The Organ at St. Mary’s Basilica in Gdańsk

Paper by Tomasz Szałajda

St. Mary’s Church in Gdańsk has a rich history, the most creditable part of which is about instruments at this beautiful temple.

First sources treat of the organist who lived in Św. Ducha Street. The fact may suggest that there existed organ the “Master Organist” played. The first known by name organist was Paul Schuldte, who played the main instrument between 1459 and 1468. According to written historical sources there were three instruments (one great organ and two smaller ones) in the temple in 1475. The new 33-register organ was built for 3.800 marks by Błażej Lehmann from Budziszyn between 1509 and 1511. The instrument was placed on the west wall of the nave, while the former one was moved to All Saints Chapel, where it was used until 1777. Simultaneously, there was organ built at the Chapel of St. Dorothy by the same master-builder between 1510 and 1511.

In 1522, Hans Hauck from Chojnice built the fourth instrument which was situated above the sacristy. Following year, master Lehmann enlarged the main organ at St. Mary’s Church and built 34-register instrument at the Chapel of St. Reinhold. In 1572, St. Mary’s Church became the Protestant temple. As the new owners used only main organ, smaller instruments fell into disgrace. Between 1583 and 1586, new organ was built at Gdańsk citizens’ request. The 55-register instrument was created for 12.270 marks by the organ-builder Julius Antonius Friese. Friesen’s organ was classified as the third of the 28 most famous organs in Europe of that time.

In 1615, Eberhardt Bötticher wrote in historical parish register of St. Mary’s Church: [...] Es sind 4 Wercke in dieser Orgel, 3 manualiter, ein jedes von 29 Elffenbeinen und 18 schwartzen Clavieren, daß 4. Werck pedaliter zu schlagen von 25 holtzernen Clavieren. Die ganze Orgel in allem hat 60 Register und 24 Bälge, dazu 4 Balgentreter die man Calcanten nennet.

The most imposing part of the organ was 26-chorus mixture that existed in the main section. Certainly, there were instruments that had multichorus mixtures at that time. Nevertheless, the number of 26 ranks had to be imposing as it was recorded in the sources, which was quite unusual. The instrument would be used for the next 170 years. The instrument had been repaired as well as rebuild by Andrzej and Jerzy Nitrowski in 1653 and between 1672 and 1673, until it finally became silent in 1757. The following year, the organ-builder Friedrich Rudolf Dalitz from Gdańsk started construction of new organ at townspeople request. The 52-register instrument that cost 44.000 guldens was finished in 1760.

18 years later, Dalitz built another 23-register choir organ. At the same time, the organs at the Chapel of St. Reinhold and All Saints Chapel were dismantled. Dalitz’s organ would survive over 100 years. During the Romantic era there were new sound assumptions in the field of organ construction.




In 1891, the great organ was rebuilt in the spirit of those times by the organ-builder A. Terletzki from Elbląg. There were 56 registers disposed in the main part of the instrument, while the back positive (Rückpositiv) stayed empty. In the 1920s, Albert Schuster initiated a new trend in music as well as organ-building. His purpose was to re-establish the grandeur of the Baroque. Neo-Baroque tendencies had an impact on the organ at St. Mary’s Church. Between 1935 and 1938, new instrument was built by the Emanuel Kemper Organ Building Company in Lübeck. 88-register great organ were connected to 32-register choir organ by electric cable, which was novelty at the time. As a result, an organist could play both instruments from one 5-manual organ console. Nevertheless, listeners enjoyed the sound of new organ for a short period of time, as in 1945, St. Mary’s Church was burned with the organ inside. 1985 was a fortunate year for organ music enthusiasts, as new organ made by Hillebrand brothers from Iserhagen was consecrated on 18th August. The instrument hasn’t been rebuilt since then. The most decorative part of the organ is the early baroque prospect (1625-27) that has been removed from St. John’s Church in Gdańsk. The tracker action of 46-register organ is entirely mechanical. Pipes are divided into four sections: Hauptwerk (11 registers), Brustwerk (10 registers), Rückpositiv (12 registers), and Pedal (13 registers placed in two symmetrical pedal towers).


Keyboards have been made of precious wood (African Blackwood) and ivory. The manubria of the register stops have been made from African Balckwood. There are silver numbers (referred to all of the registers) placed on amber gemstone fillings of the manubria. Below the manubria there are silver plates with the names of registers engraved on them.


1. Father Stanisław Bogdanowicz; Dzieła sztuki sakralnej Bazyliki Mariackiej w Gdańsku. Gdańsk 1990

2. Willi Drost; Die Marienkirche in Danzig und ihre Kunstschätze. Stuttgart 1963

3. Werner Renkewitz/Jan Janca; Geschichte der Orgelbaukunst in Ost- und Westpreussen von 1333 bis 1944. Würzburg 1984