St. Mary's Church (Bazylika Mariacka) is the largest brick church in the world. According to tradition, as early as 1243 a wooden Church of the Assumption existed at this site, built by Prince Swantopolk II. The foundation stone for the new brick church was placed on on 25 March 1343. At first a six-span bay basilica with a low turret was built, erected from 1343 to 1360. Parts of the pillars and lower levels of the turret have been preserved from this building.
In 1379 the masonry master Heinrich Ungeradin led his team to start construction of the present church. St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, the mother of all Brick Gothic churches dedicated to St. Mary in Hanseatic cities around the Baltic, is believed to be the archetype of the building. By 1447 the eastern part of the church was finished, and the tower was raised by two floors in the years 1452-1466. Since 1485 the work was continued by Hans Brandt, who supervised the erection of the main nave core. The structure was finally finished after 1496 under Heinrich Haetzl, who supervised the construction of the vaulting.
After the Reformation in 1529 the first Lutheran worship was held in St. Mary's. After 1557 King Sigismund II Augustus had granted Danzig the religion privilege allowing to celebrate the communion under both kinds the city council ended Catholic masses in all other parish churches in the city and those in its countryside territory, except of in St. Mary's. Here Catholic Masses at the high altar were continued until the city council stopped them in 1572.
In the course of the Partitions of Poland the city lost its liberty in 1793 and The Prussian government integrated St. Mary's and all the Lutheran state church into the all-Prussian Lutheran church administration.
Between 1920 and 1940 St. Mary's became the principal church within the Protestant Regional Synodal Federation of the Free City of Danzig. Starting in 1942 more or less movable major items of Danzig's cultural heritage have been dismantled and demounted in coordination with the cultural heritage curator. So also the presbytery of St. Mary's church agreed to remove items like archive files and artworks such as altars, paintings, epitaphs, mobile furnishings to places outside the city.
The church was severely damaged in World War II, during the storming of Danzig city by the Red Army in March 1945. After the basic reconstruction was finished, the church was reconsecrated in 1955. The reconstruction and renovation of the interior is an ongoing effort and continues to this day.
St. Mary's Church is a triple-aisled hall church with a triple-aisled transept. Both the transept and the main nave are of similar width and height, which is a good example of late Gothic style. Certain irregularities in the form of the northern arm of the transept are remnants of the previous church situated on the very same spot. The vaulting is a true piece of art, and was in great part restored after the war. The exterior is dominated by plain brick plains and high and narrow Gothic arch windows.
The interior of St. Mary's church is decorated within with several masterpieces of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque painting. The most notable, The Last Judgement by Flemish painter Hans Memling, is currently preserved in the National Museum of Gdańsk. Other works of art were transferred to the National Museum in Warsaw in 1945. It wasn't until 1990s when several of them were returned to the church.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.