Lidzbark Gothic Castle was built in 1350-1401 on a site previously occupied by a small Prussian fort called Lecbarg, which had been situated between two rivers: the Łyna and the Symsarna. For many years Lidzbark Castle was a residence of the bishops of Warmia and a stronghold protecting the eastern border of their domain.
The basic structure of the castle consists of four wings enclosing the inner ward, surrounded by two-storey, arcaded wall walks, which are an only example in Poland of Gothic castle walks preserved in an ideal condition until our days. Two settlements outside the castle walls were built around the same time as the castle. The southern one contained a stable for horses, granaries and a coach house. In the northern one (industrial in character) there was a mill, a sawmill, a grinding workshop, a copper forge, a fulling mill and a tannery. The castle and the two settlements were surrounded by a ring of fortified walls, separate from the town, and moats supplied with water from the Symsarna river, which lies higher than the Łyna.
By the power of the Second Peace Treaty of Torun signed in 1466, Warmia was incorporated into Poland. Since then until 1795 Lidzbark Castle was a residence of many outstanding subjects of the Polish kings, who represented the best of the Polish culture. They created an important cultural centre in Lidzbark, which opposed, politically and congregationally, to the Lutheran ducal court in Königsberg.
One of the bishops of Warmia was Lucas Watzenrode, a maternal uncle of Nicolas Copernicus. Owing to his uncle's influence, Copernicus bound his mature life as well as his scientific and public activity with Warmia and Lidzbark Castle. The astronomer lived at the castle in Lidzbark for eight years: first after completing his studies in Cracow, at the turn of the years 1495-1496, and then, having returned from Italian universities from 1503 to 1510. At that time, the bishop's court shaped Copernicus' attitude against the Teutonic Order. More importantly, finding peace and quiet under the castle's roof, Copernicus was able to form the principles of his heliocentric theory, which he put in writing in the so-called Commentary. Later, he developed and completed the theory in his memorable work On the Revolutions of Celestial Spheres. While in Lidzbark, Copernicus also translated, from Greek to Latin, Letters of Theophylaktos Simokattes, which were then printed in Cracow in 1509. Since the end of the 16th century Lidzbark Castle was slowly losing its defensive character and eventually turned into a splendid ducal court, richly furnished with exquisite pieces of furniture, libraries and arts objects. The castle rooms were adapted to serve the new function - many were divided into smaller chambers and lavishly decorated with paintings.
In 1589-1599 the Bishop Anrzej Batory commissioned to build a palace adjacent to the north wing of the Gothic castle, known as the Cardinal's rooms - the palace was demolished in 1767). Another extension of the castle was undertaken by the Bishop Jan Stefan Wydżga, who added a Barque palace next to the south wing, built in 1666-1673 according to a design by the Italian architect Issidore Affaiti. The last eight Polish bishops of Warmia lived in this palace. The end to the splendour of Lidzbak Castle was brought by the incorporation of Warmia into Prussia in 1772. The last bishop of Warmia who resided at Lidzbark castle was Igancy Krasicki, a poet and a novelist, a comedy writer, an encyclopaedist and a journalist. After he left Lidzbark in 1794, the deserted castle began to slowly collapse.
The first complex restoration works were undertaken in 1927. At present the castle houses the Museum of Warmia, a branch of the Museum of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn. The castle chambers provide an excellent architectural and visual background for permanent and temporary exhibitions, such as Medieval art in Warmia and Teutonic Prussia, Outstanding residents at Lidzbark Castle, Russian icons of the 17th - 20th century, Castle military collection.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.