Ss. Johns’ Cathedral

Two towns of Toruń – the Old and the New one – used to remain fully autonomous for the first two hundred years of their existence, maintaining separate squares, town halls, town councils, judicial councils and parish churches. Ss. Johns’ is the Old Town parish church (fara). Although the church has been Toruń’s comrade since its very beginnings, it turns out not to be the first building situated there – which was quite typical of large Gothic churches. Considerable work of creating the most important church in town took almost 250 years, which has resulted in a majestic structure, constructed until the seventieth years of the 15th century, and standing there up to the present day.
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Medieval towns used to „compete” on parish churches – therefore, no sooner had the Main City of Gdańsk pulled its Saint Mary’s upwards, than the Torunians “pulled” their Ss. Johns’, taking turns continuously. Finally, the citizens of Gdańsk seemed to have distanced their opponents, but still it was Toruń, with all its mercantile love for rivalry, that was to have the last word. Or rather – the last bell. Once a huge, over 6-ton-heavy bell hanged in Saint Mary’s Church tower, the Torunians made a bigger and a heavier one, obviously! Over 7-ton-heavy Tuba Dei can be heard only few times a year, but its sound cannot be mistaken with any other instrument.

The legend says that in the year of 1500 the almighty God decided to put an end to the world. The people of Toruń, known for their self-confidence (which sometimes could be seen almost as impudence), accepted the challenge to… negotiate with the Lord. They announced that they would create a huge bell in order to appease and pay for their sins, convincing God to change his plans. So, the Lord, having heard the perfect Tuba Dei’s sound, called off the end of the world and sent an Angel to the town, which has resided in the city’s coat of arms since then.

On the tower there is also an impressive clock with only one hand going around its face. The clock, which is over 500 years old, was constructed at the times when timekeepers were equipped with one hand only. For hundreds of years, the clock face used to help rafters, who – commonly famous for their drinking – might have seen two hands on the clock while swimming up to Toruń anyway.

What must be noted is that the parish church was the most significant building also in purely political terms. It was there – and not in the Town Hall – where kiera (elections for the City Council) was held.

The inside of the church hides numerous valuable souvenirs of the past. In one of the chapels there is a baptismal font where Nicolaus Copernicus received his first sacrament. It is indeed the only truly Copernican “relic” in the City of Copernicus. This is also the place where some remains of a monarch were put. Jan Olbracht, died in June 1501, has left in Toruń not only his heart, but also his liver, lungs, spleen, kidneys and all the rest. The insides of the king were walled up in a wooden box at the entrance to the present cathedral tower.

We are no longer able to see the original, once most valuable of the sculptures that used to decorate the church. It was the Beautiful Madonna of Toruń, stolen by the Germans during the latest war and sent to a private art collection. Some mystery-trackers claim that today it can be found in a degenerate collector’s office who lives in Mongolia. Others think that the statue could have “travelled” to Australia.

The southern wall of the presbytery holds a metal gravestone of husband and wife von Soest. Bronze gravestones used to be very popular among Torunian elites. The expensive and much needed during wars material made all of them – but for this one – magically turn into cannons. In the 15th century Toruń was said to be the crucial intermediary dealing in Russian wax, and von Soests were said to be the biggest intermediaries in Toruń. On the gravestone, apart from the portraits of Jan and Małgorzata, we can also notice presentations of a dog and a squirrel. The squirrel holds all the features of a good and virtuous wife. The dog symbolizes matrimonial bond – lifelong loyalty and friendship.

Torunians’ imagination is also excited by reports about a tunnel going under the Vistula River, which is supposed to begin under the church and lead as far as to Dybów Castle.