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Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Płock

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Introduction

Mother of
the churches
of Mazovia

The Cathedral Basilica of Płock is situated on the picturesque 50-metre high Wzgórze Tumskie (Cathedral Hill). It was founded around 900 years ago. This medieval church witnessed the most important events happening in Mazovia and together with the abbey and the diocesan museum, it was awarded the Historical Monument status.

Cathedral Basilica is one of the oldest and the largest in the country, at the same time being the largest Renaissance cathedral North West of the Alps. Other Polish churches were based on it too. Inside, we can find a copy of the bronze Płock Doors which are a unique example of Romanesque art in this part of Europe. Also, the polychrome with coats of arms of all Płock bishops amazes with its beauty. Under the Northern tower, in the Royal Chapel, the rules of Poland are buried in Classicist sarcophagus: Władysław I Herman and Bolesław III Krzywousty. In the crypt Konrad Mazowiecki and other dukes have their place of rest. Unique works of art which have been gathered in the treasury complete the image of a real pearl amongst Polish historical monuments.

Płock gigapanorama

History

The largest
Piast necropolis
of the Polish rulers

The Płock Cathedral has guarded faith and history for nine centuries.

Over the centuries, the Cathedral changed its appearance, but it was invariably the most important church of Mazovia. In 1075, when Płock diocese was established, the first wooden cathedral church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was built. During the reign of Bolesław III Krzywousty, the then bishop Alexander of Malonne, started the construction of the country’s largest brick, three-nave, Romanesque Basilica.

In the 16th century, after numerous fires and damages, a thorough, Renaissance reconstruction of the church began. It carried on in the 20th century, when polychrome paintings were added to the interior. Since 1920 the Cathedral has been called the Minor Basilica. The last alterations to it were made at the beginning of the 21st century. In 2018, together with the abbey and the museum, it was awarded the Historical Monument status.

From the medieval temple to the Historical Monument

A thousand of years of the history of Poland, Mazovia and Płock written in the cathedral walls

1075

Second half of the 11th century (about 1075) – the first wooden cathedral church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to “Chronicle” of Gallus, knows as Anonymous, it was the place where Bolesław Krzywousty was knighted in 1100/1101 and where Władysław I Herman was buried in 1102.

1127

The Cathedral was destroyed during the Pomeranian invasion.

1130

The start of construction of the first stone cathedral from granite blocks. It was probably a three-nave basilica with a transept and a chancel which ended with an apse. Western choir was closed off with two towers.

1144

The consecration of the Romanesque cathedral which was built by Bishop Alexander of Malonne. At that time, it was larger than cathedrals in Gniezno and Kraków.

1154

Creation of two-wing bronze main entrance doors in Magdeburg, called Płock Doors. In the 13th or 14th century, in unexplained circumstances, the door was found in the Council of St. Sofia in Nowogród Wielki.

1233

A great fire which destroyed load bearing walls of the temple.

1239

Duke Konrad of Mazovia gave a chalice with a paten as a propitiative gift.

1243

The Prussians desolated the cathedral and the city.

1370

King Kazimierz Wielki gives the cathedral a herma on the relics of St. Zygmunt – patron of Płock.

1492

Because of the risk of the tower collapsing, the cathedral bells were moved to the Clock Tower of the nearby castle.

1530

Great fire and collapse of the left nave together with the vault, inter-nave columns and the ceiling of the chancel.

1534

A thorough rebuilt in the Renaissance style by Bishop Andrzej Krzycki. Extension of the chancel, on both side two rooms for the sacristy were built, building of the treasury and chapter house and adding a Renaissance dome. Płock Cathedral was the largest church erected in the 16th century in Poland.

1787

Another reconstruction of the cathedral. The facade, which was the most liable to collapse, was designed in the classicistic style.

1825

The relics of the rulers were moved from under the chancel floor to the basement of the Northern Tower Chapel. From then on it has been knows as the Royal Chapel.

1915

General renovation of the cathedral guided by Stefan Szyller which restored 16th century design of the temple. At the same time as the architectural renovation was carried out, work on polychrome began. The rich wall painting was created by Wladyslaw Drapiewski.

1910

Pope Pius X honours the Płock Cathedral with the title of the Minor Basilica, he wrote: It excels with its antiquity over all cathedral churches in Poland. It is distinguished by its architecture, wall paintings and stained-glass windows. Two kings are buried there, and the head of St. Zygmunt has been kept there for a long time.

1939

Bombs were dropped on the cathedral and four people were killed. The Chapel of St. Zygmunt was destroyed, the vault of the side nave and the wall of the main nave with the painting of the Last Supper were damaged. The vault and the stained-glass windows were also partially destroyed.

1953

The organs were purchased from a closed post-Evangelical church in Żary and installed in the Płock Cathedral. The existing organs were burnt down during the hostilities.

1972

The opening of the Piast tomb and identification of royal remains.

1981

A copy of the Romanesque Płock Doors was suspended in the cathedral. It was made thanks to the efforts of Dr Jakub Chojnacki, the long -term President of the Płock Scientific Society.

1991

Pope John Paul II visited the temple. He presided over the June service, delivered the homily and concluded 42nd Diocesan Synod.

1995

Three new bells were made and installed: St. Jacob the Apostle, St. Stanisław Kostka and Blessed Sister Faustina.

2008

Renovation of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the oldest altars: Our Lady of Mazovia and the Crucifixion.

2020

The start of DNA testing of the remains of Piast dynasty members buried in the Cathedral.

Architecture

The Great Third
Reconstruction
of the Cathedral

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Płock Cathedral was rebuilt under the direction of an architect Stefan Szyller. He was the creator of the building “Zachęta” and the tower of the Jasna Góra Monastery.

A thorough renovation was to restore the temple’s Renaissance character. The preserved projects include the site plan together with the cathedral, the cross-sections of the building, the development of architectural forms of the front, architectural details and examples of technical solutions applied inside the cathedral. The drawings present concepts, only some of which have been selected for implementation.

During the renovation process, cracked vaults and significant parts of the walls were demolished. The upper parts of the towers were given an octagonal shape and topped with pointed roofs. The dome was raised on a drum. The bottom part of the building was covered with granite, the upper walls were reconstructed using brick and a brick choir was erected.  The front was rebuilt. Many elements of the interior were made according to the design of S. Szyller: marble Neo-Renaissance altar, wooden, carved stalls, the throne of bishops and the pulpit.

Eclectic basilica
with a Renaissance
interior

Płock Cathedral is one of the most valuable monuments in the country. Current appearance of the building combines Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles.

Italian architects create the largest Renaissance cathedral north of the Alps in Płock. The temple is a three-nave, oriented basilica with three apses, built on the clubs’ plan. Its appearance resembles a Renaissance project from the 16th century with a dome. The lower part of the cathedral is made of granite blocks, while the upper walls are made of brick. The pediment is finished off with Gothic towers which are topped with pinnacle gables. Below there is a neo-Romanesque rosette and an arcaded-columns portal.

The variety of styles and motifs of the cathedral’s décor can be admired also from the inside of the building. The cross vaults of all the naves are supported by Tuscan columns and half-columns. Semi-circular chancel and side chapels have a barrel vault. Also, our attention is drawn to the marble Neo-Renaissance main altar, wooden pulpit, stalls, mannerist and Baroque tombstones and altars, as well as the copy of Romanesque doors and a Classicistic sarcophagus of Polish rulers in the Royal Chapel.

Prezbiterium Płock gigapanorama

Royal Chapel

The largest
necropolis of the
Piast Dynasty rulers

The place of eternal rest of Mazovia dukes and the rulers of Poland.

A wrought iron gate leads to the Royal Chapel. In the centre there is a Classicistic, black, marble sarcophagus containing the remains of Polish rulers. A plate with the insignia of royal power and the Latin inscription: “In the memory of the eminent Polish Kings: Władysław Herman (…) and his son Bolesław” is supported by eagles. On the circumference, the inscription: “Lords and heirs of the lands: Krakow, Sandomierz, Silesia, Greater Poland, Mazovia, Dobrzyn, Michalów, Łęczyca and Pomerania.” The front is decorated with an alabaster Piast eagle. The polychromes show a religious and patriotic iconographic detail.

The remains of the rules and dukes od Mazovia buried in the cathedral from the 11th until the 15th century, were finally laid in the underground crypt in 1825. Until then, they rested at the entrance to the presbytery. In 1972 the tomb was opened, and the bones were examined. In 1975 the remains of Władysław I Herman and Bolesław II Krzywousty were solemnly placed in the sarcophagus and the rest of them in the underground crypt. In 2020 DNA tests were carried out.

The Doors

Porta Fidei
The Płock Doors

The original in Nowogród Wielki in Rus, a bronze copy in the Płock Cathedral.

The door to the cathedral in Płock was ordered by bishop Aleksander of Malonne (died 1156). Master Riquin, together with assistant Waismuth, cast them in bronze, in the lost wax technique, in the years 1152-1154 in one of the Magdeburg foundries. It is not certain whether it belonged to the local fabrica ecclesiae, operating at the cathedral, administered by bishop Wichman of Wetyn (c. 1110-1192).

Figurines of bishops and contractors are among the reliefs, to which in the first quarter of the 15th century a representation of a Russian founder, master Abraham, was added. He also adapted the gates to the western portal in the Council of Sofia in Novgorod the Great in Rus, adding Russian inscriptions translated from Latin into Cyrillic. It is hypothetically assumed that the door was looted from Płock at the end of the 13th century and after various fate, it was hung as a “copper icon” in the Orthodox Church at the beginning of the 15th century.

Reconstruction

The reconstruction of the arrangement of the quarters in connection with the articles of faith refers to the ancient Christian tradition, according to which each of the Apostles, before all of them departed for the evangelization mission, delivered one article of faith, which is aptly expressed by the Polish name Apostolic Composition.

To commemorate this fact, from the ninth century the feast of the Departure of the Apostles was celebrated in the universal Church, also known as the feast of the Dispatch of the Apostles (Divisio Apostolorum). The iconography of the Płock Doors sections reminds us of this distant tradition. Here is the gigapixel of the Płock door and a diagram showing the assignment of the plots to the 12 articles of faith of the Apostolic Creed.

Painting

Easel
painting

In the painting department we present only three oil paintings on canvas. Two are closely related to the cathedral, they were displayed in the chapels of the transverse nave (transept) from the end of the 18th century until the beginning of the 20th century. The third one shows the most valuable cathedral treasures in connection with the history of the Chapter of Płock Cathedral.

During the renovation of Płock Cathedral at the beginning of the 20th century, an architect Stefan Szyller designed a new arrangement in the chapels of the transept. In the place of large altar paintings, windows were made, thus restoring the architect’s original plan, the stained glass windows were put in.

In the chapel of The Blessed Sacrament from 1798 a painting entitled The Grief of St. Peter by an unknown artist was located. In 1901 the painting was moved to the Diocesan Museum.

Opposite, in the chapel of St. Zygmunt, the cathedral chapter created an altar to the patron of Płock and in 1792 a painting with the image of the saint was ordered. In 1901 the painting was moved to the Diocesan Museum.

The painting by Jan Czesław Moniuszko, The Emperor Maksymillian I gives the coat of arms to Płock Cathedral Chapter, was created in 1908. It was stolen during the World War II and thanks to the efforts of the Cathedral Chapter it returned in 2016. The Chapter has had a coat of arms for over 500 years. The prominent bishop of Płock Erazm Ciołek receives it from the Emperor Maksymillian, in the painting we can see the most valuable items of the cathedral treasury: the herm and the crosier of bishop Krzycki.

The mystery
and charm of
a colourful play
of lights

The architectural renovation of the cathedral at the beginning of the 20th century was connected with the works on stained glass windows which were to form a whole together with the polychrome.

The largest stained glass window is located in the apse of the presbytery above the altar and it represents the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The following show the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, Mary enthroned with the Child, Mary on the throne and a woman clothed with the sun. In the left side aisle, decorative windows show Queen Jadwiga, St. Andrzej Bobola and St. Pius X. While in the right one we can see St Joseph the Worker, St. Wojciech and St. Jacek Odrowąż. In the left chapel of the transept there is a stained glass window of the Heart of Jesus, and opposite to it St. Zygmunt, patron of Płock. The Sierpski Chapel is decorated with a stained glass window of St. Anthony with Baby Jesus and the Royal Chapel with the Vows of Jan Kazimierz.

Some of the stained glass windows were designed by the author of the polychrome, Władysław Drapiewski. The rest were made in the second half of the 20th century.

Polychrome

Stunning Neo-
Renaissance
polychrome
as decoration
of the cathedral

Płock and its residents pictured on wall decorations.

After the architectural renovation of the cathedral began at the beginning on the 20th century, the creation of polychrome was entrusted to Władysław Drapiewski, who in three stages: before World War I, in the interwar period and after World War II covered the interior of the basilica with Renaissance polychrome using exceptionally durable mineral dyes Keima. The paintings tell the story of the Gospel, show the cult of Mary and prompt reflection on the life of Christ.

The vault of the nave symbolizes the sky. On the walls below, there are six large paintings reminiscent the scenes from the life of Christ. The painting presenting the teaching of Christ on the hill with Płock in the background. The painting decoration in the dome and in the supporting architectural structure presents the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church. A different content is presented by the polychrome in the chancel, it is dedicated to the cult of the Mother of God.

Treasury

Priceless
handicraft
from the
cathedral
treasury

The crown, reliquaries, liturgical vessels and garments, what is hidden in the cathedral treasury.

The Płock Cathedral, as one of the oldest, has many great monuments of goldsmiths and handicraft works. Originally, they were stored in the cathedral treasury which was located above the Northern sacristy and until the end of the 18th century it belonged to the richest people in Poland. Currently, the collection has been transferred to the nearby Diocese Museum in the post Benedictine abbey and cathedral building which was purposefully erected by the architect during the last reconstruction of the temple.

The most valuable relics of the treasury are: the work of Romanesque goldsmiths in the Middle Ages – silver, gold plated chalice with a paten, founded by Prince Konrad of Mazovia in 1239, hermatic reliquary of St. Zygmunt from 1370 founded by King Kazimierz Wielki, the oldest preserved Polish crown from the 13th century, decorated with sapphires, rubies and pearls, the Czerwińsk tin from about 1180, a set of liturgical garments and a gold chalice from the beginning of the 17th century founded by the bishop Karol Ferdynand Waza.

Promotion of Culture

The project “Digitization and virtualization of the Piast Cathedral in Płock, the heart of the Tumskie Hill – Historical Monument” received funding from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, obtained from subsidies established in games subject to the state monopoly, in accordance with Art. 80 sec. 1 of the Act of November 19, 2009 on gambling.