St. Mary’s Church

In an ideally arranged medieval town, there should be a parish church standing diagonally across the square. The Old Town in Toruń does not constitute a model example, however. Since it grew and progressed in stages, at its beginnings the main square was the area of Ss. Johns’, while St. Mary’s was built on a hill located within some distance from Toruń’s fortifications at that time. The legend says that the church was funded at the place where Saint Mary had once appeared. Today’s temple was being built for about 150 years and it is probably the fifth object standing in this place. From its very beginnings, up till the reformation times, the church was used by the Franciscans.

What seems interesting is the construction used for the building process. It was obvious for all old church constructors that the power coming from vaultings expands the walls sideways. For this reason, they were fit tightly with buttresses to make them take over the power of the vaultings “at work”. When we have a look at St. Mary’s, however, the walls of its body do not have any sets of buttresses. What is more – their constructions seemingly weaken the huge, 20-metre-tall windows. How does it all hold up? – one might wonder. The system of buttresses was created inside, making therefore architectonic precedent that was later developed, among others, in St. Mary’s Church in Gdańsk, as well as in Franciscan Saint Trinity’s. In accordance with the rule, Franciscan churches could not have towers. Despite this fact – the church building still dominates in the western part of the Old Town.

At the top of the central tower crowning the presbytery, we can see a cross placed on a metal sphere. There is a twisted bovine intestine put inside the sphere. Depending on the air humidity, it turns one way or another, spinning the cross at the same time. When the cross is placed in line with the street, we can expect beautiful weather. When it is placed perpendicularly, the weather is bound to get worse.

We can still observe a number of things that have remained after the times when the Franciscans took care of the church. The stalls standing in the presbytery are a brilliant fruit of the former craftsmen’s talent. The oak, over 600-year-old benches, amuse with details. There are no two backrests with similar ornaments – a huge arsenal of details in the service of harmony! The stalls are not just furniture, but also a story written down in oak – a readable and thrilling morality play. Here’s how in one place we can learn a story of a dishonest preacher. He was turned into a fox who passionately preaches the Word of God to a flock of geese. They, however, in contrast to what is often said, are not so silly. The geese quickly find out the real intentions of the cunning fox and hang him on a dry tree branch as a punishment!

The Franciscans have also left an impressive set of paintings – the buttresses set inside the church were decorated with images of saints. It’s an elegant element of design, yet quite complex in its message. At the eastern entrance door we are welcomed by Archangels, flanking the crowned Saint Mary, surrounded by nine circles of angels’ glory. Next – the Church of Martyrs with Christ who’s tied to a column and whipped by his oppressors. A metaphor close to Franciscan devotion compares him to a grapevine that has been supported with a stick by some workmen. The Lady of Sorrows, St. Stephen, Andrew and Lawrence. The whole list of saints ends with Mary Magdalene and Elisabeth of Thuringia. Particularly the latter one, together with Hedwig of Silesia, was important to Teutonic Knights. So, we observe a mixture of Franciscan religiousness and “their” martyrs, together with the Teutonic one, as well as one of the townspeople, with St. Christopher, one of the patrons of traveling merchants and craftsmen.

At the time when the church was used by the Protestants, a remarkable woman was buried in its basement. She was the sister of king Sigismund III Vasa, Anna of the Vasa House. It is no exaggeration to say that she was an unhappy woman. Conceived in prison, she wasn’t able to find a husband during all her life, only to enjoy no rest after her death. Suffice to say that she was buried for three times altogether! Let’s then split her unhappiness into separate pieces. Anna’s problems of matrimonial nature stemmed from her extraordinary intellectual condition. She was just too smart, which – as is commonly known – might successfully discourage all potential candidates. She was fluent in eight languages, and her great passion for botany resulted in creating the first Polish herbarium. It is also thanks to Anna Vasa that tobacco was popularized in our region. Her postmortem misery was, on the other hand, caused by the material situation. Shortly after the princess died and was buried in Brodnica, Swedish soldiers invaded the town. War for the Vistula Mouth went on. Just once they had entered the town, they immediately turned to their compatriot’s crypt, penetrating it completely.

Anna was wearing expensive jewellery, quite fashionable at the time. Since her bracelet wouldn’t come off her wrist, the soldiers cut Anna’s hand off with no hesitation, grabbing it together with all the valuables. Eleven years after death, thanks to the attempts made by the nephew of king Władysław IV, his aunt came to Toruń where she found her place of eternal rest in the most important Protestant church. Little did she rest, however, as the town was being repeatedly invaded during subsequent war turmoil, with new armies taking Anna’s body out of the crypt in order to check if there was anything precious left… Only in 1995 was Anna buried for the third time. Since then, nobody has disturbed her.