Kwidzyn, a town in northern Poland tucked away between Malbork in the north and Grudziądz in the south, has two magnificent pearls to boast: its castle and cathedral. The 14th-century stronghold has experienced numerous ups and downs, suffering the most grievous loss in 1798 when the Prussians pulled down two sides (eastern and southern) and the main tower. Unlike many of its red-brick peers, it survived WWII unscathed. Most of the building now houses the Kwidzyn Museum, which has several sections, including displays on medieval sacred art, regional folk crafts and plenty of farming implements, as well as a display in the cellar detailing German-funded archaeological excavations.
Today I am taking you on a journey to the past. Get ready for the trip.
The cathedral church and the castle of the chapter as a single defensive architectural complex
The cathedral and castle in Kwidzyn are one of the most interesting monuments of Gothic architecture in the lands of the former state of the Teutonic Order. The idea to build the cathedral church and the castle of the chapter as a single defensive architectural complex has left a strong mark on the artistic expression of this monumental complex and does not find analogy in cathedral architecture of the time. The imposing shape of the temple with the high tower and the preserved castle wings, as well as the characteristic dansker, create a vast complex of extraordinary beauty, which has been towering over the city for centuries and reminds about its great history. It is also an invaluable document of the beginnings of the diocese of Pomesania and the interpenetration of bishops and the Teutonic Order competing for spiritual leadership in the region.
The Pomesanians were the first of the Prussians to be conquered by the Teutonic Knights
Pomesanians were one of the Prussian clans. They lived in Pomesania , a historical region in modern northern Poland, located between the Nogat and Vistula Rivers to the west and the Elbląg River to the east. It is located around the modern towns of Elbląg and Malbork. As the westernmost clan, the Pomesanians were the first of the Prussians to be conquered by the Teutonic Knights, a German military crusading order brought to the Chełmno Land to convert the pagans to Christianity. Due to Germanization and assimilation, Pomesanians became extinct sometime in the 17th century.
Parish church elevated to the rank of a cathedral
The history of the castle and cathedral in Kwidzyn is strongly connected with the history of church organisation on the conquered lands of Prussia in the 13th century. In 1243, by the decision of the Pope, the diocese of Pomesania was established, and from 1254 its seat was Kwidzyn.
Already in 1285 the Pomesanian chapter with its seat in Kwidzyn was set, and the parish church was elevated to the rank of a cathedral. The growing importance of the town made it necessary to build a new castle of the chapter and a temple worthy of being called a cathedral.
The buildings located on the hill being destroyed several times during the wars
The chronology of the construction of the complex is still a subject of scientific research, it is assumed, however, that both buildings were erected in the first half of the 14th century, while finishing works were carried out in the cathedral in the following decades, and in the 1380s a dansker was built next to the castle. The buildings located on the hill were destroyed several times during the wars and were rebuilt in the 15th and early 16th centuries.
Built in the 14th century with the largest latrine tower (Danish) in the territory of the Teutonic Knights’ state. Nowadays, it houses a museum.
The beautiful, bridge-accessed tower of this distinctive Teutonic stronghold has a dirty history – it was originally a toilet. Well, back to the point, the most curious feature of the castle is the two unusual towers standing some distance away from the western and southern sides, linked to the main building by arcaded bridges. One (the smaller tower) held a well, while the other served as the gdaniska (knights’ toilet). Today, the castle cuts a striking silhouette, with Europe’s longest toilet providing an unmissable photo opportunity.
A brick castle, then called Marienwerder
According to the chronicler Peter of Dusburg, the first Teutonic Knights under the command of the land master Herman Balk, reached the area around Kwidzyn in 1233. They erected a timber watchtower, which, however, soon was destroyed by the spring flood. In the same year, a second watchtower was built, this time located on a hill in a later town area. In the years 1242-1250, the Teutonic Knights transformed it into a brick castle, then called Marienwerder.
After the division of Prussia by Pope Innocent IV in 1243, the Order was obliged to give 1/3 of the territory of each diocese to the bishops. As a result of the year-long negotiations, the choice fell on Kwidzyn, which soon became the capital of the Pomesanian diocese. The Teutonic Knights gave their castle to the bishop in 1254. It was a period of frequent uprisings of the Prussians who, although they had conquered and destroyed the town several times, did not capture the castle. Despite this, the threat was so large that bishop Albert left Kwidzyn and resided in Ulm, where in 1284 he appointed the Pomesanian chapter, which he entrusted the organization and construction of a new cathedral in Kwidzyn. Initially, its members lived in the bishop’s castle, but soon began the construction of a new castle located next to the emerging cathedral.
The Polish King took over the castle while heading victorious battle of Grunwald
The chapter’s castle was built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. Initially, the defensive seat of canons was not connected with the adjacent parish church. Until 1338, the eastern range was built. In the second stage, a southern building was built, connected with a large tower – a belfry. Then, the walls of the west wing were placed, and at the end – northern range. The castle was finally completed around 1340-1350. The addition of a great gothic church from the east caused that a monumental and compact sacral – defensive complex of medieval buildings was created. In the second half of the fourteenth century, work on cloisters, western dansker and the northern tower continued.
King Władysław II Jagiełło took over the castle, while heading battles against the Teutonic Knights in 1410. The Second Peace of Toruń ceded the castle to the Teutonic Knights.
Battle of Grunwald: One of history’s ‘greatest battles’
On July 15th, 1410, on the fields between Grunwald, Stębark and Łodwigowo in northern Poland over 50,000 knights, infantrymen and gunners met in one of the biggest battles of medieval Europe. The Knights were commanded by their Grand Master, Ulrich von Jungingen, the Poles and Lithuanians by their king and their grand duke. The battle had been proceded by a Polish-Lithuanian army invading Prussia. The Poles and Lithuanians marched towards the Order’s stronghold in Marienburg (now Malbork in Poland). The move took the Knights by surprise and the opposing armies collided near dawn in the fields near the villages of Tannenberg and Grunwald. The Teutonic Knights were defeated.
The region possessed certain privileges such as the minting of its own coins and its own Diet meetings
The Peace of Thorn of 1466 was a peace treaty signed in the Hanseatic city of Thorn (Toruń) on October 19th 1466 between the Polish king Casimir IV Jagiellon on one side, and the Teutonic Knights on the other. The treaty concluded the Thirteen Years’ War which had begun in February 1454 with the revolt of the Prussian Confederation, led by the cities of Danzig (Gdańsk), Elbing (Elbląg), Kulm (Chełmno) and Thorn, and the Prussian gentry against the rule of the Teutonic Knights in the Monastic State.
Both sides agreed to seek confirmation from Pope Paul II and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, but the Polish side stressed (and the Teutonic side agreed) that this confirmation would not be needed for validation of the treaty. In the treaty, the Teutonic Order ceded the territories of Pomerelia (Eastern Pomerania) with Danzig, Kulmerland with Kulm and Thorn, the mouth of the Vistula with Elbing and Marienburg, and the Bishopric of Warmia (Ermland) with Allenstein (Olsztyn). The Order also acknowledged the rights of the Polish Crown for Prussia’s western half, subsequently known as Polish or Royal Prussia. Eastern Prussia, later called Duchy of Prussia remained with the Teutonic Order until 1525, as a Polish fief.
The treaty stated that Royal Prussia became the exclusive property of the Polish king and Polish kingdom. Later some disagreements arose concerning certain prerogatives that Royal Prussia and the cities held, like Danzig’s privileges. The region possessed certain privileges such as the minting of its own coins, its own Diet meetings (the general assembly of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire), its own military, and its own administrative usage of the German language. A conflict over the right to name and approve Bishops in Warmia, resulted in the War of the Priests (1467–79). Eventually, Royal Prussia became integrated into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, but retained some distinctive features until the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century.
The castle whose interiors underwent transformation into court rooms and prison cells
The buildings located on the hill were destroyed several times during the wars and were rebuilt in the 15th and early 16th centuries. The breakthrough date in the history of the cathedral was 1525, when, after the secularisation of Prussia, it was granted to the Protestants, and the Catholics were left only with part of the presbytery separated from the rest of the church by a stud wall.
The castle became the seat of the Chapter of the Pomesanian episcopate in 1525, when Bishop Erhard von Queiss converted to Protestantism. The Pomesanian bishopric survived under the rule of Protestants until 1578, and the temple remained in their hands. At that time, the interior of the cathedral was plastered, covering medieval wall paintings, and in 1586 a porch of Gothic sandstone from the oldest castle of the Chapter was erected at the main entrance. Significant changes in the architecture of the temple include the construction of the burial chapel of Otto Frederick Groeben in 1705. In 1772, after the First Partition of Poland, Kwidzyn became the capital of the newly created province of West Prussia, and the castle was adapted for the needs of the court.
In 1772, a court was opened in the castle whose interiors underwent transformation into court rooms and prison cells. Six years later, the Prussian authorities ordered the eastern and southern wings to be demolished. Traces of seams and vault arches can still be seen on the courtyard’s eastern and southern walls.
Unfortunately, the project of demolition of the southern and eastern wings of the old castle was soon approved, and carried out in 1798. During the Napoleonic wars, the destruction of the castle progressed, and the cathedral was devastated, serving as a food storehouse and a training hall for soldiers. The first renovation work on the cathedral hill began after 1816, but the largest renovation was carried out in the 1860s and 1870s, under the direction of, among others, the outstanding Prussian architect Friedrich August Stuler. In addition to maintenance work, the collapsed vault in the presbytery was rebuilt, Gothic wall paintings were uncovered and repainted, the castle wings and their corner towers and gables were rebuilt.
In the late 19th Century, the castle was turned into a school for blind soldiers and a vocational school.
The conventual castle
The appearance of the castle was influenced by the Teutonic architecture and the scheme of the conventual castle. It was a four-range, regular complex with a cloistered inner courtyard. The main castle was erected on a plan similar to a square with dimensions of 48.7 x 49.6 meters. It was crowned with three corner towers and a monumental belfry with a height of 56 meters. South-eastern and south-west ranges were four-storey, while the other had five floors. The elevations of ranges and towers were decorated with rhythmic, plastered bands of slender blends. The entrance gate was placed in a deep recess on the axis of the northern range.
An example of Teutonic Knights’ castles architecture
In the cellars with groin and rib vaults, food warehouses and prison were located. Its outer walls were provided with narrow window openings, perhaps also used as shooting holes. In the ground floor there were utility rooms and stoves, heating the rooms on the floors. In the west range, a kitchen, a bakery and a pantry were located, and a dormitory on the first floor. The first floor also served for canons, it obtained richly decorated polychromes and stellar vaults. On the second floor in the south range there was a chapter house and a summer refectory. In the eastern building there was an infirmary, and next to it a provost apartment, from which a passage to the room in the tower led, where the archive and treasury were probably located. In the north range there was a chapel and a winter refectory. The third floor housed a library and additional rooms for the clergy and students of the cathedral school. The fourth storeys were warehouses, and the highest storeys served for defense. A defensive porch, surrounding also the cathedral, ran around it. Guard chambers were placed at the castle gate.
The dark episode of its history: the interiors of the building were adapted for the needs of the Hitlerjugend Nazi school
In the interwar period the castle continued to serve as a courthouse and prison. After 1936, the last dark episode of its history took place, as the interiors of the building were adapted for the needs of the Hitlerjugend Nazi school. Unlike the destroyed old town, the cathedral and the castle fortunately survived the war. After the war, the cathedral was returned to the Catholics and the castle was used as a museum.
A discovery on a global scale
In May 2007, the discovery, a discovery on a global scale, was made, finding the remains of the bodies in the cathedral crypts of the Teutonic Knights. One of them is Warner von Orseln, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order in the years 1324-1330, reportedly killed by a deranged brother-knight, though his death is not entirely clear.
Archeological research began in the Kwidzyn cathedral in 2007 on the initiative of curate Rev. Ignacy Najmowicz and Bogumił Wiśniewski, an employee of the local Town Hall. The work was supervised by Dr. Antoni Pawłowski. To everyone’s surprise, instead of the tomb of blessed Dorothea of Montau, the archeologists discovered a crypt with three coffins.
The only grave site of the Teutonic high commanders ever discovered
A thorough study showed this was the resting place of three Grand Masters of the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, closely connected with Pomeranian history – Werner von Orseln, Ludolf Koenig von Wattzau Heinrich von Plauen. To date, this has been the only grave site of the Teutonic high commanders ever discovered.
Werner von Orseln became the Komtur of Malbork Castle in 1314. Ten years later he was elected Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, a position he held until his sudden death on November 18th 1330 when he was allegedly murdered by Jan von Endorf, an obscure Teutonic knight. This unexpected tragedy came as a shock to almost the whole Europe. Rumours had it that the assassination could have been connected with the Templars’ treasure…
The Poles would not seize the castle
Eight years after von Orseln’s death, Ludolf Koenig von Wattzau became the Komtur in Malbork, and four years later, in 1342, was elected Grand Master. He relinquished the office in 1345, suffering from a mental disorder. Upon taking the command of Pokrzywna, he allegedly recovered, but died shortly thereafter – in 1347 or 1348.
Heinrich V von Plauen entered the office of Grand Master after the death of Ulrich von Jungingen at the Battle of Grunwald. During his tenure, from 1410 to 1413, von Plauen led the defence of the Malbork fortress besieged by the Polish army under King Władysław Jagiełło.
According to legend, von Plauen prayed for help to Blessed Dorothy, who promised him that the Poles would not seize the castle. This favour, however, required a price the Grand Master had to pay.
After von Plauen’s death, his body would not be rested in the Malbork stronghold, and the tomb would be concealed for six centuries (he died in 1429). The renewed burial ceremony was to be participated in by von Plauen’s successor as Grand Master…
I hope my text successfully transported you back to the Middle Ages. Kwidzyn history, its monuments and picturesque surroundings are enough attractions to visit for even the most demanding tourists. Check out if I am right. Go to the second biggest and most important Teutonic castle in Poland.
See you there!
By Agata Szostkowska
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Photos: Michał Stanisławski.