St Nicholas' Church

Gdańsk, Poland

The Dominican Church of St. Nicholas is one of the oldest churches in Gdansk. Its history begins in the 12th century. It was built at the junction of two important trade routes: the ancient mercantile path (via mercatorum) and the route leading from the royal castle of Gdansk’s estate in Pomerania.

On January 22, 1227, the Pomeranian prince Svatopluk entrusted the Church of St. Nicholas to the Dominicans, who had just arrived in the Polish territories. Immediately they began intensive pastoral activities both within the city and in neighboring Prussia. The church became the site of a thriving Dominican priory, which soon had a population of nearly two hundred brethren. After Gdansk passed under the dominion of the Teutonic Knights in 1308, Dominicans built a new church alongside the old one, which is preserved to this day.

The most dramatic period in the history of the church was the 16th century, the age of the Reformation. The church was repeatedly destroyed and plundered during the riots. The friars were expelled, and several of them lost their lives. In 1578 they returned to the priory and assumed the pastoral care of the Catholic population in the increasingly Protestant Gdansk.

Since that time, St. Nicholas became once again a celebrated church. Within the walls of the priory lived more and more friars, and the intellectual life and preaching of the brethren thrived. The church received new and significant appointments (the main altar, choir stalls, pulpit, organ). Visits by Polish kings on the occasion of their trips to Gdansk attest to the centrality and importance of St. Nicholas Church.

The end of the heyday of the monastery came with the Polish partitions (1772), and Napoleon wars. In 1813, as a result of Russian bombardment of the city, the priory was burned. Twenty years later, the Dominicans were forced to leave town, and eventually the ruined monastic buildings were demolished. The church was established as the Catholic parish of the city (one of four in what was then Danzig).

The year 1945 proved to be disastrous for Gdansk. The city was 90% destroyed and the people were expelled. All the churches downtown were reduced to rubble, except one. This sole survivor was in fact St. Nicholas.

In April 1945, the Dominicans returned to Gdansk (112 years after their departure in 1833). They had come mostly from Lviv, which had been abandoned by the Poles. They brought from there a medieval icon of Our Lady of Victory, the patroness of the city (today it is in the church).

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