THE PRACTICE OF BISHOPS’ BURIALS IN FROMBORK CATHEDRAL AND THE QUESTION OF THE GRAVE OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS’ S UNCLE
The obvious burial places for bishops – including Prussian diocese bishops
– were cathedral churches under their jurisdiction The burial of the second Warmia bishop, Henryk Fleming, deceased in 1300, commemorated by a partly preserved tombstone in Frombork Cathedral, is thought to be the oldest evidence of this practice in the whole of Prussia Given that the construction of the cathe -dral’s main nave began in bishop Jan of Misnia’s reign, Le. between 1350 and 1355, one can conclude that this burial took place in the former church, which, according to the Warmia chapter’s chronicler Jan Plastwkh (approximately 1440-1465), was a wooden construction and preceded the latter one. In the words of the same chronicler, all of bishop Fleming’s successors from the period preceding the construction of the present-day cathedral were buried in the same way as this bishop, and like him, were commemorated with tombstones in their burial places, although these slabs have not survived to the present day. It is therefore even more self-evident that all subsequent bishops were buried inside the cathedral once it was finally completed under bishop Jan Stiyprok in the years 1355-1373. Direct, and also the oldest, proof of the bishops being buried in the main nave of the completed cathe-dral is the preserved tombstone of bishop Henryk Sorbom, deceased in 1410. This tombstone was moved to the place where it is today (in front of the first side altar, in the left row) during reflooring works in 1861; originally it had been placed cen-trally on the chancel’s threshold, corresponding to the original burial place. practice of burying canons in the crypt under the chancel, designated specially for them, and inaugurated with the burial of the chapter’s cantor, Jan Wo-jciech Hatten in 1720. This was when the mason was actually paid „for repair to the crypt’s entrance after the corps have been deposited” (pro reparatione ostii sepulchralis post depositionem funeris). This author maintains that the burial place for canons was later divided by partition walls in such a way that the older, already filled-in, quarters were separate from the new ones. The small quarter between the early mass altar (Maturalaltar) and the chancel is where Justyna Łaszewska, whose maiden name was Bistram, was buried in 1735, the mother of Michał Remigiusz Łaszewski, the chapter’s provost, which we know from the inscription on the lead plaque placed on the coffin. The last one buried in the „eastern quarter of the crypt” in 1916 – according to Brachvogel – was the chapter’s dean and auxiliary bishop, Edward Herrmann. In 1861, the primary entrance to this crypt, which later, as F. Dittrich suggests, was between the above-mentioned altar and the chancel with nine steps leading down, was permanently closed with a stone slab. The new entrance was made out of the existing window, which gave into the chancel and was placed in the southern wall, low above the ground. This practice soon revealed a certain inconvenience because it dirninished the solemnity of the burial ceremonies and exposed ceremony participants to adverse weather conditions. As a result, as early as 1867, the previous entrance to the crypt was restored. Since then, it has been closed with a special slab of grey Silesian marble with the inscription „Beati mortui, qui in Domino moriuntur”, made especially for this purpose by the Barheim company from Berlin.
On the basis of the information provided by the cited authors we still cannot arrive at a clear picture of where in fact canons and bishops were buried, as there are two separate crypts – the bishops’ crypt and canons’ crypt. Finally, we also have to point out that the body of Jozef Hohenzollern, Warmia bishop deceased in Oliwa in 1836, is also there – according to A. Eichhorn – „it was deposited in a separate crypt” (in der abteilichen Gruft).
Not all bishops wished to be buried in the crypt in the times when it was still functioning. In such cases, which were somewhat different from the norm, the burial form was specially defined. In 1621, bishop Szymon Rudnicki wished to be buried in a separate tomb. He had it built (tumulum sibi exstrui mandavit) to the left of the main altar. His tombstone, with the dimensions of 2.90 m x 1.60 m, is preserved to the present day and has an inscription informing us of his burial in this place (hic sepultus est). In 1626, the Swedish army, after taking the cathedral in battle, allowed itself to partake of the heaviest looting ever seen here. We do not know anything about the army plundering the burial crypts – which clearly cannot be ruled out, although the aggressors may not have noticed the bricked up quarters – nevertheless the stand-alone bishop’s grave with an elegant black marble tombstone immediately attracted their attention. After opening the grave, they stole the original bishop’s insignia – a chain with a gold cross and ring. This may indicate that until then all the bishops – also those in the crypt – were buried in this way. Pomezania bishop Jan Rymann, following the custom, was buried in 1417 dressed in white liturgy vestment. Warmia bishop Krzysztof Andrzej Jan Szembek, deceased in 1724, expressed the wish in his will to be buried in the chapel he had founded, in two coffins, of which the wooden one would be covered in a violet shroud and placed inside the tin one. Deceased in 1711, bishop Andrzej Chryzostom Załuski, who wished to be buried in Dobremiasto collegiate, wrote in his testament: After my death do not open or unravel my body (…). Paint a simple coffin, put the cross on it and do not upholster it with anything, it is better if the money that might have been spent on fabric and candles is given to the poor. Words referring to „opening” and „unravelling” the body probably refer to embalming the corps. This had to be a common procedure if Zaluski made a special note that he did not wish it for himself. In S. Achremczyk’s opinion, this wish was not satisfied, which can be inferred from the high honorary paid to the king’s doctor for his care of the sick bishop and it certainly also included this procedure. On the other hand, bishop Adam Stanislaw Grabowski, deceased in 1766, stated: the body dressed in bishop’s vestment and shrouded should be deposited in the marble tomb, built to this end, and it should be covered with the tombstone. His wish was fulfilled – a black marble tombstone with an inscription and a bronze crest is the cathedral’s central place – in the main nave before the early mass altar. It is likely to be its original position corresponding to the burial place outside the bishops’ crypt. Also in this case there exists a likelihood of embalming the corps, as the heart was removed and placed in the main altar of the Franknowo parish church, equipped by the deceased It is noteworthy that nearly two months separated his death on December 17th 1766 and the funeral on February 12th 1767. This might be a confirmation of the custom of corps embalming.
Individual graves outside the crypt also belong to two more bishops, which is indicated by their tombstones in the chancel.
Namely, to the right of the main altar, symmetrically to the above described burial place of Szymon Rudnicki, under the tombstone from the left side of the altar there is the tombstone of Mikołaj Szyszkowski, deceased in 1643 (with the inscription: hic quiescit) and to the left of the altar, in the same axis as Rud-nicki’s tombstone, there is a tombstone of bishop Jan Stanisław Zbąski, deceased in 1697 (with the inscription: Hoc saxo tegitur olim Johannes Stanislaus Sbązin Sbąski). Zbaski’s funeral took place on June 17th, almost a month after his death, which again is the proof of body embalming. Because this bishop did not leave a will, his burial place in a grave outside the crypt must have been decided upon by the chapter.
It is time here to return to Tomasz Treter’s testimony, presenting the life stories of subsequent Wannia bishops. Let us recall, that starting with bishop Mikołaj Tungen, who was buried in the cathedral in 1489 – the first after a longer break (his three successors: Kuhschmalz, Piccolomini and Legendorf were buried outside the cathedral) – begins a series of burials described by Treter in a way slightly different from the one used previously. Apart from the usual information: „buried in Frombork (Wannia) Church”, this time the au -thor adds: „rested in peace with the others” (una cum aliis quiescu). This can -not be considered merely a rhetorical figure. For us this is significant, addition -al information.
Treter lived at a time when bishops’ burials in the destined crypt already had along-standing tradition. Treter could thus link the beginning of this practice to the times of Tungen, when it was as if everything had begun anew. This bishop took over his office after a quarter of a century of war and tension, and Ms reign brought stability to Warmia. First of all, canons had their residences at the ca -thedral restored, they had altars allocated anew and the chapter’s statutes estab -lished by the bishop watered in force. Undeniably, Tangen’s period cannot be recalled by posterity in any my other than as a breakthrough one. If bishop Tungen was to be the first to be buried in the bishops’ crypt, about which Tomasz Treter is convinced, the words „rested in peace with the others” would need to refer to his successors, not predecessors.
The argument for Tungen’s burial in the crypt could be the fact that he does not have – and assuredly did not have – a tombstone. Although, admittedly, in their catalogue of tombstones M. Arszynski and M. Kutzner list about 10 which are illegible due to effacement, it is out of the question that any of them may have belonged to Tungen. The bishop’s tomb would indisputably be located in the cathedral’s middle nave and because of this it would not be exposed so much to effacement, which is proven by the reasonably well preserved tombstones of bishops Henryk Fleming or Henryk Sorbom. The likelihood of Tungen not having a tombstone is increased by the fact that the appropriate inscription is not given in the oldest catalogues, which provide a full form of inscriptions from the tombstones that have not been preserved to the present day.
If indeed Tungen did not have a tombstone then the most obvious justification of this fact would be the bishop’s burial in the crypt By the same token, bishops Dantyszek and Giese do not have tombstones and we know for certain that they were buried in the crypt.
Going further – from Tungen to the two above-mentioned bishops – we have three subsequent bishops in the same unit, namely: Łukasz Watzenrode (1489-1512), Fabian Luzjanski (1512-1523) and Maurycy Ferber (1523-1537). Similar to previous bishops, they did not have their own tombstones either. Each of these three figures will be discussed individually.
Lukasz Watzenrode is particularly important for us here because of his kinship (on the distaff side) to Nicolaus Copernicus. At bishop Jan Dantyszek’s request, Nicolaus Copernicus, in a letter dated January 11th 1539, provides suitable biographical details concerning his uncle, who had died more then a quarter of a century earlier. Copernicus wrote to the bishop infonning him of how long Watzenrode had lived, how long he had been a bishop and when he had died. Why Dantyszek needed such basic data we find out not earlier than three years later, from Copernicus’s letter of September 28th 1541: „Your Grace has recently asked me to return the epitaph I once received, and which Your Grace wrote in tribute to bishop Lukasz, His Grace’s predecessor and my uncle (…). I am very sorry that it was not used for what it was intended, but before that some other epitaph, having less grace and little elegance, had been etched on the tomb, but was written and made during my uncle’s life and with his consent”.The information contained here does indeed prove that Watzenrode was buried in the crypt and as a result „some” inscription commemorating the deceased bishop, which Copernicus mentioned, and whose content he did not know himself or did not remember, was inside the crypt. This is why Dantyszek did not see Watzenrode’s tombstone in the cathedral and this could have made him think that the burial of his predecessor had not been commemorated. Naturally, Dantyszek must have known that bishops’ burials took place in the crypt. His knowledge in this matter must undoubtedly also have had a source in his personal interest, since it would also ultimately concern him. The view from this that such nameless burials should be commemorated on the outside – as in Lukasz Watzenrode’s case – can be deemed fully justified. Dantyszek himself was nevertheless buried in the same way – also namelessly. Perhaps he thought it inappropriate to differentiate himself from his predecessors. As a poet, he however benefited from another possibility – he wrote for himself as many as two poetic epitaphs.23 It is unquestionable that this was only a poetic way of summing-up his life, something to be included in a piece of literary work. What motivated him was not to treat any of these texts as tombstone inscriptions. Both their form and lengthiness – as many as twelve long verses – ruled them out. The epitaph with his own text, which he founded to commemorate his mother in Lidzbark parish church and preserved to the present day, is of a completely different nature. F. Hipler was therefore correct when he supposed that Dantyszek’s possible tombstone should not be counted among those that had been lost or effaced, as in fact it never existed.
Returning to Watzenrode’s burial, we have to affirm that we do not know of a similar tombstone inscription mentioned by Copernicus, which would refer to all burials of bishops at this time. It could clearly not have prevented all others from being buried namelessly, also in the crypt. As for Watzenrode, we can talk without fear of contradiction of the exceptionality of the fact that the bishop saw in advance that his tomb in the crypt would be easily identifiable and also that the text conformed to his wishes. This is also in line with the specific personality of Nicolaus Copernicus’s uncle, which all his biographers emphasise. The most outstanding of them, Karol Gorski, describes the bishop as „a statesman on a grand scale, of lordly attitude”. – „A burgher by birth, Lukasz became the prince of the Church and a grand lord in the Polish style” – the author writes. This clearly went hand in hand with his desire to commemorate himself in every possible way. Under his supervision the diary record | book was written, whose the title speaks for itself: „Memorials of the Warmia curia’s deeds initiated during the pontificate of His Grace, Father in Christ, Lord Lukasz, Warmia Bishop, and at his request in the year of our Lord 1489, in the month of September”. Memorials were thus initiated immediately after this bishop’s installation, which took place on July 22″11489 and was continued throughout this bishop’s twenty-two year reign by twelve consecutive writers.26 It ends with information about bishop’s death and burial: „his body was taken to Warmia Church with all due reverence and grief and buried on April 2nd Nothing similar will we find in the long history of the bishopric, unless it is the so-called Fax’s Diary, written by Ignacy Krasick’s librarian and chaplain in Lidz-bark, but without the former’s inspiration, and only covering a period of three years. But, above all, Watzenrode is put in the line of the greatest art spon -sors of the Polish Middle Ages.
Perhaps it would not be so important for us were it not for a fact that is repeatedly underlined by K. Wroblewska, namely that the distinguishing feature of his almost countless foundations is the: „marking all founded works of art with his ancestral coat of arms. On the basis of the preserved monuments and analysis of sources, we can posit the hypothesis, the author writes, that Watzen -rode wanted to be remembered posthumously as a generous and art- savvy lord”. The method of marking works of art with a family coat of arms was widely known throughout the Middle Ages. Still, Watzenrode sets himself apart with „the number of monuments and the large size of the placed emblems”…”Lukasz Watzenrode was interested in everything that in its variety of form testified to the wealth of culture of the time. Mural art and altars, sculpture, illuminated books, exquisite liturgical vestments richly adorned with pearls, church parapher -nalia such as crucifixes, chalices, ampoules and last but not least personal ob -jects, water cans, jugs, washing bowls and spoons. These latter items were also marked with his coat of arms”. In this context, no one of us will be surprised with bishop Lukasz’s emblem dated 1500 preserved on the wall of the lidzbark castle oratorio and the fact that this coat of arms also found its place in the middle of a sumptuous laurel wreath, which gives it additional splendour. But beating all else is something in which Watzenrode outdid even himself, namely a tombstone of great dimension, cast in bronze, founded in 1494 in St Catharine’s Church in Braniewo to bishop Pawel Legendorf, the signatory of the Torun Peace. The tombstone presents the deceased in all his glory with his coat of arms under his feet, but no less visibly exposing the founder’s emblem in all four corners of the tombstone. In light of this, one cannot be easily astonished that some tombstone hidden in the undergrowth, about which no-one knew except for Copernicus, was adorned with the coat of arms of the deceased, on his own request.
Treter used the same form of information for Watzenrode’s successor, bishop Fabian Luzjanski, deceased in 1523, as in Tungen’s and Watzenrode’s case. Be -cause bishop Luzjanski was blamed for not fighting Lutherans in a sufficiently determined way, he was buried without the usual ceremony: „after his body had been brought to Frombork, he was buried in the other bishops’ grave without any burial ceremonies” – aliorum episcoporum tumulo illatum est. It can be as -sumed without reservation that in this context the word tumulus stands for the crypt. This meaning is even better communicated by a different contemporary source: „among other bishops’ ashes was he buried” (ad corpora aliorum episcoporum expositum est).
The burial of subsequent bishop, Maurycy Ferber, deceased in 1537, also took place in the cathedral: in ecclesia cathedrali Varmiae (Varmia stands here for Frombork) honorifice sepultus est. Hipler points out that the tombstone of this bishop’s brother, Hildebrand Ferber, deceased in 1530, was preserved at the parish church in Lidzbark. Also, in a church in Kiwity is a tombstone founded by bishop Ferber to his suffragan Jan Wilde, deceased in 1537. Additionally, one of the defence towers of the cathedral’s stronghold has a plaque with bishop Fer-ber’s name on it and the coat of arms of its founder. We might search, but to no avail, for this bishop’s tombstone in the cathedral. Hipler does not expect any trace of it either, and rightly so, as we are unquestionably led to believe that it had never been there in the first place for the same reason as the tombstones of other bishops from these times – his predecessors and successors: because they were all buried in the crypt.
We have already discussed the burial of Ferber’s successor, bishop Jan Dan-tyszek, and the burial of his successor, Tiedemann Giese, who showed a proof of his burial in the crypt next to his predecessors. Giese’s successor, Stanisiaw Hozjusz, was buried in Rome, whereas in turn his successor, Marcin Kromer, according to chronicler Jan Leo (1572-1635), buried in the cathedral in 1589, „was laid with other bishops” (aliis episcopis appositiis), which again confirms for us a burial in the crypt. It would then be the only reason why this enlightened man, the author of the history of Poland who also took care to commemorate Nicolaus Copernicus’s burial in the cathedral, did not have his own tombstone or epitaph. Hipler concludes: „he was buried in a nameless grave”.
This analysis of bishops’ burials, after considering all burials which took place outside Frombork Cathedral, allows us to finalise the list of the bishops who are most likely to have been buried in a special crypt under the chancel:
1. Mikolaj Tungen, ob. in 1489 at the age of 57.
2. Lukasz Watzenrode, ob. in 1512 at the age of 65.
3. Fabian Luzjanski, ob. in 1523 at the age of about 53.
4. Maurycy Ferber, ob. in 1537 at the age of 66.
5. Jan Dantyszek, ob. in 1548 at the age of 63.
6. Tiedemann Giese, ob. in 1550 at the age of 70.
7. Marcin Kromer, ob. in 1589 at the age of 67.
Marcin Kromer’s successors were either buried in graves inside the cathedral, which we discussed earlier, or outside the cathedral, which is documented in the literature to date. The crypt could in that case accommodate no more than the seven above-listed bishops.