The wooden churches of southern Little Poland represent outstanding examples of the different aspects of medieval church-building traditions in Roman Catholic culture. Built using the horizontal log technique, common in eastern and northern Europe since the Middle Ages, these churches were sponsored by noble families and became status symbols. They offered an alternative to the stone structures erected in urban centres.
Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (iii): The wooden churches of Little Poland bear important testimony to medieval church building traditions, as these related to the liturgical and cult functions of the Roman Catholic Church in a relatively closed region in central Europe.
Criterion (iv): The churches are the most representative examples of surviving Gothic churches built in horizontal log technique, particularly impressive in their artistic and technical execution, and sponsored by noble families and rulers as symbols of social and political prestige.
The wooden churches of southern Little Poland bear exceptional testimony to the tradition of church building from the Middle Ages. They have also been preserved in the context of the vernacular village and landscape setting, and related to the liturgical and cult functions of the Roman Catholic Church in a relatively closed region in central Europe. They are exceptionally well-preserved and representative examples of the medieval Gothic church, built using the horizontal log technique, particularly impressive in their artistic and technical execution, and sponsored by noble families and rulers as symbols of prestige.
The history of Poland goes back to the unification of the Christian lands and the constitution of the kingdom in the 10th and 11th centuries. Churches have been of particular significance in the development of Polish wooden architecture, and an essential element of settlement structures, both as landmarks and as ideological symbols. They were an outward sign of the cultural identity of communities, reflecting the artistic and social aspirations of their patrons and creators. The nine sites in southern Little Poland represent different aspects of these developments.
The Church of the Archangel Michael (Binarowa) was built around 1500, with a roof of zaskrzynienia type. [CL - explain term?]In 1595 a tower was added to the west end, and at the beginning of the 17th century the church was enclosed by an external arcade. Window openings were enlarged and new polychrome decoration replaced the earlier stencilled work. The Church of All Saints (Blizne) has a rich painted decoration: the remarkable Last Judgement scene is from this period. In the early 18th century there were changes to interior decorations and furniture. Near the church, there is a group of buildings of the presbytery. The Church of the Archangel Michael (Debno) is first mentioned in 1335. The present building, the second on the site, dates from the late 15th century. This church has a unique example of medieval decorations. The ceiling and the interior walls are painted using stencils from the 15th and 16th centuries. The decoration contains more than 77 motifs: architectural recalling Gothic forms, animal, human and religious.
The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael (Haczow) has original Gothic polychrome decoration from the late 15th century, although the building has been dated to the previous century. At the beginning of the 17th century the church was enclosed by an earthen defensive rampart. The Church of St Peter and St Paul was built in 1789 from a donation. The furniture was designed in Baroque style but was substantially altered in 1836. In 1846 the Stations of the Cross were installed in the external arcade. There were more renovations later, but the form and decorations have been kept. The Church of St Leonard (Lipnica Murowana) was built at the end of the 15th century. From this date have survived parts of the polychrome decoration stencilled on the ceiling of the nave. The church was situated outside the defensive wall of the township and had the function of a cemetery church, a function that it still fulfils. It has been renovated many times, but this has not significantly affected its form or spatial arrangement
The Church of St John the Baptist was originally connected with the re-Catholicization of the region by the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand III. The construction of this church began in 1651. It was renovated in 1816-19 and the tower was remodelled in 1901. In 1926-27 the chapel was covered with a cupola, which was removed in 1935 and rebuilt as it had been earlier. The Church of St Philip and St James the Apostles (Sekowa) is an auxiliary church, built around 1520, on the site of an earlier church. The building has a square plan with no aisles; the chancel has a three-sided east end and the building is covered with a high roof. The Church of Archangel Michael of Szalowa was built in 1736-56. The vestibules in the facade are later additions. This church differs from the others because of its architectural form, although it was still built using the same technique as the rest. The church has a nave and two aisles, and it is built in basilica form. The extremely rich Baroque-Rococo polychrome decoration and fittings date from the 18th century. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The history of Poland goes back to the unification of the Christian lands and the constitution of the kingdom in the 10th and 11th centuries. Marked by important progress and the foundation of dozens of new cities in the 14th century, Poland's most impressive development is from the end of the 15th to the 18th centuries, when it was united with Lithuania and formed an empire ranging across the whole of central Europe. It is against this background that one can also see the development of wooden architecture in southern Poland, where it has been an inseparable element of the cultural landscape.
Churches have been of particular significance in the development of Polish wooden architecture, and an essential element of settlement structures, both as landmarks and as ideological symbols. They were an outward sign of the cultural identity of communities, reflecting the artistic and social aspirations of their patrons and creators. In early Poland, churches were elite buildings of exceptional significance due to the importance of their patrons, who were usually monarchs, Church officials, monasteries, and finally knights (later aristocrats). Church building was not the work of folk carpenters, except much later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, in a period of increasing social and cultural differentiation.
The oldest well preserved Roman Catholic wooden churches date back to the 15th century. They demonstrate the participation of professional craft workshops belonging to guilds and builders' lodges, sometimes employing both carpenters and masons. These churches are complex, of good craftsmanship, and free from improvisation in their construction. The few well preserved late medieval churches have many features in common. The typical church building was composed of a nave, almost square in plan with a narrow chancel, and generally with a three-sided east end. The churches were orientated with their altars to the east. Originally, the churches were built without towers, which were added later. There were various architectural developments, such as roof structures, in succeeding centuries, and some of the solutions are unique in Europe. The Gothic character of medieval churches was emphasized by simple stylistic details, such as the shape of door and window openings, arcades, and arches. Until the second quarter of the 16th century there was a common plan for the churches.
The internal fittings were in the style of the period, produced in guild workshops, and the themes and presentations followed rigorous ideological and iconographic rules. New architectural elements, such as towers and arcades, started appearing in the late 16th century, and strict adherence to the old church type was gradually abandoned. From the beginning of the 18th century there was a tendency to exceed the limitations of the traditional model, a symptom of institutional and social changes, and architects or skilled dilettantes attempted to apply to wood Baroque concepts developed in brick architecture. This is an interesting chapter in the history of the wooden sacral architecture, represented in basilica- and aisled-hall churches, sometimes with cupola-covered chapels or cruciform buildings with a central plan, facades with two towers and elaborate interiors with spiral columns, cornices, all executed in wood in ‘imitation' of brick architecture. Later styles, such as late Baroque, the Regency, and Rococo, also had an impact and mural decoration is used in illusionist compositions to increase the impression of interior spaciousness. In the 19th century there were revivals, and wooden churches were built with classicist or neo-Gothic features but mostly in details and interiors. The beginning of the 20th century was marked by an interest in the beauty of folk art and the ‘rediscovery' of a ‘national' architecture. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation