Chojnice is a town with a rich tradition. For the first time in written documents it is appeared in 1275 but the civic rights obtained in the first halve of the fourteenth century. Many hundred years old history of the town joins inseparably with the history of the parish.
Chojnice parish belongs to the oldest ones in Pomeranian Region because its origins come from 1205 - according to the oral tradition - when Pomeranian Prince Sambor I funded a wooden church in this site. New built of bricks church under invocation of the Decapitation of St. John Baptist were built between 1340-1360. It is a building of Gothic style typical for architecture along the Vistula river, of hall type three nave with a polygonal apse. The dimensions of the church are the following: length 46,2m; width 19,6m; height 14,6m. The Chojnice temple is situated on top of the visible hill on the peninsula that previously divided the syncline of Zakonne Lake from Zielone Lake. Today the above-mentioned lakes do not exist. Moreover the building is geographically oriented what means the altar is situated on the east side. Historic sources do not give the exact date of the church consecration but probably it was held in 1365 by the Bishop Piotr who was a suffragan of Gniezno archbishop Bogoria Skotnicki.
From the beginning of its existence the parish was an important centre not only a religious but also cultural and political life. Probably it was quite wealthy too. As an example it is possible to say that between 14 15-1445 when it was managed by parish-priest Jan Ragge, a doctor of Paris academy as well as an envoy to General Council in Konstancja, a few curates were working there (in 1440- four curates and two altarists). The parish was also a seat of Choj nice dean. Within the parish there were erected such churches as: Augustians’ Fathers, St. George’s, the Holy Ghost’s and Jesuit’s Fathers together with College affiliated to Jagielonski University. Since 1466 the church was under auspices of king Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk. Since that date Polish kings were entitled to introduce their candidates for parish-priest’s office and who were finally approved by Gniezno archbishop.
The later history of the parish under the invocation of the Decapitation of St. John Baptist was a very difficult time. It was a time of the fight for Polish character. Since 1517 Europe was seized by Lutheranism. On those days the Chojnice parish was a fortress of Catholicism. In Chojnice some religious fights took place. As a result of the first partition of Poland, since September 1772, Chojnice was in Prussian sector.
Many times the church was robbed and destroyed with fires. The most hazardous were three of the fires when the temple was nearly completely ruined. The first fire took place in 1657 during Swedish wars, the second in 1773 and the third In 1945 during the town’s blitz. Each time the church was reconstructed thanks to the effort of the habitants and authorities of Chojnice. During the Second World War the Chojnice region was considerably destroyed. On the northern wall of the church there is a plate commemorating all priests working in the parish and killed by the invader. The war did not save the church - especially in 1945, when as a result of the blitz its roof and finial of tower were damaged and the inside of the temple was fired. In December 1945 after completion of the war in the destroyed church there were displayed the coffins with exhumed bodies of Polish men murdered in Death Valley in 1939 and 1944.
After the war completion the reconstructing works of the church lasted for 10 years. In 1951 in the Chapel of Our Lady there were put stained-glass windows in, designed and executed by B. Marschall from Cracow. Antoni Langowski from Czersk executed a new stone altar. On the other hand the artist from Torun Zofia Kuzmowicz-Iwicka carved out of sandstone the altar in commemoration of Holy Heart of Jesus Christ and a statue of Our Lady - that is a copy of Beautiful Madonna coming from the church of St. John in Torun. In 1957 on the walls there were executed some frescoes showing history of Church in Poland and Chojnice as well as figures of the Saints and Blessed. In presbytery there were put stained - glass windows in made under the design of professor Kwiatkowski from Torun. At the end of seventies according to liturgy reforms after the second Vatican Council the presbytery was reconstructed. And then sacrificial marble altar depicting the Last Supper was placed. A new tabernacle was situated at the place of the former neo-gothic altar.
A very precious monument is a ciborium belonging previously to the parish and dating from 1410. It is necessary to remind now of a reliquary cross, which according to specialists dates from the turn of the 14th century, and a label with Resurrected Christ which is dated to 1400. Moreover an eternal gold plate dating to 17th century is worth perceiving. Those three undoubtedly the most precious golden smith’s works are now in Diocesan Museum in Pelplin. Whereas constantly being in use during the most important church festivals a tower and bell-shaped monstrance dating to the 15th century is kept in the safe of the local bank.
The Chojnice parish has become a mother of some new parishes. In 1970 an independent Priestly Centre in Charzykowy was separated from the parish and today it is a parish with its own church. In 1975 a parish of Annunciation of Our Lady came into being at the after-Jesuits (grammar-school) church. In 1983 a parish of the Holy Virgin Queen of Poland was erected. In 1988 a parish of King Christ and blessed Daniel Brottier came into being. Since 1989 in Niezychowice there was Priestly Centre that in 1992 received a statute of parish. In 1997 a parish of the Fatima Holy Virgin was established.
The latest history of the temple and parish is extremely rich. On 11th of March, 1993 at Pelplin bishop Jan Szlaga’s suggestion pope John Paul II gave this church a title of the minor basilica. Whereas on 24th of June, 2002 in the Basilica saint John Baptist was solemnly announced as a patron of Chojnice town. At present there are permanent maintaining works in the church. In 2002 a replacement of the roof was completed. In 1999 the old sound equipment was replaced with the modern ones. In the same year, thanks to the considerable assistance of the town, lighting of the outside walls of the church was installed. At the moment the works connecting with drainage of the temple are executing. Among others the walls of the presbytery were removed which, according to experts, retained the damp.
In 2002 during the works connected with draining the church foundations there was discovered a grave crypt under the Basilica floor. There were found the remains of some coffins with human bones inside. Most likely that about 25-35 people were buried in this crypt. The excavatory works were carried out by Pomeranian Archaeology Plant of Archaeology Institute of Lodz University. According to all data there are others underground rooms under the Basilica floor. Presumably Herman Han (1574-1628) was buried in one of the crypts. He was an eminent Gdansk painter, coming from Silesia, who the last two years of his life spent in Chojnice. Legends say that Basilica is connected through the underground corridor with a tower next to Czluchowska gate. However no proves have been found up to now. Basilica has entertained a great many of eminent visitors. Here should be mentioned Polish Primates: Wawrzyniec Gembicki and cardinal Krzysztof Szembeka. In 1961 cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was in Chojnice on the occasion of the visitation of the parish by a copy of wonderful picture of the Czçstochowa Holy Virgin. In 1994 there was the first anniversary of establishing the minor Basilica. And then cardinal Jozef Glemp - Polish Primate together with archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk -Apostolic Nuncio in Poland honoured this occasion by their participation.
text: priest Wiesław Śmigiel, academic teacher at Faculty of Theology at Lublin Catholic University