Stargard would be worth a visit even if the only buildings of interest were its churches. Among these, the unparalleled harmony of the collegiate Church of Our Lady – one of the most stunning examples of Gothic church architecture in Poland – and the soaring spire of the church of St John the Baptist are of particular interest.
Christianity in Stargard has a 900 year-long history, starting with the first mission of St Otto of Bamberg in Pomerania in the year 1124, an expedition inspired by the Polish Duke Boleslaw III Wrymouth. Over nine centuries 20 churches and chapels have been constructed (there is no record of pre-Christian places of worship in Stargard), although this number does not include other non-Christian places of worship, including a temple of Jerusalem and two synagogues. Some of these churches have existed for centuries, while others are recent constructions, and there are still others whose existence we know of only through drawings or simply by name.
The first church in Stargard – built at the time of St Otto’s mission – is believed to have been that of St Martin, although there is still some dispute as to its location and the date of its demolition. In the third quarter of the 13th century, two monastic churches were built, a Joannite chapel, which, with later building work became the church of St John the Baptist, and an Augustine church which, prior to its demolition between 1819 and 1820, served the Calvinist community, and was known for the “most resonant” organ in Pomerania. In 1292, construction began in the town square on the Church St Mary Queen of the World, the pride of Stargard and a model for many buildings in the southern Baltic region.
Beyond the defensive walls, in four suburbs and generally alongside hospitals, chapels were constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries: St George’s, the Holy Spirit’s, St Gertrude’s, St Jobst’s, St Erasmus’s, St Jacob’s and five Jerusalem temples. None of these structures have survived to the present day.
In the district of Kluczewo, a church was constructed in the 15th century, which is the present-day Church of the Holy Cross.
From the end of the 15th century to the mid-19th century, no new Christian places of worship were built, although extension or restoration work was carried out on existing buildings. All this was due to war, the economic collapse of Pomerania and the rise of Protestantism, which became the dominating religious force in the region. The rapid development of Stargard in the second half of the 19th century saw building work recommence, with the construction of the neo-Gothic churches of St Joseph (Roman Catholic, pulled down after the Second World War), the Holy Spirit, the Transfiguration (presently Polish Catholic), Christ Church (presently the Orthodox church of Saints Peter and Paul), Christ the Redeemer (Protestant, burned down in 1947) and a Lutheran Haus which was pulled down after the war.
Polish Stargard has seen four new churches built: the monumental Mercy of God and Christ Lord of the Universe, the Transfiguration and Heart of Jesus. Other interesting facts are that the largest penitential cross in Poland (dating from 1542), and the second largest in the world, is to be found in Stargard, and that since 2003, the town’s patron Saint has been St John the Baptist.