The town is located near the
significant Great road (Via Magna) leading through the Spiš region from Saris to
Levoča and to Poland and farther on to western Europe. It was
developed as a fortified settlement on the hill opposite Spiš Castle. It is
located above the settlement around the castle. In the neighborhood was a
monastery, which is at present known as the archaeological site at Pažica.
The specific character of the town was derived from its being a religious center
of Spiš Priorate and the canons' cloister. Spišská Kapitula became the seat
of the Bishop of Spiš to which the districts of Liptov and Orava belonged
The unusual urbanistic layout resulted
from the fact that Spišská Kapitula is a religious town. From the beginning
it was considered a locus credible and the members of the priory were
endowed with special political and judicial functions by the Hungarian
sovereigns. As a religious center, Spišská Kapitula performed a variety of
services in culture and education as it was usual in the medieval society.
According to pottery obtained through
archaeological excavations, the earliest settlement of this area may be dated
back to 11th century. Closely connected with this settlement was a rotunda.
This sacral building was built around 1273, when it was mentioned for the
first time in a testament of prior Muther; it was referred to as a pilgrimage
chapel of the Virgin Mary. The site of this first sacral building determined
the location of all the edifices which were later built in Spišská
The existence of a fortified monastery
at Pažica in 11th century (located west of today's Spišská Kapitula) can be
seen as the reason for organizing a significant religious administrative center
here. The monastery served as a religious center of Spiš in 12th century. The
priory was established in 1198; the town of Spišská Kapitula developed soon
In the 11th and 12th century, the St.
Martin Monastery was founded by the road. In the 12th century it
became the seat of abbey and in the early 13th century Spišská Kapitula
evolved into the religious center of the whole Spis.
The first account of Spišská
Kapitula dates back to 1209 and refers to the St. Mary's Convent and rotunda.
However, both these structures perished in the following centuries.
Historical sources tell us about the
disastrous Tartar assault in 1241-1243. Spišská Kapitula was plundered and
completely razed to the ground. The extent of damage to the monastery was most
likely the impulse to begin extensive building activity.
In 1249 the Hungarian King allowed the
prior to built a palace within the castle walls while he and the religious
institution were stationed at the castle. Building activities continued in Spišská
Kapitula and in 1275. The Romanesque St. Martin Cathedral consisting of a nave
and two aisles and new northern tower as well as a nearby abbey palace was
erected on the highest spot. The complex composed of the church, rotunda and
palace were also fortified. The prior's palace was contemporary with the
cathedral; when it was finished, Spišská Kapitula became the seat of the
Prior of Spiš in 1281.
At that time only an earth road led
from the settlement around the castle, intersected the then un-fortified Spišská Kapitula to connect the cathedral and the prior's palace. The urban
structure of Spišská Kapitula developed when Prior Lukas (Lucas)
established six new canons' houses in 1282 in addition to the four already
The aforementioned rotunda known in
1273 as the Virgin Mary pilgrimage chapel was preserved until 18th century;
the existence of St. Martin's Monastery in 14th and partially in 15th century
was proved as well.
As the abbey grew, in the 14th and 15th
century the number of rectors increased to ten and the palace became
overcrowded. That is why the fortification on the eastern side was obliterated
and a few rectories were built. The rectories were separate houses, each of
them with its own yard. These formerly Gothic buildings were later converted
into different architectural styles.
In the second half of the 15th
century, a new sanctuary and a high tomb chapel of the Zápolsky family were
added to the old cathedral. Its interior is decorated with a Romanesque statue
of a sitting lion made of travertine known as Leo Albus, White Lion.
dating from 1317 illustrates Charles Robert's coronation attended by the Spiš
bishop Henrik, Spis castle custodian Frank and Estergom archbishop Thomas. In
1470- 90 the interior was decorated with 11Gothic altars, 5 of which can still
be seen in the church. Tubular paintings on the altars are works of the pupils
of the local painting school. Two Gothic altars dating from 1470-78 are
particularly worth mentioning. One of them is adorned with a sculptural scene
showing Coronation and the other St. Mary's death.
Two marble tombs dating to
the late 15th century were envoys of the advancing new Renaissance style.
During the 17th century, the whole settlement was fortified, with the western
gateway being protected by a Gothic tower. Each rectory had one semicircular
In 1647 during the
Counter-Reformation the Jesuits built a monastery complex in the southern part
of the town, most likely on the site of the former poorhouse. A year later,
the Jesuits also established a Gymnasium in the wing of the building; the
school lasted until 1671 when it was moved to Levoča.
The defensive walls encircling the
whole urban unit were built in 1662-1665 and became the most extensive
structure in the town.
The period of 1753-1776 was marked by
an essential reconstruction of the prior's palace, which was enlarged. The
facades were renovated, the new monumental Baroque stairway was installed, and
also a Baroque chapel was added. The entire structure was covered with a
gambrel shingle roof. In 1776 when Maria Theresa promoted the priorate to a
diocese, the former prior's palace was transformed into the bishop's
residence. After 1776 interiors of the palace were remodeled with the same
creative energy as the exteriors. In 1810-1815 the former Jesuit monastery was
rebuilt into a theological seminary and later into a teachers' training
institution. Its facades were remodeled to the classical style. In the 18th
century, the old abbey palace was reconstructed to meet the requirements of
the new abbey. A Baroque garden and a clock tower were created as well. The
rectories were also modified according to the contemporary style and the
architectural evolution of Spišská Kapitula was thus concluded.
In 1950 Spišská Kapitula was
declared an Urban Conservation Area.
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Published in the Slovak
Heritage Live newsletter Volume 3, No. 4, Winter 1995
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1999
Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P
above article may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed
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