St Mary's Cathedral
St Mary's Cathedral Gdansk Reviews
St Mary's Cathedral and Tower Aug 28, 2013
St Mary’s Basilica is one of the most prominent buildings in Gdansk. It is the largest medieval brick built church in Europe. Initially a centre of Catholic pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it has spent parts of its history as a Lutheran church (explaining how white washed and plain it is inside) and only reverted to Catholic use after the Second World War.
It was badly damaged in the war, and parts of what you see are a modern recreation of the original structure. However, it was remade close to the original. It’s hard not to be impressed by the brick construction – light and airy at a point in history when British cathedrals needed extensive stone buttressing to stay up. There is not much in the way of original medieval decoration, because of the Lutheran influences and also because it was extensively looted in the war; the Germans blamed the Soviet army and the Soviets blamed the Germans, and given that pieces of art have turned up in both sides’ post war territory it was probably both of them. But a gorgeous medieval clock has survived, and there are some nice side chapels, including quite a modern one at the back.
But the real reason to visit is the great brick tower. It’s a dizzying climb, first up a narrow twisting staircase, and then in caged concrete walkways spiralling up the huge void inside the tower. It is hard to tell how big it is from the ground, but from inside the tower is huge. You can see the concrete roofing replacing brickwork that collapsed (in some cases melting) during a fire in the last days of the war, and the bells themselves, before emerging onto a tiny platform on the tower roof. This offers spectacular views out over Gdansk, to the sea and the shipyards on one side and the countryside in the other direction. There is a man who will hire you some binoculars if you like.
The tower is a significant climb, and has no real space to even rest if people are coming up behind you until you enter the upper reaches of the tower. The staircase is steep, narrow, and frankly terrifying, and I don’t even have that many issues with heights as a rule. So don’t try the tower if you have any mobility problems or any small children that can’t manage hundreds of stairs on their own. Entrance to the cathedral is 4 zloty and the tower is another 5 zloty. There is a small shop that sells guidebooks, including in English, but I didn’t get one. Bear in mind that many Polish people are deeply religious and respectful dress is certainly appreciated.
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