Medieval Krakow and its churches: Structure and meanings

Tomasz Węcławowicz

Abstrakt

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

appearance.

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.


Klíčová slova

Middle Ages; Krakow; Meanings of Architecture


Článek v PDF ke stažení




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


Last Judgment.




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)



Zdroje

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Tomasz Węcławowicz


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