By Jakub Adamski | Institute of the History of Art, University of Warsaw
The parish church in Strzegom is one of the most monumental Gothic churches built in Central Europe. The town lay in the Świdnica-Jawor Principality, ruled by a local branch of the Piast dynasty. From 1338, it belonged to Agnes of Habsburg (d. 1392), who received it as a dowry from her husband, Bolko II of Świdnica-Jawor (r. 1326–68). Strzegom belonged to the relatively small and moderately wealthy towns of Silesia. The great size of the building (its length exceeds 76 meters) and the lavishness of its sculptural decoration can only be explained by the key influence of Agnes on this construction project. The right of patronage of the parish belonged from the beginning of the 13th century to the Knights Hospitaller, but the management and financing of the construction were handled by the town council, undoubtedly supported by the duchess.
The basilican church is built of granite rubble with abundant sandstone ashlar for all the architectural details. It consists of a three-bay aisled choir with three three-sided apses, a two-bay transept, and a five-bay nave, preceded by a two-tower façade. It is possible to determine the chronology of the construction by analyzing the changing architectural forms, especially the piers, the traceries, as well as the carved brackets and bosses. The aisles of the nave were built first, around 1350–70, together with two impressive portals in their middle bays. The lowest story of the north tower and most of the south arm of the transept were also built in the first phase of work. Around 1370–80, a new workshop erected the middle bay of the façade with its splendid portal, the nave clerestory (without vaults), the walls of the north transept arm, and the west piers of the crossing bay. The construction of the choir from around 1380 to 1396 was the responsibility of a third workshop, led by Master Jacob of Świdnica. The net vaults in the nave, transept, and chancel were not completed until the mid-15th century.
The church in Strzegom was one of the two most important building projects undertaken in the middle of the 14th century in the Świdnica-Jawor Principality; the other was a new parish church at Świdnica. In 1348, the war between Bohemia and Poland for the dominion over Silesia ended, as a result of which Charles IV Luxembourg (r. 1346–78) annexed this region to the Crown of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Bolko II of Świdnica-Jawor concluded a succession treaty, according to which his duchy was to become the property of the Luxembourgs in the event of the heirless death of the ducal couple, which happened eventually in 1392. At the same time, the conclusion of this agreement marked a period of prosperity in the Duchy of Świdnica and Jawor and accelerated the political career for Bolko at the Luxembourg court, of which the monumental churches in Strzegom and Świdnica are the most important witnesses.
Both of these buildings refer in their design to the prestigious parish church of St. Elisabeth in Wrocław. The latter church, built in its present form around 1310/20–60, set the pattern for the grand basilica that was repeated in numerous Silesian cities until the end of the Middle Ages. This grand basilica type is characterized by slender interior proportions, nave arcades with uniform molding, lesenes as the vertical articulation, and an aisled choir with three apses. This design was inspired above all by important town churches in the south-western regions of the Holy Roman Empire. Such constructions as the parish churches of Freiburg im Breisgau, Nuremberg and Nabburg simplified French interior designs of the 12th–13th centuries by abandoning the triforium, the skeletal construction of clerestory or even the cornices separating the stories of the nave walls.
The church in Strzegom is one of the most monumental examples of a late-medieval “Silesian basilica.” It is distinguished not only by its sheer size but also by the introduction of a wide transept (probably following the example of the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross in Wrocław) and the use of external flying buttresses. The latter were usually hidden in the aisle attics in other Central European churches. The building has retained its original traceries. Those in the nave aisles copy the window compositions of the Holy Cross in Wrocław and the first of Peter Parler’s chapels in St. Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague. The soft molding of the nave piers in Strzegom was also adopted from Bohemian buildings, this time connected with the activity of the workshop of Matthias of Arras, who started work on Prague Cathedral in 1344. In the same building phase, the Silesian church was decorated by a team of stonemasons who arrived in Silesia around 1340, probably from Vienna. This workshop, inspired by Tuscan sculpture from the circle of Giovanni and Andrea Pisano, made the figural brackets in the nave aisles and two splendid tympana of the side portals, depicting the Coronations of the Virgin Mary, Bathsheba, and Esther on the north portal, and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary on the south one. The choice of these scenes indicates Agnes of Habsburg’s involvement in this building enterprise, as the Coronation of the Virgin Mary and Dormition are also depicted on the tympanum of the Bischofstor of St. Stephen’s in Vienna, executed more or less simultaneously with the works in Strzegom. The Vienna church was the “house church” of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, to which Agnes, who was brought up at the court in Vienna, belonged.
These connections are even clearer in the case of the iconography of the western portal in Strzegom, which is the most magnificent work of its type in this part of Central Europe. Although its architecture is based on models from Silesia (Wrocław) and Upper Rhineland (Strasbourg, Reutlingen, Rottweil), the two-zone tympanum with the representation of the Legend of St. Paul is a compositional variation on the tympanum of the Singertor of the Vienna Cathedral. Significantly, however, only the iconography was taken from there, as the western portal in Strzegom was created by sculptors connected with “Parlerian” workshops from southern Germany and Bohemia. The traceries of the nave clerestory and the transept piers made in the same phase of work are also a direct reference to Peter Parler’s designs in Prague and Kolín. It should be noted that the churches in Strzegom and Świdnica, although faithfully following the Silesian model of a basilican nave and an aisled choir, are the only 14th-century buildings in this region that show such a degree of dependence on prestigious Bohemian designs.
Adamski, Jakub. “Böhmische Einflüsse in der schlesischen Kirchenbaukunst des mittleren 14. Jahrhunderts. Der Fall Schweidnitz und Striegau.” Umění/Art 65, no. 4 (2017): 330–346.
A detailed survey of the construction history and stylistic references of the church, with a broad elaboration of the Bohemian (and especially Parlerian) sources of the first and second building campaign at Strzegom.
Adamski, Jakub, and Thomas Flum. “Die Paulusportale in Striegau und Wien. Historischer und kunstgeschitlicher Kontext einer Variation.” In Herzogswerkstatt, edited by Barbara Schedl and Franz Zehetner. Vienna: Böhlau, 2021 [in print].
This article presents an in-depth comparative analysis of two contemporary portals containing sculpted tympana with the Legend of St. Paul in Vienna and Strzegom, with a discussion on the construction history of both churches.
Kaczmarek, Romuald. “Neue Überlegungen zu den schlesischen Löwenmadonnen: ihr Ursprung und stilistisch-formale Parallelentwicklungen in der Steinplastik.” In Madony na lvu a Měkký styl třetí čtvrtiny 14. století. Příspěvky z mezinárodního symposia, edited by Jana Hrbáčová, 33–44. Olomouc: Arcidiecézní Muzeum, 2014.
An up-to-date discussion of the sculpted decoration of the church, situated in a broad Silesian and Central-European perspective.
Lutsch, Hans. Verzeichnis der Kunstdenkmäler der Provinz Schlesien, vol. 2, Die Kunstdenkmäler der Landkreise des Reg.-Bezirks Breslau, 271–278. Breslau: Korn, 1889.
An early description of the church with a mostly accurate discussion of the written sources.
Tintelnot, Hans. Die mittelalterliche Baukunst Schlesiens, 108–114. Kitzingen: Holzner, 1951.
One of few more extensive analyses of the church written before World War II. Now mostly outdated.
This contribution was sponsored by the International Center of Medieval Art through the 2021 Advocacy Seed Grant.