Stębark (Pologne): possible burial place of the knights of Grunwald

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

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Photo: PAP/Adam Warżawa

Archaeological studies will show if the parish church in Stębark near Grunwald (Warmia and Mazury) is the burial place of the noble knights killed in battle. GPR survey last year showed that there could be a pit in the central part of the church.

Dr. Bartłomiej Oszczak from the Department of Navigation and Satellite Geodesy, Faculty of Geodesy and Land Management, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, told PAP that the Department team together with the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald applied to the National Science Centre for a grant to conduct archaeological research.

Dr. Oszczak explained that GPR survey confirmed the presence of an unnaturally disturbed ground structure in the parish church of the Most Holy Trinity in Stębark.

Scientists and employees of the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald carried out the GPR surveys in order to find the medieval foundations of the church, and possibly the remains of the fallen knights. They based their theory on the historical sources describing the battle of Grunwald.

There are two descriptions of the battle: the first in the work "Cronica conflictus Wladislai, regis Poloniae, cum cruciferis" or "Chronicle of the Polish King Wladyslaw conflict with the Teutonic Order in the year of our Lord 1410" and the later "Annals" by Jan Długosz, based in part on the "Chronicle of the conflict ...".

According to the Chronicle, fallen more noble knights of both armies were buried in the nearby church. According to Długosz, they were buried in the church in Stębark. In 1410, there was a wooden temple there. During the Swedish invasion, however, it Hetman Gosiewski’s Tatars burned it down. The brick church was built in 1681, but according to some historical sources at a different location. It is not known whether it is the same church and the same location.

In 1911, during the construction of extension of the church in Stębark some remains were found, but since they were found by builders, not archaeologists, there is no documentation of this discovery. Polish archaeologists studied the Grunwald fields from the late 1950s to 1990, also without effect.

According to Dr. Oszczak, advanced scientific methods and research techniques may help scientists to return to the place of previous studies. In the church in Stębark, the team of researchers studied the structure of ground under the floor, to the depth of 3 meters.

Computer analysis revealed five places where the structure of ground under the church floor was unnatyrally disturbed. "Under the floor along one side wall inside the extension we have detected different, heterogeneous layers that, as the museum directors believe, can be the foundation of the original church. This indicates that the claim that the second church in Stębark stood in a different location than the first is probably wrong" - emphasized Dr. Oszczak.

"In the central part of the church, the ground penetrating radar detected a disturbance in layers of earth which has the shape of a rectangle with sides of 180 and 160 cm and extends to two meters into the ground. This is probably, as archaeologists call it, a pit" - said the scientist.

According to archaeologist and former director of the Grunwald museum Romuald Odoj, in the old days a medieval altar was located close to this place, near the centre of the church. According to ancient custom, important people were buried at the altar. According to Romuald Odoj, it is possible that this pit is a grave.

According to Oszczak, GPR can show the changed ground structure and, theoretically, locate objects with a diameter larger than 5 cm, however, it will not show "X-rays of bones". Thus, only the archaeological research in the identified place can answer the question whether the remains of the fallen knights are buried in the church in Stębark.