Gniezno Cathedral

  ul. Łaskiego 7      (+48) 61 424 13 89     20 Feb 2019
Gniezno’s Cathedral is regarded as the spiritual home of Poland’s former monarchy - it’s here Poland’s first five kings were crowned. To truly enjoy it requires two visits; a guided tour sees all manner of stories and legends revealed, while a follow up solo tour allows you to really take stock of the riches and relics before you.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the principal highlight of the Cathedral is the ‘Gniezno doors,’ a pair of winged bronze doors from the 12th century where you naturally begin your tour. Featuring 18 panels, each masterfully engraved with scenes from the life of St. Adalbert, start from Adalbert’s birth on the bottom left panel, and then follow his story upwards and around. Of note are an exorcism illustrated on the sixth panel, and his murder on the fourteenth. Yep, that’s his head on a stick in the next. Regarded as one of the most important pieces of Romanesque art in Poland, ironically no one has a clue who created them, unlike the portal that frames the door - look closely and you’ll notice the signature scribble of the craftsmen on the left side. Worthy of further investigation in its own right, the portal dates from 1400 and features an engraving of Jesus sitting on a rainbow (rainbows were believed to mark the entrance to heaven) with two swords in his mouth - symbolic of the power he wields in both heaven and earth.

Next up is a trip to the crypt - the highlights of which include Poland’s oldest gravestone, the coffins of the country’s past primates, and the pattern of the tiled floor (which you might recognise from the 10zł note) - before onto the Cathedral proper. Originally built between 1324 and 1370 the Cathedral has been patched up and embellished over the course of time, and nowadays it is the Baroque flourishes that steal the show. It’s impossible to put a figure on the number of must-see details, and it’s at this stage where having a guide becomes invaluable. The 13 arcades around the presbytery are symbolic of Jesus and the 12 apostles, and there’s a heavy emphasis on allegorical symbolism. At the rear of the Cathedral you can spot one of only two works by Wit Stwosz found outside Kraków. In total the Cathedral is surrounded by 13 side chapels holding a number of points of interest, including a miracle working crucifix found in the Chapel of Jesus. The cross has accompanied the Polish army into battle since the 17th century when it was first seen to bleed.

The elaborate gold confession, situated at the top end of the Cathedral, is stunning, and said to be modelled on the Confession of St. Peter’s in Rome. Beneath it is the silver sarcophagus of St. Adalbert, designed by Gdańsk master craftsman Peter van Rennen. Considered the most important relic in the country the silver coffin is balanced on six eagles, and carried on the figures of a priest, peasant, townsperson and knight.

Unfortunately visitors are denied the opportunity to view the library. Treasures here include Poland’s oldest book (dating from 880AD), a papal edict that features the first recorded use of the Polish language, and numerous letters penned by Poland’s former regents. Though frustrating, this locked door policy is fully understandable. The Cathedral has had misfortune served up in spades. Its significance to the Polish state has not been lost on invaders and as a result it’s been burned, looted, battered and destroyed on numerous occasions. Napoleon’s troops turned it into a stable, while the ‘liberating’ Red Army shelled it for no apparent reason.

The Nazis, meanwhile, replaced St. Adalbert’s portrait with that of Hitler and planned to use the building as a concert venue for high-ranking fascists. Legend goes, however, that on opening night a bishop drifted unannounced across the hall and disappeared into the crypt below. Shots were fired at the unannounced gatecrasher, but none hit their mark, spooking the Nazis enough to scrap their plans and not set foot inside again. Unfortunately this didn’t stop them from employing Volksdeutsch workers and systematically stripping the building of its valuables, melting the gold and shipping off countless treasures to shady vaults. Only the confession and the organ escaped them - the latter only to be blown to smithereens by the Soviets in 1945. The bell tower shared the same fate, which explains why you’ll see the original bell lying outside the main entrance. Rebuilt (with no bell) the bell tower is open in the summer season, and its 231 steps lead to panoramic views across town.

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Open 09:00 - 16:00.
Last entrance 30min before closing.

Price/Additional Info

Admission requires 3 tickets to see the Cathedral's 3 highlights: Bell Tower 4/2zł, Underground 5/3zł, Doors 6/4zł; or buy a combined ticket which also includes an audioguide and entry to the Archdiocese Museum for 21/11zł.


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