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Mennonite churches and cemeteries

The first Mennonite church in Polish lands was located in a tenement house in Elbląg, which has survived until the present day at Grabary street. Religious services were conducted in the large hall on the first floor until the end of the 19th century. In this case, the sacral function of the building was not associated with its architecture. Services were celebrated in private houses until Mennonites obtained permission to erect their temples. It is possible that this situation had an impact on a presence of exceptionally large corner rooms (in relation to sizes of other rooms) in the Mennonite house. Services were also conducted in barns, which were specifically adapted for this purpose.

As a result of a privilege issued by the Chełmno bishop on July 17th, 1768, several, almost identical House of Prayers were erected in the Żuławy - in Lubieszewo, Stogi, Cyganek, Orłowskie Pole, Markusy, and Niedzwiedzica.

The buildings had rectangular layouts, corner-notched log structures, an open interior with galleries, wooden ceiling, and a double-pitched roof initially covered by thatching, and later by shingles or tiles.

Inside, there was an apartment or utility rooms in the ground floor, under a gallery, adjacent to one of the gable walls. The main hall located by the longer wall had a pulpit and seats for deacons, teachers, and Elders; the remaining section was occupied by benches for the congregation.
Facades of wooden churches had a similar form: a double-leafed door was located in the frontal wall between wide windows; small windows were situated in the external axes in two levels.
Mennonites began to erect brick churches as late as the 1890s. There are only several of them in the discussed region: in Elbląg at Warszawska street, in Jezioro, and in Rozgart. The brick churches from Żelichów-Cyganek and Malbork (1892-93) have not survived. All those buildings have rectangular layouts, open-space interiors with galleries and were erected in neo-Gothic style with pointed-arch windows with traceries, rosettes in the façade, arcades in a frieze, blind windows, and heavy pinnacles. The most remarkable example was the church in Rozgart, where the congregation additionally erected a high neo-Gothic belfry.

In the Żuławy, in Middle Ages, cemeteries were being established at the same time as parish churches. Their areas surrounded the church. The majority of them still functions. During the Reformation period, Protestants took over certain churches, including surrounding cemeteries. Church cemeteries were divided in two separate sections for Lutherans and Catholics. Initially, deceased Mennonites were buried either in Catholic or Lutheran parish cemeteries. Mennonites were allowed to establish their own cemeteries only in the 18th century. Their localizations, however, show that they had to be removed from village buildings. Those cemeteries were established in settlements with the largest Mennonite population. Usually, those settlements had a typical layout - a colonial village on terpy or a marsh row village with dispersed homesteads without a specific village center. The monograph on Mennonite cemeteries[1] is still unpublished, and their descriptions included in newspapers or tourist guides present them as any old Żuławy cemetery. Currently, it is difficult to ascertain whether those cemeteries were entirely Mennonite or the grounds were shared with Lutherans. The answer to this question cannot even be found in historical site documentations[2]. This catalogue includes not only Mennonite cemeteries, whose denominational character is unambiguous, but also cemeteries with graves that included Dutch-sounding surnames.

In the Żuławy region, Mennonite cemeteries were located in Cisy, Cyganek, Dzierzgonka, Jezioro, Kępiny Małe, Kępniewo, Kraśniewo, Krzewsk, Lichnowy Małye, Lipink, Markusy, Żuławki - Niedźwiedzica, Orłowskie Pole, Pogorzała Wieś, Pordenów, Rozgart, Różewo, Stogi Malborskie, Szaleniec, Wikrowo, Złotnica, and Żelichowo. Some of them were established in the 18th century: Markusy, Niedźwiedzica, Orłowskie Pole, Różewo, Stogi, and Wikrowo. Foundation dates of others are uncertain, but they were probably established in the first half of the 19th century - Dzierzgonka, Jezioro, Kpiny Małe, Krzewsk, Rachowo, and Złotnica.

The information regarding their appearance comes from old photographs, which documented cemeteries of other denominations equally rarely. We can say that all graves were similar (with an exception of Jewish cemeteries); they all had the same forms of gravestones and decorations. Cemeteries were established on rectangular or square plots and had a concrete or brick gates. According to old photographs, they were surrounded by picket fences; however, more splendid form of a metal fence cannot be ruled out, but such speculations are not confirmed by photographic sources. Borders were surrounded by rows of trees and the plot was divided by tree alleys into 2, 4, or 6 sections. In addition to linden trees, cemeteries also had weeping ashes, thujas, oaks, chestnut trees, and several spruces and firs. Due to their current sizes, ashes, maple trees, and birches are either self-sown trees or were planted in the post-war period. According to archival photographs, trees in cemetery grounds were trimmed, which prevented their excessive growth (with exception of oaks or conifers). Therefore, we can assume that clusters of high vegetation present currently in the Żuławy landscape are rather an effect of an over 50-year period of neglect than a characteristic feature of the region. Stone and iron cast crosses were the most common in cemeteries, but gravestone elements also included Classical forms of stalls, cippuses, obelisks, and columns. The majority of gravestones have been destroyed. Many iron cast crosses have been stolen and the number of preserved examples is smaller than, for example, on Warmia cemeteries. The remaining crosses are of several distinctive forms. There are no wrought crosses, and openwork crosses have survived on Mennonite cemeteries in single examples. Fences of grave plots are also rare, even though their examples are detectable on archival photographs. The elements that have been preserved in large numbers include concrete frames of graves and plaque supports in the form of tree trunks. The plaques themselves are quite rare. In contrast, gravestones in the form of stalls are numerous. They were placed vertically at the back of grave slabs. Stalls were usually made of stone, but we also have an example of a wooden stall. It was carved from a single elm log, and currently is on display in the Muzeum Żuławskie in Nowy Dwór. Specialist literature mentions other wooden stalls, so we can conclude that this form was also common in Mennonite cemeteries. Gravestones in the form of stalls were erected between the 18th and the end of the 19th centuries. They derive their forms from the rococo or classical styles, but may also have more eclectic forms. Stall inscriptions included not only birth and death dates of a deceased, but also informed about a person's function in the community, number of children, and, on the other side, a quotation from the Bible or a personal epitaph. Inscriptions were often accompanied by exquisite, low-relief decoration with complex symbolic content. Gravestones in the form of cippuses are also common. A cippus had a form of heavy pedestal topped by a slab with imitations of antic urns; it also provided a base for a cross or a statue. An obelisk form was also common; there are still dozen or so examples of such gravestones.
Quite recently, historians discovered a large collection of fieldstones with carved or hewn inscriptions and family emblems. They are currently exhibited in the Cyganek lapidarium. Inscribed fieldstones sporadically occur also on cemeteries. The collection was discovered by M. Opitz in the foundation of an old farm building by the no-longer-existing 19th century presbytery. The stones were used as a foundation material and the inscriptions date from between the end of the 17th century and 2nd quarter of the 18th century, that is, from the period when Mennonites were still prohibited from establishing their own cemeteries. The proximity of a parish church and a cemetery, which was also used by local "Baptists" suggest that the fieldstones originated from that place. It is still unclear whether graves of Catholic and Lutheran farmers had similar gravestones, or they were specific to dissenters' graves.

The location of Mennonite cemeteries - far from the village center and without a convenient access - contributed to the fact that those cemeteries were pillaged and devastated to a lesser degree than cemeteries with an easy access or situated in more developed areas. And paradoxically, only in those remote cemeteries, the remains of this aspect of the Żuławy culture are still present.

As late as the beginning of the 20th century, the windmill was a characteristic element of the Żuławy landscape. In 1754, there were 54 windmills in the Żuławy Gdańskie, and 1818, the Wielkie Żuławy Malborskie still had 124 windpumps and 35 windmills[3]. Windmills and pumping stations had many forms depending on their function and amount of water pumped. There were pumps with a bucket wheel or a wooden Euclidean screw, larger post mills and smock mills, which milled grains, and oil mills. The most remarkable, however, were Dutch windmills with a movable head set on buildings. Unfortunately, from the beginning of the 20th century onward, windmills were being supplanted by steam powered pumping stations or smaller steel structures, and after 1945, the windmill basically disappeared from the landscape. Until 1970, the area still had 6 windmills, and currently there are only 2 - a 19th century Dutch windmill in Palczewo and a post mill in Drewnica from 1718 (renovated in 1892)[4]. The last windmill - a pumping station from Ostaszewo had been transferred to Oliva, then was partially destroyed by fire, transferred to Wieniec, and finally was demolished; its elements have been deposited in the Muzeum Żuławskie in Nowy Dwór, where they await renovation and reconstruction.

[1] E. Filipika, Cmentarze mennonitów - Żulawy i Dolina Wisły, dokumentacja naukowo - historyczna, Toruń 1978
[2] For example, the cemetery in Topy is sometimes referred to as Mennonite and sometimes as Lutheran cemetery. J. Hoffmann, Cmentarz pomennonicki w Tropach, Ewidencja cmentarza, mpis 1984;
[3] T. Domagała, Wiatraki w województwie gdańskim, dokumentacja historyczna, PP PKZ/O Gdańsk, mpis. 1970 - 71, p. 59
[4] Op. cit.; p. 73, 76.

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