St. Mary's Church, Gdansk, POLAND
St. Mary's Church (Polish: Bazylika Mariacka, German: Marienkirche) in Gdańsk is the largest brick church in the world, and one of the largest Gothic buildings in Europe. It is 105.5 m long, and the nave is 66 m wide. Inside the church is room for 25,000 people. It is an aisled hall church with a transept.
Initially the site of the church was occupied by a six-span basilica with a low turret, erected between 1343 and 1360. Parts of the pillars and lower levels of the turret are preserved from this building.
In 1379 a masonry master Henryk Ungeradin with his team started construction work on the present church. By 1447 the eastern part of the temple was finished, and the tower was raised by two floors in the years 1452-1466.
Since 1485 the works were carried over by Hans Brandt, who supervised the erection of the main nave core. The works were finally finished after 1496 under Heinrich Haetzl, who supervised the construction of the vaulting.
Until 20th century both the church interior and exterior were well preserved. The church was severely damaged in World War II, during the storming of the city by the Red Army in March 1945. The wooden roof burned completely and most of the ceiling fell in. 14 of the large vaults collapsed. The windows were utterly destroyed. In places the heat was so intense that some of the bricks simply melted, especially in the upper parts of the tower which acted as a giant chimney. The floor of the church containing priceless gravestone slabs was torn apart, allegedly by Soviet soldiers attempting to loot the corpses buried underneath.
Fortunately, most of the artworks from the interior survived, as they were evacuated for safekeeping to the villages surrounding the city. Many of these have returned to the church, but some are displayed in various museums around Poland. Efforts are underway to secure their return.
The reconstruction started shortly after the war in 1946. The roof was rebuilt in August, 1947. After the basic reconstruction was finished, the church was reconsecrated on 17 November 1955. The reconstruction and renovation of the interior is an ongoing effort and continues to this day.
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