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 🙂

Joachim Oelhaf

1580 was a crucial year for medicine in Gdansk.

It was when lectures on anatomy were introduced in Gdansk Academic Gymnasium, and the cathedral of anatomy and medicine was opened there. It was headed by the first official professor of anatomy in the Kingdom of Poland – Johann Mathesius (born in Joachimsthal,  Bohemia1544- died 1607).

His successor was Joachim Oelhaf.

This Gdansk citizen was one of the most eminent doctors in the 17th century Kingdom of Poland. He studied at Wittenberg. Then he spent some time at the Polish royal court, where he had the opportunity to benefit from the experience of the court physician of Sigismund III Vasa – Giovanni Battista Gemma.

Scholarship awarded by the City Council of Gdansk allowed Oelhaf to continue his studies in Padua and Montpellier, where he obtained a doctorate in medicine. At that time, Padua was a major center of the anatomical research.

Oelhaf returned to Gdansk in 1602, taking a function of the City’s physician. The year 1602 is a year of plague in Gdansk. It is considered that at least 15,000 lost their lives then – with an estimated population of about 50,000 – counting the suburbs. During this terrible time Dr. Oelhaf demonstrated great dedication, and gave evidence that he became a doctor from vocation. His generosity gained him a great esteem in Gdansk. When the epidemic ended life in the city slowly returned to normal – and also the Gymnasium re-opened. Joachim was appointed professor of  anatomy and medicine there. Now, in addition to medical practice, he lectured, participated in the debates of scholars, which was in good tone, and wrote scientific papers. As he was interested in botany as an auxiliary science for medicine, he founded a garden for medicinal herbs on the city’s ramparts. Medicine was his passion, and cognition – the route to it.

It is known that he conducted three autopsies. The first one was of a child with pathology of liver, the next – was necropsy of professor Keckermann. On February 27th of the year 1613 he conducted the first in this part of Europe public autopsy. In the times of the Franciscans it was the small refectory,  then in the times of Gdansk Academic Gymnasium it became the anatomy hall. Today there is an exhibition of  gold smithery in the room. And the building today houses Gdansk National Museum. This autopsy of 1613 was of a child with multiple defects. The child was born in nearby Pruszcz Gdanski (Praust). The results of the autopsy were published – hence it became known internationally throughout the then medical world.

During his stays in Gdansk, the King gladly visited Oelhaf. Those royal visits undoubtedly raised the prestige of the city physician.

Oelhaf’s life was very intense, because in addition to medical practice, lectures at the Gymnasium, disputes, has conducted experiments, and investigations of the medicinal properties of plants, he participated in surgeries, and he wrote treatises on physiology and anatomy. Unfortunately, this success story and the activity were interrupted by the plague in 1630. Joachim was one of its victims.

Joachim had a son: Nicholas who continued research on the herbs after his famous father. He has published work in the field of herbal medicine. And in this he was a forerunner. He described about  350 plants used in medicine. Nicholas was also the town doctor (physician), and the court physician of King Wladyslaw IV. Considering the kidney illness, from which the King had suffered since his early youth – Nicholas was a very busy court physician.

Unfortunately I know nothing more about his further life. Therefore it is all for the time being.


Pots in the walls

A friend of mine gave me some scans of articles printed in some old publications (from 1950-ties). I have no title nor number of the periodical, only the said scans.

The texts are about acoustic holes in the walls of medieval churches.  Not much has been said and written about this particular way of magnifying voice in the Middle Ages. Probably because of the lack of general knowledge about this, or rather – because it is not a “serious matter” as one of the scholars told me 😉

An acoustic hole in fact is a … pot embedded into the wall. Such pots were placed in the walls of the orthodox churches in Russia but also in what is today Poland.  The opening of the vessel embedded in the wall was directed into the interior of the temple (or room, as this has been used not only to magnify the voice in churches)… According to the article – the oldest mention of such vessel comes from the 11th century and is about the use of pots during the construction of the church of St. Basil in Ovruch.

Next, the article says that in 1340 during the construction of the cathedral of Wloclawek, Bishop Matthew of Gołańcz ordered the builders to mortar four pots into the walls around windows; two under the arch of the chancel, and two slightly below.

Added to this were the pots above the entrance and in the vaults. For this reason the cathedral of Wloclawek was allegedly called a “thundering cathedral”.

Could it be that from those days comes the saying about the “thundering” or “roaring” voices of the then priests?

As it can further be read in the article, such pots were made of clay with an admixture of graphite.
The production of such vessels was held by potters in Bohemia and Russia, but also in our country (question: what does the author mean by “our country”, and hence: WHERE?).

Embedding of such vessels into (not plastered) walls gave the room an appropriate reverberation, while the echo was somehow suppressed, so as the spoken words acquired clear sound. In the 19th century the restorers plastered the holes in the walls not knowing their importance, and considering them redundant.  Suddenly then – the church chancels lost their acoustics, and the voice of the priest was less heard.

The measures of such vessels were often very strict.

And so – the depth= 18 in., diameter of the hole = 4 in. According to a book on Polish Geometry from 1683 – 1 inch = 12 grains of barley.

There was also the other use of such pots – they were used as air bricks to build vaulted ceilings.

In the second article one can find out that during the maintenance of the polychromy in one of the churches a ceramic spool was found under the plaster.

„… during the exploratory works dark circles quite regularly placed in the original mortar were found. After their exposure and attempt to remove, it appeared that they were spools with a hole inside, embedded in ruble in a cylinder of the same material and color.  After removing and careful examination of one of them it occurred that they were ceramic spools of black clay, 105 mm long, with the diameter of 51,5 mm from one side , and 38 mm from the other, narrowing towards the center up to 26 mm, and with  16mm diameter internal bore through the length of it . The weight of such spool was 172 g. These spools lay in the necks of urns embedded horizontally, holes inside the church. For a closer look at the vessel, which seemed to be oval in shape, and to get the exact dimensions, we unveiled in one place on the northern wall two vessels lying side by side, one of which was laid there already cracked. The height of the vessels vary from  43,5 to 48 cm, diameter of the bottom ca. 20 cm, diameter of the biggest bulge from 28,5 to 39 cm, the narrowest place in the neck  8 cm, outlet 10 cm. The thickness of the wall at the neck 10 -11 cm.”

As noted hereinafter – the number of these vessels in the vicinity of vault arches – ranged from 5 to 7. It was believed that these pots were used either to improve the acoustics, or to protect from moisture inside. Strange about this is the wall thickness of those vessels, especially that in the outlet which is 10 cm; this is an unheard wall thickness, with regard to such vessel.

I am pasting photos of such pots, or spools or however we might call them…

These are the vaults of summer and winter Refectories in Malbork castle, and the vaulted ceilings of  St. Peter and Paul in Reszel, and the walls of the church in Morąg (also St. Peter and Paul…). I also add Torun’s St. Jacob’s church.

I wonder whether the devils in Orneta did appear by accident as the ideological exercising of these holes  Just in case… whenever the thoughts of the faithful would wan to wander away – the devils were (are there) to catch them and scare them back to the brains, where they belong…  The history about Tutivillus is wonderfully matches here. But this is just my wishful thinking and I need to double-check it. Indeed, why only Orneta has such a symbolism? And since it was called the Holy Warmia, why the devil had to keep watch here? Well, in addition Orneta for some time was the seat of the bishop of the Holy Warmia… Maybe the position of the Catholic Church really was not that strong then…

I am pasting some pictures of my favorite Orneta devils – especially this one in the nightcap. I’m also pasting in the photos from Oliwa. From the former Cistercian Church –  now Cathedral. There are some in the vaults, but in the sixteenth century they have been covered with stars. Other holes – mysterious ones – are located on the north wall of the ambulatory. Maybe thanks to them the floor is always dry there – unlike the floor of Frombork cathedral…