Sunday, 12 August 2012

Bits and pieces from Poland’s early medieval history

You are already familiar with the legend saying where Poland, and Gniezno specifically, come from. Now it’s time to get you interested in Polish history. Early history.

Poland, as a country, is over a thousand years old. It’s dated back at least to the beginnings of its presence in the Christian world, starting with a country’s baptism in 966 AD. The first Polish rulers are believed to have lived in Gniezno.

The most famous building, that is visible before you even enter the town (at least from three-four directions that I recall) is its cathedral. Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Adalbert (in Polish: Bazylika Archikatedralna (Prymasowska) Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny i św. Wojciecha). I know, that’s a looong name. The building that we can observe nowadays is definitely not what the first church there looked like (destroyed in 1038), not even what the second one (built in Romanesque style and destroyed by Teutonic Knights in the fourteenth century) looked like. The cathedral that we can see nowadays was built in Gothic style somewhere in 1340s. Anyway, it’s a symbol of Polish Christianity and one of the most important Polish historic buildings.

What has it witnessed?

In the year 1000 AD the Congress of Gniezno – a meeting between Boleslaw I Chrobry, Duke of Poland, and Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor, which gave Poland full ecclesiastical independence from Magdeburg.

Some royal coronations – starting with Boleslaw I Chrobry in 1024 and his son Mieszko II Lambert a year later.

Thousands, millions of pilgrims wanting to reach and pray at St. Adalbert’s coffin. How is it that Prague bishop’s coffin is placed in Gniezno and not somewhere in the Czech Republic?

St. Adalbert (or św. Wojciech in Polish) went on a mission to the pagan Prussian tribes, where he was killed in 997. Thanks to common efforts of Boleslaw I Chrobry and Otto III he was quickly canonised becoming the first Slavic bishop to become a saint. His body was bought back from the Prussians by Boleslaw I Chrobry for its weight in gold. Then it was put into a tomb in Gniezno Cathedral where it remains up to these days. Except that now it is placed in a silver relic coffin made in the seventeenth century.

Gniezno Cathedral is also known for one more thing. The Gniezno Doors. I don’t have any pictures of that, as we’ve both seen that before and Tuśko is still too young to appreciate it, so we didn’t see that. Instead we climbed the tower (239 steps) to admire the views of the town (as pictured here). But the Gniezno Doors are definitely worth seeing. They depict scenes from St. Adalbert’s life and are one of the most significant works of Romanesque art in Poland.

Gniezno was Poland’s first capital, as I’ve mentioned before. But the city was destroyed in 1038 by the Bohemian duke Bretislav I, which pushed the next Polish rulers to move the capital to Krakow (and Warsaw later in history).

My parents got married in this cathedral over 30 years ago.

Now some pictures from and of the cathedral itself:

The Cathedral and the monument of the first Polish king, Boleslaw I Chrobry

 Climbing the tower
Artur looking from the window on the way to the top of the tower at the monument of Polish first king, Boleslaw I Chrobry
  St. Adalbert's silver coffin
  Sorry for the skewed pictures...

 The most cliche and the most popular picture of the cathedral (as seen from the market square).

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