The Church of Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary

Main data:

Year of construction: 1411
Year of reconstruction: 1956
Designer: ???
Location: ul. Przyrynek 2

When we enter this church we can clearly feel a spirit of very old times. This is the oldest temple of the New Town and one of the oldest ones in the whole area of today Warsaw (but not the oldest one, as some say). Despite the Church of Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary was many times destroyed and rebuilt, after the Second World War it was reconstructed in its initial architectural style. Thanks to that it is one of the best examples of gothic architecture in Warsaw (but a restored gothic off course).

One of Warsaw legends - about a childless miller, deals with the rise up of the church. This man used to live in a house over the bank of Vistula. He was hard-working and was taking care of his business well, so he was quite wealthy. He also had a beautiful wife, but they both were not completely happy, because they had no children. One night, when the miller was praying fervently for the offspring, the Virgin Mary suddenly appeared in front of him. She promised that his favour will be fulfilled, and even not later than in one year time, but on one condition. The miller was supposed to go along the river and when he sees a hill with snow, he should build a church there. So he decided to do that next day. Actually, it seemed strange for him that he should find a hill with snow - it was the middle of summer. But his faith was strong so he walked persistently, and finally he really found the hill - in fact it was covered with snow, despite the day was hot. The miller brought workers and they started the construction of a temple promptly. In shorter than two months, the church, together with a high tower, was finished. And soon the promise made by the Virgin Mary was fulfilled. Not even a year went by since he saw her, when the miller baptized his new child in the church he built.

We do not know how much truth there is in that legend. We know that in fact, the church, situated on the slope of Vistula, in the first period of its existence was visited mainly by craftsmen and fishermen, in contrast to more 'exclusive' St. John's cathedral at the Old Town. But historical sources says something rather different than the legend about the foundation of the church. According to them, it was founded by duchess Anna Mazowiecka. Probably earlier in this place there was a pagan temple. The construction lasted from 1407 till 1411 and the consecration took place on 30th of June 1411. Also then the parish of the New Town was established. The building was one-naved, but on the end of 15th century, on the initiative of Mazovian prince Boleslaw V, two side naves were added. And probably also then a stand-alone tower next to the church was constructed - till today this is its most characteristic element and a strong accent of the local landscape. It is worth mentioning that this tower was not always a belfry - in the 17th century there was a post of fire brigade on the top. On the terrain around the church a cemetery used to function (probably last burials took place at the end of 18th century, today there is no trace of gravestones, only a few plaques on the temple's wall commemorate the cemetery). In the past, also a poorhouse, a hospital and a school used to function next to the church.

The church was much devastated during Swedish Deluge. When later a few renovations were done, the church had been gradually losing its gothic features. First, about 1690 baroque elements were added and then, in years 1840-55 - neo-gothic. Another reconstruction took place in years 1883-90, its aim was to bring out Romanesque features - the problem was that, as we know, the building was constructed not earlier than in 15th century so it never had such features. The result was that only more gothic elements were disassembled. That was why another reconstruction, made in years 1905-15, led by well-known architects Jozef Pius Dziekonski and Stefan Szyller, was supposed to bring back the building to its initial gothic appearance. This process was continued until 1936. Thanks to it, on photos taken just before Second World War we can see the church in the form close to the initial one (and also to its today's appearance).

But the process of restoring the gothic style of the temple was interrupted by Second World War. Because of bombings during Warsaw Uprising the temple was nearly completely destroyed. The vault was demolished, and about half of the tower was knocked down. During the reconstruction, made in years 1947-56, a decision was made to bring the building back to more 'clear' gothic form, similar to the initial one as much as possible.

Today, when we visit the church, at first sight we can see a few elements which are typical for gothic architecture and confirm a long history of the church - a stair-shaped gable and a rib vault. But what attract attention the most is a massive, stand-alone tower. But two baroque chapels on both sides, covered with copper domes, are elements that rather do not go well with the gothic style of the temple. The interior was devastated during Swedish Deluge as well as during Warsaw Uprising, so we will not find much historical furnishing there, most of it is modern. But there are a few elements, that were brought to the church in 19th century and also after the Second World War. A painting of Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary is one of them, it is a work of Michael Willman, made in 1682 and brought here after the last war. And there are also two groups of sculptures: first of St. Monica and St. August, and second of St. Anna and Blessed Virgin Mary.

On the square in front of the church (which is a former cemetery) we can see a monument of Walerian Lukasinski. He was a well-known Polish patriot, who was living in a house near the church. The man was an officer of Duchy of Warsaw, he took part in Napoleonic Wars and was a founder of Polish Freemasonry and Patriotic Society. For his anti-Russian actions he was sentenced to a long imprisonment. He was in prison for over half of his life (over 40 years) and was never released. The monument, made by Andrzej Kasten in 1988, has a rather macabre form. The figure's trunk has a very schematic shape so the whole monument look like if nothing but Lukasinski's head and hands (clapped in irons) were put on the plinth.

Practical information:

The masses in the church of Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary take place from Monday to Friday on 7.00, 15.00 and 18.00, on Saturdays at 7.00 and 18.30, and on Sundays and holidays on 8.30, 9.30, 11.00, 12.00, 16.00 and 18.30.

Historical views of the church of Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary:

The church itself outside and its surrounding - seen today:

The interior of the church:

The church of Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary at night:

(C) 2001-2013 Maciej Blazejewski