The Wawel Royal Cathedral is one of the most recognizable religious buildings in Poland. Its importance goes far beyond the realm of religion, because it is inextricably linked with the formation and perpetuation of the Polish state. Starting from king Władysław the Short, who reunified the lands of the former Polish Kingdom, all Polish kings were coronated here, with the exception of Stanisław Leszczynski and Stanisław August Poniatowski. Before the main altar of the cathedral were also held other important state ceremonies: royal weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Wawel Cathedral is also the burial site of Polish monarchs. Initially, they were buried in the burial chambers beneath the floor. The first, who came to rest at Wawel was king Władysław the Short. Starting with the death of King Casimir became established custom to bury kings in separate chapels built apart the Cathedral. The first chapel was founded Holy Cross Chapel decorated with Byzantine frescoes, with late Gothic tombstone of King Casimir carved by Veit Stoss considered to be the masterpiece.
Among the many chapels of the cathedral of Wawel deserves special attention chapel founded by King Sigismund I. Designed by the Italian master Bartolomeo Berrecci and made in the years 1519–1533 by Italian sculptors of the Renaissance is the pearl of architecture in Central Europe. But the king Sigismund I and his successors, along with members of the royal family are buried in the underground vaults of the cathedral. Most are there royal coffins and sarcophagus are true masterpieces of art casting, such as sarcophagus Sigismund Augustus, Stefan Batory and Sigismund III and gilded copper coffin Władyslaw IV and his wife Cecilia Renata.
Today's appearance of the Wawel Cathedral is the reflection of the turbulent history of the Polish state. Elements from different historical periods are made in different styles. A careful look at one of the most famous religious buildings in Poland enables initial diagnosis of change that occurred through centuries.
The origins of the cathedral date back to the eleventh century. The first cathedral church on Wawel Hill was probably built shortly after the establishment in l000, the bishopric of Kraków. Today's state of knowledge does not permit a convincing reconstruction of its shape. More is known about the Romanesque cathedral from the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The origins of its construction combines with the reign of Prince Władysław Herman (1079–1102). The new church was consecrated in 1142. It was built of limestone and sandstone three-aisled basilica, probably with galleries over the aisles. From the east and west rose the rectangular choirs closed semicircular apses, and under them fit into the crypt. On the western side rose two square towers. To this day they remained significant parts of the building, especially the crypt of St. Leonard and the lower part of the south tower.
In contrast, preserved almost unchanged to the present day building was erected in stages from 1320 to 1346 (the chancel), and from 1346 to 1364 (aisle), during the reign of bishops Nanker, Jan Grot and Bodzanta. The church was consecrated on 28 of March 1364. Gothic cathedral church was given the shape of a three-aisled basilica with a transept (transverse nave) and a rectangular chancel.
Elaborated by Marek Walczak PhD, editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.