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Poznan's Cathedral Island

Ostrow Tumski Was the Birthplace of Polish Catholicism


Poznan Cathedral

Poznan Cathedral on Ostrow Tumski

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Poznan’s Cathedral Island, or Ostrow Tumski, is a site of legend. Located in the New Town district of Poznan, it may be overlooked by tourists who concentrate their efforts on Market Square and the surrounding Old Town area, but Cathedral Island is a significant part of Poznan that you should make an effort to visit.

Ostrow Tumski saw the beginnings of the Polish state and fortifications were built there as early as the 9th century. But the presence of so many churches and cathedrals on the island are the result of another significant historical phenomenon: it was here that the early Polish rulers adopted Catholicism, the religion which most Poles associate as inseparable from their nationality. Mieszko I was baptized here in the year 966 and united his kingdom spiritually with other parts of Christian Europe. Wielkopolska, the region in which this Polish city is located, is proud of its heritage as the foundation of the Polish state.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

As Poznan grew and its main fortifications moved elsewhere, the island became a residence for spiritual leaders. The Peter and Paul Cathedral is Ostrow Tumski’s oldest structure and is one of Poland’s oldest cathedrals. This grand house of worship has been affected by wars and invasion, but it has been resurrected again and again in various forms as a symbol of the endurance of Polish faith and a symbol of the city. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the Poznan Cathedral. The cathedral is also the place of burial for some Polish rulers from the 10th to the 13th centuries.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral continues to hold services and is open for visitors who are curious about the medieval tombs, pieces of the original cathedral that still exist, and the baptismal font that may have been used to make early rulers’ conversion to Catholicism official.

Church of the Virgin Mary

If you approach Cathedral Island from Old Town, one of the first buildings you will see is the Church of the Virgin Mary. Though it’s closed to the public, it is significant because this 15th-century Gothic church has been well-preserved without extensive alterations like the Peter and Paul Cathedral has experienced.

Archdiocese Museum

The Archiocese Museum is dedicated to items and history related to religion, but for those who like sparkle, an hour spent here could be worthwhile. Robes, some dating as a far back as 500 years, show the finery bishops wore to lead their congregations. Their jewelry, which helped define their rank, is also on display. One item of interest in the museum’s collection is the alleged sword of St. Peter. It has not been determined if the sword is a medieval copy or original to the time of St. Peter.

Jordan Bridge

The Jordan Bridge that connects Ostrow Tumski to the western Srodka district and spans the Cybina River is garnished with the engraved padlocks of lovers who hope to be together eternally. Visitors to Poland and other countries may have noticed this tradition in practice elsewhere. Some of the locks are ordinary, others have the shape of animals, and still others are in the form of a stylized heart. The bridge is named for Poland’s first bishop, Jordan I.

Other Churches and Sights

  • St. Margaret’s Church, though it is located in nearby Srodka, is often grouped in with the Cathedral Island churches. The existence of this parish church dates to at least the 13th century.
  • The Psalteria, also known as the Psalmodist’s House, was home to the church choir until the start of the 19th century.
  • The Lubanski Academy, established in the 16th century, is now an archive.
To get to Ostrow Tumski, head east from Old Town and cross the B. Chrobrego bridge. Ostrow Tumski will be on your left and will be unmistakable with the spires of its cathedral rising proudly into the air.
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