Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The beginning of the cult of the Mother of God in Swieta Lipka dates back to the 14th century, long before the sanctuary was built. According to the legend, a criminal sentenced to death penalty was imprisoned in the dungeons of Ketrzyn Church. Inspired by the Mother of God, he carved a wooden figurine of Madonna and Child. Soon after he was released, and then he placed the figurine on a linden tree by the road from Ketrzyn to Reszel. The statue of Mary and Child became famous for its miracles.
The Sanctuary of the Mother of Christian Unity in Swieta Lipka, where two chapels once stood, is currently one of the most important and best known Marian sanctuaries in Poland. The temple was built on the border of two religious lands, Catholic Warmia and Protestant Ducal Prussia. Before the partitions, thanks to numerous pilgrimages, it was called “Czestochowa of the North”.
The church has a form of a three-nave basilica. The main nave is topped with a four-span body, and the side nave is decorated with galleries supported on the columns. The two-span presbytery is facing East. To the West, the building is enclosed by a slender façade outside the lateral walls. It is fifty-three metres high, square towers are slightly shifted outwards in relation to the axes of both side naves. The whole building was constructed on a rectangular plan. The dominant material is plastered brick.
The church amazes with its vast and spacious interior (the nave body is 24 x 21 metres, of which 10 metres is the width of the main nave; the presbytery 12 x 8 metres with the height of the vault of the main nave measuring 19 metres). The factor organising the interior space of the building is a high and slender main nave, subserving the remaining parts of the interior (aisle height of 19 metres, side aisle 5.35 metres and gallery 3.65 metres). The church is surrounded by the cloisters on a rectangular plan and four corner chapels on a square plan.
Church buildings form a part of the church building program, formed around 1573 by Saint Karol Boromeusz, which claims that churches with their architecture should “strengthen the effects of religious ceremonies, affecting even a casual viewer. … so that not only the ecclesiastical interiors are spacious, bright and compositionally subject to the great altar, but also the facades are magnificent, decorated with statues of saints. With their scale and position dominant over their surroundings.”
The entire Eastern wall is taken by the largest and the most beautiful altar of the temple. It is 19 metres high and reaches all the way up to the vault of the basilica. It was created between 1712 and 1714 by K. Peucker in his studio in Reszel. The works were funded by the Bishop T. Potocki. The altar is a wooden three-storey structure, it is composed of architectural elements and ornaments which are typical for late Baroque. Tapered upwards, the individual levels of the altar are filled with a variety of sculptures and paintings. The miraculous painting of Our Lady of Swieta Lipka is placed in the most important place of the altar. It was painted in 1640 by B. Pens. It is a rectangular painting on canvas, and it is covered with a silver robe made between 1719 and 1720 by goldsmith S. Grewe of Krolewiec. The same artist also made a silver decoration of the tabernacle on the altar mensa. On the door it presents “Christ with the disciples in Emmaus” and the top shows a depiction of the “Last Supper”. The central painting in the main altar is the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, and the upper one is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Both of them were painted in 1725 by P. Kolberg of Dobre Miasto. On the sides of each storey there are sculptures of: Saints John the Baptist, Joseph, Joachim and King David (lower storey); Saints Andrew, Peter, Paul and John the Evangelist (middle storey); Saints Wojciech, Stephen, Kazimierz and Zygmunt (upper storey). The whole altar is topped with a radial glory with the monogram of the Holy Name “IHS”.
Thanks to the efforts of the Superior Abbot G. Engella (1718-1722), between 1719 and 1721 the Royal organ master J. J. Mosengel of Krolewiec built church’s beautiful organs. The instrument, perfectly matched to the place, was initially designed as an eighteen-voice organ with two manuals, but during the works it was enlarged by a third manual and a pedal, a total of thirty-seven voices. Like all instruments with a Baroque sound, the organ of Święta Lipka had mechanical tracker action, and the amount of air necessary for the instrument to play was pumped through four wedge-type bellows which were foot operated by the so-called organ blowers.