According to the foundation plaque placed on the cathedral’s wall, this church in Łowicz was founded by a priest residing in Mazovia. Surmisingly, this church in Gothic style was built around 1355 along with the construction of the archbishop’s fortified castle. On 25 March 1433 the archbishop of Gniezno – Wojciech Jastrzębski, the primate of Poland, conferred to this temple the title of collegiate church and established a chapter at it. In 1525 the great fire in Łowicz destroyed also the collegiate church. It was, however, reconstructed in a relatively short time, and in 1556 Mikołaj Dzierzgowski’s synod was held there.
At the beginning of the 17th century the church’es architecture was enriched with two slender towers. The most serious reconstruction, at the request of archbishop Maciej Łubieński, was carried out during 1652 – 54 by the Italian architects Tomasz and Andrzej Poncini. They added baroque forms to the existing structure and embellished its front with an impressive façade. Subsequent slight reconstructions took place during 1760 – 64.
In mid 17th century, during the Swedish invasion of Poland, the collegiate church was robbed by the Swedes. Only those items which were hidden in Jasna Góra escaped robbery. The profaned church was renovated and on 14 October 1668 the archbishop of Gniezno, Mikołaj Prażmowski – primate of Poland consecrated and dedicated it to the Assumption and St. Nicholas. At that collegiate church the primates of Poland had their sepulchral chapels constructed.
Presently, the internal architecture of the Cathedral Basilica is created by five chapels, the arcades of which are open to the church’es interior. These are: the chapel of St. Victoria - the patron of the diocese, the chapel of the Corpus Christi, the chapel of Crucified Jesus, the chapel of St Anna, the chapel of the Holy Trinity, and outside the church – the chapel of Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The beauty of the old collegiate church was created throughout the centuries by Polish and foreign artists supported by generous patrons – primates of Poland and rich inhabitants of Łowicz. Outstanding works of art arose, which we can also admire today. Among those artists we should mention architects Andrzej and Tomasz Poncini, Jakub Fontana; painters: Jan Jerzy Plersch, Tomasz Dolabella, Adam Swach; sculptors: Jan Michałowicz from Urzędów, Samuel Świątkiewicz, Willem and Abracham van den Block, Antoni Vogt and Hieronim Canavazi.
The second World War posed a threat to the existence of the collegiate church. During the great September battle on the Bzura river in 1939 the shellfire severely damaged the church’es roof, towers, organ and two altars. However, the war damages were reconstructed already during occupation.
Also these days the Cathedral Basilica undergoes conservation works restoring its former magnificence.
Throughout the centuries this church has been the House of God, but it has also been the burial place of twelve archbishops of Gniezno – primates of Poland and other distinguished clergymen creating the history of our Homeland and the history of Church in Poland.
On 25 March 1992 Pope John Paul II with the bull “Totus Tuus Poloniae Populus” established the Łowicz diocese and raised the collegiate church to the rank of the cathedral. During his 7th pilgrimage to his Homeland, when he visited Łowicz on 14 June 1999, the Holy Father John Paul II granted this church the Basilica title. Within its walls the past joins the present, incessantly leading people towards God.
THE CATHEDRAL BASILICA IN ŁOWICZ
1. The church’es foundation plaque – oval in shape, at the very entrance into the basilica.
2. The Śleszyńscy tombstone –(under the choir).
Built-into the wall double Renaissance tombstone of Marcin Śleszyński, Gostynin landowner’s clerk (who died in 1578) and his wife Anna, nee Dzierzgowska. Probably the author of this impressive sepulchral monument is Jan Michałowicz. The whole, carved in marble figures of the deceased are presented in reclining position. The tombstone is decoratively crowned, with coats of arms.
3. The pulpit – baroque, founded by archbishop Komorowski in 1752.
It was made by the well-known Warsaw woodcarver Antoni Vogt. On the pulpit’s canopy there is a figure of St. Jan Nepomucen surrounded by symbols of four Evangelists and Korczak’s coat of arms. On the basket - highly artistic plaques in rococo style, showing the martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch – the founder’s patron. On the balustrade, in panels, there are symbols of four doctors of the church: St. Gregory - the Pope, St. Augustine, St. Hieronim and St. Ambrose.
4. The Corpus Christi Chapel – in baroque style, founded by Jan Lipski, primate during 1640-45. Its interior is three-spatial, with a high dome. During 1717-18 the chapel was rebuilt, for instance the window openings were enlarged according to baroque style. Adam Swach, Franciscan, ornamented the chapel with polychrome in al fresco style, presenting the cult of the Holy Eucharist. A subsequent transformation was carried out by architect Jakub Fontana during 1770-71. A new, early classicistic altar was made, ornamented with a big painting by Jan Jerzy Plerscha – “The Good Shepherd”. On the right pillar from the entrance to the chapel there is an ornate epitaph and tombstone of Mikołaj Prażmowski, primate (during 1666-1673), who consecrated the church in 1668. The entrance to the chapel is closed with a baroque wrought-iron grating. In front of the threshold a bronze slab closes the entrance to the grave of archbishop Jan Lipski. This chapel holds the Holy Sacrament.
5. The Chapel of Crucified Jesus – late baroque chapel, founded by primate Adam Ignacy Komorowski, constructed according to the design by Jakub Fontana during 1759-64. In the chapel’s altar there is the 16th century crucifix famous for graces. Christ’s figure is heartbreakingly realistic. The southern alcove holds primate Komorowski’s tombstone in artistic form, made of white and black marble; two puttoes (angels) support the medallion with the image of the late primate. This work of art is attributed to Jan Chryzostom Redler. The chapel is closed with a rococo grating with the archbishop’s monogram and the duke’s coronet.
6. The presbytery – on both sides there are beautiful, baroque canonical stalls founded by primate Jan Stefan Wydżga in 1650. Three huge pictures representing scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and donated by primate Henryk Firlej were put up over them. They were probably painted by Tomasz Dolabella. In 2000 a new marble floor was laid (in baroque style), along with a new altar and a small pulpit. In front of the presbytery, near St. Joseph’s altar, there is a marble font founded in 1658 by Wacław Kunicki – canon of Łowicz.
7. Sepulchral tombstone pf primate Henryk Firlej (died in 1626) – on the left side of the main altar. The archbishop is shown in kneeling position. The sculpture was made by Abracham van den Block and then finished by Wilhelm Richter.
8. The main altar - after the old wooden altar was burned in 1761, the Chapter of Łowicz asked Jakub Fontana to construct a new altar. Jan Jerzy Plersch, woodcarver of king Stanisław August Poniatowski did the sculptural ornaments and the figures of four evangelists. The main part of the altar is the picture of “The Assumption”.
9. Sepulchral tombstones of primates Andrzej and Wacław Leszczyński – on the right side of the main altar we can see the primates’ two-part tombstone made of black marble in 1660.
These primates did a lot of good during Swedish invasion.
10. Tombstone of primate Jan Przerembski (who died in 1562) – in Renaissance style, made of red marble. The primate’s figure was made by Hieronim Canavasi.
11. Vestry – founded by archbishop Adam Komorowski in 1761.
A part of the collection of portraits of Gniezno archbishops, primates of Poland, is placed here. Through this vestry one can get to the collegiate church’es vault where valuable liturgical vessels and vestments are stored. St. Victoria’s relic from 1625 is placed here.
12. The Chapel of St. Victoria – Renaissance chapel founded by primate Jakub Uchański, of the authorship of Jan Michałowicz, outstanding Polish architect and sculptor from Urzędów. Laid out as a square, covered with a dome with a lantern, ornamented with rich stuccoes. Special attention should be drawn to gypsum mouldings in form of lightly hanging curtains. In this chapel Henryk Firlej (whose tombstone is in presbytery) in 1625 placed in the altar the relics of St. Victoria whom the town chose to be its patron. Presently, this reliquary is placed in the cathedral vault. In the altar there is the martyr’s picture, whereas in antepedium a tombstone from Roman catacombs of the 4th century was put up. In 1814, for 25 days this chapel housed prince Józef Poniatowski’s corpse brought to Poland from abroad. On the nave side, over the entrance to the chapel, a big semicircular oil painting is put up, imaging king Jan Kazimierz with queen Maria Ludwika and the court in the Łowicz collegiate church and archbishop Łubieński who brings St. Victoria’s relics to the king to kiss them. King Jan Kazimierz visited Łowicz several times to use St. Victoria’s (Victoria – victory) intercession to beg God to reverse misfortunes befalling the Homeland. To the right of the entrance to the chapel there is a tombstone of primate Jakub Uchański, made by Michałowicz from Urzędów. The primate’s figure made from alabaster rests on the pedestal.
13. The Chapel of St. Anna – baroque chapel founded by primate Jan Wężyk in 1640. The vault shows Wężyk’s coat of arms and construction completion date. Two altars in the chapel were made by Karol Bay: of St. Jan Nepomucen and St. Anna.
The wooden architectonic altar of St. Jan Nepomucen, of 1735, holds the saint’s picture attributed to Szymon Czechowicz. On the sides – angels and saints Jan Evangelist and Jan Deacon. In the crowning – “The Eye of Providence”, the book of brotherhood and Pilawa – the founder’s coat of arms.
St. Anna’s wooden gold-plated altar was made in 1730. The retable holds the painting: “Maria’s Family”. The crowning among the angels, cloudlets and rays shows the dove – symbol of the Holy Spirit. On the left of the altar – the picture of the blessed Bolesława Lament (inhabitant of Łowicz) who had her own confessor in this collegiate church.
14. The Holy Trinity Chapel – a late Renaissance chapel (1609 – 1611) founded by primate Jan Tarnowski, separated from the aisle by a gate and grating. The chapel’s vault is finished with a rotunda; decorations of walls, niches and statues of four evangelists were made by Samuel Świątkiewicz. The sepulchral tombstone of Łęczyca ensign Piotr Tarnowski (primate’s father) was Flemish sculptor Willem van den Block who lived in Gdańsk. This tombstone, made during 1603 – 04, is one of his best artistic works. Also two altar bas-reliefs – “The Crucified Jesus” and “Resurrection” were made by that artist. A triptych of 1576 (signed T.S.) depicts the Passion. The entrance portal to the chapel is ornamented with sculptures personifying the Faith, Hope and Love. Stored in the chapel is the Pope’s throne, small pulpit and altar at which John Paul II celebrated the mass on Łowicz grassland during his historic visit in June 1999.
15. The Organ – References to the first instrument may be found as early as in the 15th century. Throughout centuries this instrument was repeatedly destroyed and reconstructed. It was finally annihilated during the war in 1939. A new instrument was built in 1942-43 by Wacław Biernacki from Warsaw. Since 1989 at the cathedral in Łowicz summer concerts of International Organ Festival – Jan Sebastian Bach – are held.
16. The Chapel of Jesus of Gethsemane outside the cathedral. Founded in 1758 by Jan Barszcz, councilor of Łowicz. The central fresco presents Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
SIDE ALTARS beside the pillars of the nave.
a) St. Rosalia’s Altar – two-storey wooden polychromic altar erected in 1666 by archbishop Wacław Leszczyński. Centrally situated is the picture of St. Rosalia in silver dress.
b) Altar of Rosary Heavenly Mother – founded in 1627 by reverend Jerzy Rokicki. In the retable – the Snowy Heavenly Mother of the type of Solus Populi Romani of 1719, painted by Franciscan Adam Swach. Throughout centuries the primates, bishops and believers used to gather around this picture to pray and thank for numerous graces. In view of this fervent worship of the Heavenly Mother, the bishop of Łowicz applied to the Holy See for a consent to crown the image loved by the people. In January 2002 Pope John Paul II consecrated the crowns in the Vatican. A solemn coronation was held at the cathedral in Łowicz on 5 October 2002.
c) The Altar of Guardian Angels – a wooden polychromic altar with gold-plated woodcarving, founded by reverend Jerzy Rokicki. In the middle there is a picture of the Guardian Angel
of mid 17th century, subsequently repainted and ornamented with silver dresses.
d) St. Joseph’s Altar – a wooden polychromic and gold-plated altar. St. Joseph’s picture comes from the 17th century.
e) St. Barbara’s Altar – founded in 1680 by reverend Wojciech Szczawiński. The saint’s image comes from 1776.
f) The Altar of St. Roch and St. Sebastian – designed by Karol
Bay around 1732. During the war in 1939 it was largely destroyed. In 1943 the picture of St. Andrzej Bobola was painted by Andrzej Krawczyk.
g) The Altar of Saint Liboriusz – of 1732, founded by primate Teodor Potocki as a vote of gratitude for recovery. The saint’s picture was burned in 1939 during the battle on the Bzura river. A new picture, depicting St. Wojciech, was painted in 1942 by Andrzej Krawczyk.