Co-cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary
The co-cathedral is the largest religious building in Opava and a dominant of Horní Square. Originally a parish church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, it is one of the most significant representatives of the Silesian Brick Gothic. The church is closely connected with the Teutonic Order, which came to Opava in 1204. A document issued by King Wenceslaus I in 1237 says that “knights with a black cross” owned a parsonage in Opava. We can therefore conclude that there was a Romanesque religious building in the place of today’s co-cathedral.
At the end of the 13th century a solid prismatic tower was built, followed by a higher south tower in the beginning of the 14th century. It was presumably built as a city tower and only later it was passed on to church. The new parish church was built on the initiative of the town council. The council then competed with the order for power over the church. The oldest part of the church is the presbytery supported with massive pillar buttresses. The north pillar fell down after some time damaging the corner of the church, but the south pillar remains to this day. Nave and transept adjoining the towers were built in the mid-14th century. Towards the end of the century the order initiated the building of a vestibule before the west portal, which was situated opposite the commandry.
There was a rood screen in the church dividing the presbytery with the altar of Virgin Mary from the main nave where the public observed the Mass. After a fire in 1461 the screen was torn down and it was not built again. Once the building of the nave and transept were finished, the interior was furnished with altars mostly financed by rich townsmen. Further additions to the church were the sacristy built in the north part of the presbytery, and a chapel for the town council in the south transept. A rich patrician Rejnček financed a chapel in the south part of the presbytery. The chapel was later rebuilt by townsman Mikluláš Dreymandel and furnished with a panel painting of the Holy Trinity from 1452. The painting has survived to this day. In the second half of the 15th century the town council commissioned the church to build a vestibule in the north part of the presbytery. The vestibule then served as an entry to the church for the town councillors and their families. The monumental main altar, which was one of the biggest and most spectacular altars in Bohemia, was also finished in the second half of the 15th century. The construction of the church came to a symbolic end in 1540 when an alure and octagonal extension were built.
From the second half of the 16th century, Renaissance paintings and stone grave ledgers of the deceased were being painted. Some of the ledgers are now placed in the west and south halls. Renaissance panelling and window bars on the north wall of the presbytery leading to the old sacristy have been preserved. Unlike the outside of the church, the inside, which was heavily damaged by a fallen roof in the great fire of Opava in 1689, has not kept its medieval appearance. The necessary reconstruction was carried out by architects G. Hausrucker and J. Zeller, who removed the Gothic vaults and replaced them with Baroque ones. An extensive Baroque renovation followed another fire in 1758 when the town architect J. G. Werner changed the presbytery interior.
Renovations in the 18th century were carried out in the Classistic style. During this time the nave and transept were rebuilt, and in the north a semi-circle chapel of St. John of Nepomuk was built. The painting from the end of the 17th century, which is now on display in St. Anna’s Chapel, is the oldest image of the saint in Czech Silesia. In the presbytery there is an epitaph of Karl I, Prince of Liechtenstein, made by the sculptor J. G. Lehner from Opava. The main baldachin altar with six Corinthian columns carrying a crown with a cross, sculptures of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, St. Elizabeth, and St. George were made by Josef Schubert, who is also the author of six other altars in the side chapels. A marble font with a sculpture of the baptism of Jesus also made by Josef Schubert, and a Classistic pulpit have been preserved to this day. The transept is decorated with paintings by F. I. Leichner, and there is a collection of nine paintings depicting Virgin Mary’s life by Ignác Raab.
At the end of the 19the century it was proposed to restore the church to its previous medieval state. However, the design by architect von Hauberisser was not realized because of lack of finances as well disapproval of the incoming generation of preservationists. Only partial changes were realized at the beginning of the 20th century. Just like many other buildings in Opava, the church was damaged in World War II and underwent reconstruction in the following decades. An important milestone in the history of the church was the year 1996 when it became the second Episcopal church of the Ostrava-Opava diocese, and therefore a co-cathedral. In 1995 the co-cathedral was added on the list of national cultural heritage.