Elbląg – Elbing…

Elbląg has always been present in my family history. At least since the 17th century.

Now it is present in my life even more. I do not live there but I visit the place very often,  with my groups, or just for pleasure, myself.

Unfortunately the tour operators still do not understand that it is a good place to start any tour around in the former East Prussia region, and they still do not see anything interesting here.

Fortunately I myself organize trips and tailor the tours to the needs of my clients. 🙂

Medieval Elbląg was the most important place in the Teutonic State. It also was among the richest towns of the region at that time. Therefore also had a very high intellectual potential.  This is still visible in the remaining (by miracle saved) pieces of art.

I wrote “by miracle saved”, because the time border for Elbląg as well as for towns in today’s north east Poland – was January 1945 (the Red Army attack on the German positions, the so called East Prussian Offensive). And therefore the town structure was nearly completely destroyed. Germans destroyed the water gates and dikes to stop the Soviets approach. This did not help. The Soviets preceded in their deadly march, destroying everything on their way. 

So, this is the fate: somebody starts the war, the other one marches to victory leaving ruins behind… The victims are always the civilians, architecture and art. 😦

After the war destruction and silly communist decisiveness, Elbląg stayed empty for until some 20 years ago. That was the moment, when some wise decisions were made: we shall rebuild Elbląg in its historical shape, within the historical range of the Old Town. But before this could start, the city turned into a huge archaeological site, biggest in Europe.

The city, I called it ? Well, I remember cows grazing around St. Nicholas church (today a cathedral), and the high grass made it impossible to imagine that once here was a proud and rich Hanseatic city. Most of the brick from this ruined once mighty trade center – went to rebuild other towns, among the others – Gdańsk, and Warsaw to rebuild Warsaw, (4000 historical sites lost their brick, only to rebuild Warsaw!).

After the archaeological research the decision was made to rebuild the old town area in a new way. Save the shape of the buildings, but make them in a new way. And this new way was called Retro-Version.

It took a long time, but today Elbląg’s Old (New) Town looks good. It still needs investing, and all the quarters are built-up yet, but now at least the place starts to have an “old” shape.

One thing which should be changed is the mentality of the locals. They still do not feel “local”. They are the children or the grand children of the post-war settlers. Not all had the opportunity to grow roots here. A high unemployment rate does not help the locals to identify with a place that is slowly becoming the “bedroom” of the Tri-City. Because most of the residents go to work there. The liquidation of local workplaces after political changes has badly influenced identification with the place associated with the so-called Poland B.

Fortunately, a few years ago something “twitched” in Elbląg. The local Historical and Archaeological Museum began to popularize the history of these areas in an interesting way, very different from other traditional museum centers. Elbląg museum exhibitions have been arranged in a memorable manner. And the “Memories” project of the former residents of the city is very touching and allows the present residents to understand the feelings for the place of childhood. Also great is the initiative of local guides, organizing free historical walks around the city.

So, when planning a stay in Gdańsk, which is now only about an hour’s drive away, do consider visiting Elbląg too. Besides, from there it is much easier, and nearer to visit FromborkElbląg Canal, Olsztyn, and of course – Malbork.

And HERE are some pictures of Elbląg. Past and present. Enjoy 🙂

A bit of Oliwa Cathedral

Oliwa Cathedral is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

It is the longest post-cistercian church in the world (about 107 meters long)  with exquisite accoustics. And besides the marvelous pieces of art which can be seen HERE – the cathedral has a hit of the region – an exceptional organ. It has 7876 pipes, and 110 real voices (87 of which are in the main instrument,  and 14 in the cross-nave).

Whoever comes to Gdansk, even having vague information about the city – knows one – the Oliwa Cathedral is definitely MUST SEE, when in north Poland.

So HERE are some pictures as an appetizer, for those, who have never been here yet 🙂

Another winter in Frombork

I often visit Frombork. And it is not only because I guide there, but also because I simply like this sleepy little town “at the world’s end”, according to Doctor Copernicus… I wrote about Frombork HERE, and now I am posting some PICTURES of winter.

And this post has been provoked by my recent visit there – as I have just returned from a training I participated in the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum. It was concerning the new exhibition “Mors ianua vitae” – Christian Funeral Customs. Seldom today we think of how much death accompanies us – we rather push its “presence” aside. It does not constitute the everyday life anymore, and became something embarrasing. It stands in contrast of the omnipresent worship of youth, eternal beauty, and fitness. Here – the exhibition shows how death was once somewhat a natural end of a long and tiresome journey.

HERE is a picture gallery of some very interesting exhibits. What is worth mentionning, they survived the madness of wars. And there have been quite many of them here – as this part of Europe had suffered from numerous hostilities since the early medieval times…

St. Mary’s in Torun

Whenever I visit Torun, I mainly concentrate on St. Mary’s church…

It is hypnotic.

I do not treat it as a church from today’s perspective. I am amazed by its strong medieval message. We truly are dominated by the grandeur of the interior, and forced to look up. Today by looking UP – we mean looking at the splendid vaulted ceilings. But for a medieval man, it was looking farther, beyond. The ceiling of the church was Heaven itself, the site of God. In the middle ages with the very strong religiousness, it was an extremely important ideological message…

The construction of Torun’s St. Mary’s church started in … 1343. The same year as St. Mary’s Church in Gdansk, and was completed at the end of the century.

HERE is a short video of the church and here ANOTHER one… And ANOTHER

To feel the atmosphere and to inhale the ages of history – you must come to Torun 🙂

The Canon and his foundation

No one has “read” the altar from Skolity!

At these words I set my ears. Because how could it be possible that there was no attempt at all to read, understand and explain this ingenious piece of art work!

But first – a few words about the person of the founder.

Johann Hannovius (better known as HANNOW) was the nephew of Johann Dantiscus (so he was son of his sister – Anne de domo von Hoefen).

He was born in Gdansk (Danzig) –  as most of the canons of Warmia.

The education of the young bourgeois was financed by his mighty uncle. This was the same situation, as we know from the biography of Doctor Copernicus. And this was nothing new; after all, the family had kind of duty to care for children. Such records can be found in wills. Copernicus also held the care of his widowed cousin of Gdansk and her offspring.

After graduation in Chelmno, Johann was sent to Krakow for further studies. The books of the Cracow University show him in 1541. In the kingdom’s capital, he was cared for by Stanislaus Hosius. And he probably worked in the royal chancellery.

He took over his Frombork canonry in February 1546 and settled at the Cathedral Hill. There was a custom of permanent residence of the canons at the Warmia Chapter, so Johann settled in Frombork. As all canons – he also received stalls and the altar of his predecessor, and the right to purchase the mansion and grange (allodium), bringing a nice income.

He died in Frombork in 1575 and was buried there. Somehow it had never occurred to me to find his tombstone…

It was not the only Hannow in the Holy Warmia (Holy Ermland). Besides him, there was also his brother Casper. He had a Ph.D. in both laws, after graduation both University of Cracow and later in Rome. His education was also financed by his uncle. Since 1545 he was canon of Warmia, and dean of the collegiate chapter in Dobre Miasto. In 1547 he became canon in Wloclawek. He was a friend of Bishop Martin Kromer.

By the way, thanks to a little record written by Kromer – till today we call a certain Anonymous – Gallus Anonymous. And thanks to the discovery of the chronicle by the scholar Bishop (the so called Heilsberg Manuscript) we can read it till today…

And as for the name of Hannow – it is worth remembering Michael Christopher Hannow – living in Gdansk in the years 1695-1773. He held a professorship in Gdansk Academic Gymnasium. At the same time he was librarian and has begun work on the “Catalogus universalis alphabeticus Bibliothecae Gedanensis Senatus”. He was also among those who in 1743 created in Gdansk the Societas Physicae Experimentalis (since 1753 called Die Naturforschende Gesellschaf).

Moreover – Michael Hannow ran in Gdansk regular meteorological observations in the years 1739 – 1752 where he used a “thermometer which was a combination of Florentine and Fahrenheit thermometers”.

But let’s go back to the Hannows in Frombork… Besides the two already mentioned above, there also resided Simon and Valentine.

And what does it all have to do with the altar from Skolity?

A few words about the village itself – Skolity (German Schlitt) is a village in the municipality of Warmia-Mazury Voivodeship.

Next “dry piece of information” says that the village was located by Bishop Herman of Prague in 1348. And – at the local rectory Napoleon spent the night of 4/5 February 1807, (as if it was most important.)
Just a few words about the church… That it was built in 1709 and enlarged in 1907. The mention of the altar – that is preserved and can be seen in the north transept. For now, however, it is in the Museum in Frombork, and pleases the eyes of visitors!

And a little more about the church from the immortal Wikipedia:

“The village has a historic parish church dedicated to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s a long building with one aisle. It has a pseudo-Gothic choir and transept (1907). The aisle was built after the fire of 1708 on the site of two earlier buildings. The new church was consecrated in 1709. The tower at the bottom was built in a “pole construction”, and is timbered. The ceiling inside the church has polychromes (1753-1763), probably painted by Ferdinand Guillerepsa of Dobre Miasto. The high altar was built in the baroque style (1684), with a painting of the Adoration of Madonna and Child by a group of saints. They were probably painted by George Piper from Lidzbark Warminski. In the church
there is also a historic Renaissance triptych from 1557, founded by John Hannow, a canon of Warmia. Near the village there is Lake Skolity. It is located in basin of the river Pasłęka. It covers an area about 40 ha; average depth of the lake is 3.6 m. The banks are overgrown with trees, mostly alder. “

And that’s all… And below: Skolity shown on the map:

Skolity on the map of Poland

According to tradition, in 1557 Johannes Hannovius founded the triptych for the church in Skolity.

At least, this is what the official information says. And what is the true story?
J.S. puts forward the thesis that the altar could actually have been funded for the temple of Frombork. This would point to the character of Virgin Mary and St. Andrew.

The Frombork Cathedral has two names: St. Andrew (this name was brought from the former church in Braniewo), and Virgin Mary – already tradition in Frombork.

Well, then comes the joy of reading the entire triptych…

A couple of comments arose in front of the altar. The answers to many questions are all too visible in the main image. Enough is to say that we spent two days in front of the altar, vividly debating. We – means me and my two colleagues (we always go to Frombork together). Simplifying (very much simplifying) – we have seven sacraments and the Church as Foundation** of the World (interesting is that it has such a strong chain) and there are ten Doctors of the Church…

(who are: St. Ambrose,  St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Gregory The Great, St.St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius, the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, Basil the Great)

And well, here we have a flop…

During translation of this text from my Polish blog it occurred to me – that some of these Doctors were promoted only in the years 1567-1588. So how could this apply to the foundation of the altar? Who are those  ten figures with crosses, since the Four Doctors are listed on the Foundation of the World?

Now – I have received help from a theological expert:

She wrote that, those ten – are the popes… And they function rather as an idea than people.

** I interpreted this wrog – as Faith is foundation of the Church (world at that time).

Unfortunately my theological knowledge is – to put it delicately – more than mean. 😉

Well then, there is a lot of work ahead of me….

In the meantime let us enter into the more stable ground. The time of the foundation of the altar is interesting.

It was the time of the Council of Trent and times right after the Schmalkaldic wars. It was because of those wars – that the conciliar deliberations were postponed.

Also in the milieu of the canon there were still controversies concerning the cases of apostasy within the Chapter itself. A set of correspondence between the canon and his uncle-bishop is preserved. It concerns Alexander Scultetus (who finally became a Lutheran, quit canonry and married).

Besides – not so far was the court of Duke Albert of Prussia. And there – one of his most trusted courtiers was Georg von Kunheim. His son (Georg the Younger)  married Magaretha Luther (she was Martin Luther’s daughter). The famous Albertina University worked in Königsberg.

And in this context – the Holy Warmia seemed to be a small island of Catholicism on the great ocean of Protestantism.

There are many details in the altar’s main picture, ordering to set ears to the history and History, and even ordinary gossip (still we need to remember that the Big History consists of small histories…).

Above all – careful reading of the correspondence between Hannow and Dantiscus is demanded…

I’ll have quite a time 😉

In this whole entanglement in the four corners of the main painting – there is a full of expression image of Martin Luther thundering form the tower (!) of a collapsing Church. Although in my opinion those are: Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin i Philipp Melanchthon.

“… yet in the 1556 in Prussia it was not fully realized that the split in the Church is imminent. It was one year after the Treaty of Augsburg (1555). The discussion started over the declaration.  Stanislaw Hosius the Bishop of Warmia and president of the Prussian States argued that the said confession is wrong.

Two Lutherans answered: both governors – one of Malbork county:  Achacy Cema and the second from Pomerania county – Fabian Cema. Both argued that his wrong confession within the last 30 years did settle well in Royal Prussia, and can not be removed in three months as the Catholic bishops demanded. There was still a long way to obtain the religious privileges, but the Prussian states felt emboldened by events in both the Polish Crown and the German Reich, which were introduced in the year 1555. It was the year of the Augsburg religious peace between Protestants and Catholics recognizing the principle of “cuius region, eius religio”.

Now, the great Prussian cities (Gdańsk, Toruń, Elbląg) took double efforts to gain religious privileges. December 30, 1556, Chancellor Jan Ocieski responded to the envoys of those cities – in confidence – that the king can not take any “heretic” privilege, because of the pope, the emperor and other Catholic princes, but since the Reformation has become a fact – he is ready to “look at it and practices of its adherents through his fingers”.

The biggest obstacle for the followers of the Reformation teachings was the bishop of Warmia who was Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius. He fought unsuccessful battles for the conversion of Elbląg citizens (Elbląg lay in the Diocese of Warmia), sometimes calling them “Elbląg goats” and their spiritual leaders he called the “Ministri Satanae”. His position was unfortunate, because even in the Chapter – the canons of Warmia (in perhaps exaggerated opinion of Duke. Albert of Prussia) were to be followers of Luther. This letter of 1554 was found  in the  one of the collections by professor Janusz Małłek.

(this is a bierf translation I did of a fragment of an article on a Baptist site. It was written by prof. Małłek – and it concerned Protestantism in the Pomerania. Unfortunately the whole is only in Polish). It shows what turbulent times Hannovius lived in, and what were his worries.

The continuation of the story appears to be a puzzle, especially in the context of the naive expression of the founder’s eyes …