadraei, A. (2003) Theatrum Passio Sancti Stanislai. Some Thoughts on
the Role of the Krakow Cathedral as the Shrine of St Stanislaw, Folia Historica
Cracoviensia, 9, 141-155.
Skwierczyński K. (1996). Custodia civitatis. Sakralny system ochrony miasta w Polsce
wczesnego średniowiecza na przykładzie siedzib biskupich [Sacral Defensible System of the Towns in Early Middle Ages: The Bishops Seats], Kwartalnik Historyczny, 103, 3-51.
Translatio sancti Floriani (1888) [The Transfer of the Relics of St Florian] In A. Bielowski (Ed.) Monumenta Poloniae Historica (Vol. 4, s. 757-760). Lwów.
Węcławowicz, T. (1993) Gotyckie bazyliki Krakowa [Gothic Basilical Churces of
Węcławowicz, T. (2005a). Krakowski kościół katedralny w wiekach średnich, Zagadnienie
funkcji i możliwości interpretacji, [Krakow Cathedral Church in Middle Ages. Functions and Possibilities of Interpretations], Kraków.
Węcławowicz, T. (2005b). Von der Doppelkathedrale zur Kirchenfamilie. Die
frühmittelalterliche Bischofssitze im Piasten Raum [From the Double-cathedral
till the Family-of-the-Churches. Early Medieval Bishops Seats in the Reign of the Piast Dynasty]. In Regnum Bohemiae et Sacrum Romanum Imperium. Sborník k poctě Jiřího Kuthana, (pp. 179196). Praha.