In the past, wood was a commonly accessible construction material: easy to machine and process, it was not very durable but rather easily destructible instead. Not quite many of those charming timber buildings have survived till this day, yet Wielkopolska [the ‘Greater Poland’] ranks among those regions where small wooden churches or windmills can be seen outside local heritage parks as well.
With some 280 specimens, churches form the most numerous group of such monuments. Their number, condition and variety of forms are without a counterpart in any other region of Poland.
The form and method of timber-based construction remained long unchanged. Log construction was prevalent, with logs laid alternately one upon another and joined at the corners with use of reciprocally matched cutouts (carpenter’s bonding). The logs are for the major part hidden underneath the planking. Not quite many a church is of vertical-post log structure where the vertical logs, blazed at their ends, are inserted downwards into the pole’s (i.e. post-log’s) notches. As for the churches of Wielkopolska, this construction method was applied, inter alia, in Stara-Wiśniewka, County [powiat] of Złotów (1647) or in Węglewo, Poznań County (1818). A framed structure (also referred to as combined post-and-beam/frame structure) was somewhat more popular – with the beams joined with one another vertically using groundsels at the bottom and beams in the upper section, reinforced as they were with slanting elements: angle braces and struts. The empty space within the walls was filled with timber, clay mixed with chopped straw (the wattle-and-daub structure is referred to then) or with bricks (so-called half-timbered construction).
The actual construction method is at times not quite easy to discern as in most cases the walls are covered with boards, outside as well as inside (planked). Sometimes, however, wattle-and-daub churches are quite well visible and discernible from far away, if their wooden structure (naturally coloured or painted black) has been contrasted with whitened or grey fill-out surfaces. Temples embellished in this fashion can be seen in e.g. Oborniki (the Holy Cross Church,1766), Uzarzewo, Poznań County (1749) or Dąbcze, Leszno County (1666-68).
The horizontal projections of wooden churches in Wielkopolska region are mostly rather simple. A rectangular nave and slightly narrower presbytery, ended with a straight wall or, much more often, three-sided close-up, tend to prevail. The borderline between the presbytery and the nave is frequently emphasised with a step on the bottom and higher up with a rood beam. Apart from a structural function, the ornamental one was specific to the latter as well (the beam was usually nicely profiled, with a pious inscription or some details of the temple’s foundation featured on it, plus a crucifix and, quite frequently, the figures of Our Lady and St. John adoring the Crucified). The roof is in most cases covered with shingles or, less frequently, with tiles, tin or shale. The type of church with the nave and the presbytery being covered by a shared roof, making the hood more protruding above the temple’s narrower section (i.e. presbytery), is deemed characteristic to Wielkopolska. Such single-ridge churches were built there till the latter half of 18th century.
Two-ridge churches, one each for the nave and the presbytery, started appearing somewhat later on. The earliest ones, dating to mid-16th century, are to be met in Kłodawa, Słupca and Wierzenica (Country of Poznań). The temple at Mórka (Śrem County), built in the late 16th c., a wooden frame structure filled with clay, forms the earliest surviving specimen of wattle-and-daub church.
The years that followed were marked with enrichment of the wooden churches’ form and individual elements of their décor. The church in Brody, Nowy-Tomyśl County, built 1670-3, was the first to feature side chapels, forming up the Latin cross plan together with the nave and the presbytery. This solution was later on applied in e.g. in Błażejewo, Śrem County (1675-6), Ostrów-Kościelny, Słupca County (1717) or Czermin, Pleszew County (1725), and in Popowo-Kościelne, Wągrowiec County, where chapels were annexed in 1720 to a church built ninety-one years before then. The Greek (even-armed) cross plan was applied in some churches, not infrequently with a polygonal or circular extension at the arms’ crosspoint. Such form was emplyed e.g. in Buk (1760) where the central circular section is delineated by twelve poles bearing a pseudo-dome with a grand lantern; similarly, at the St. Fabien’s and St. Sebastian’s church in Krotoszyn, featuring a taller octagonal middle section (dating probably to 2nd half of 18th c.), or, in Jutrosin’s wattle-and-daub cemetery church with a false dome (1777).
The interiors of these wooden churches were covered with ceilings (flat, wood-beamed, coffered), although certain other solutions tended to appear as well – as e.g. in Czerlejno, Poznań County (1743); Ociąż, Ostrów County (1785-6); Golina, Jarocin County (2nd half of 17th c.); or, Grębanin, Kępno County (1615).
The inner walls are set in a natural colour of the wood or painted (plain or patterned/ornamented). Polychromy is to be met at times (on the walls, ceiling, organ-loft balustrade), with its finest example (dated ca. 1639) at Tarnowo-Pałuckie. An interesting renaissance/baroque polychromy, dated ca. 1695-9, has survived at the Słopanowo church, County of Szamotuły. Recently, remnants of a late-sixteenth-century polychromy have been discovered in the presbytery at Nowa-Wieś-Królewska, County of Września.
A specific group is formed of those churches which repeat in the wood the solutions known from baroque brick temples – as in Drzeczkowo, Kalisz County (1775), where the Latin-cross plan was complemented with an octagonal central section with a crowning element pretending to be a copula (the illusion that the structure is made of stone or brick is intensified through some of the walls being plastered). In Łomnica, Nowy-Tomyśl County, a similar solution appears in the local small church of 1768-70, burdened with a disproportionately great false dome, or in Łęki-Wielkie, Grodzisk County (1776), where a church has been built using the Latin-cross plan, featuring outer additions and a central section, delimited with cut corners. Scarce in number, three-nave solutions have also appeared – such as the ones in Wylatowo, Mogilno County (1761-3), Skoki (1737), in Grzegorzew, County of Koło (1776, expanded at a later date), or Grzybowo, Września County (1757).
Wooden temples were also built by Protestants. Their forms were usually modest, as displayed by the 1787 church in Herburtowo, County of Czarnków-Trzcianka, which is interesting also due to its log construciton, reinforced by an outer beam frame. Another example is Krosno, Poznań County (1779-81). There appeared more splending churches too, like the one in Miejska-Górka (1777-78) or Ostrów-Wielkopolski (1788), with two storeys of baroque-decorated balconies inside both. The former Evangelical church in Brokęcino, Złotów County – built 1582, turret ereceted in 1661 – excels in terms of architecture and embellishments.
Wooden churches were built well into the nineteenth as well as in the former half of 20th century, with the solutions elaborated in the preceding centuries reappearing.
Timber belfries, standing next to a church (be it wooden or stone/brick), have survived here or there, a vast majority of those being framed-structured, founded upon a cross plane, their walls planked.
Among the nobility manors, the partly re-bricked manor at Koszuty, County of Środa-Wielkopolska, has been best preserved and houses a charming Środa-Wielkopolska Land Museum today.
As for residential houses, the largest complex of early small-town built-up area is surviving in Zduny, at Łacnowo St. Single arcaded houses can also be seen nowadays in Rakoniewice, Pyzdry, Poniec, Stęszewo, or Krotoszyn. Quite a unique curiosity is the region’s last surviving wooden town-hall in Sulmierzyce, the home to a Sulmierzyce Land Museum now.