The genesis of the Roman Catholic church in Lviv is connected with the origin of the organizational structures of Halych (Lviv) metropolis in the XVI century. By virtue of the bull of Pope Gregory XI Debitum pastoralis offici from 13 February 1375, the second after Gniezno catholic metropolis in Red Ruthenia and Volhynia as the part of the Polish country was erected. Its first capital was placed in Halych then on 28 August 1412 antipope John XXIII by bull Ineminenti specula moved it to Lviv. Since that time it has been functioning as Lviv metropolis.
Due to the strong endeavor of the king Casimir the Great in the South-East corner of the Market Square in 1370 the construction of the parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary had started. Certain Niczko (Mikołaj) with cooperation of Mikołaj Ganseke (Gonzage) are to be considered as the creators of the architectural conception of the Cathedral. Considerably the construction process was supported by Lviv towns people particularly Piotr Stecher and Jerzy Göbel, also by Wroclaw masters such as Joachim Grom and Ambroży Rabisch. Despite of the continuing construction and finishing works process during the several decades, already in the year 1405 bishop of Przemyśl Maciej hadsanctified the church but the consecration took the place only on 24 December 1481. This consecration was made by the archbishop of Lviv Jan Wątróbka.
The Cathedral during the centuries has changed both its architectural plan by further constructions of some chapels and its interior design. Three-aisled building in the Gothic style of 67 m by it length and 23 m by width was influenced by Baroque with admixture of the Rococo in XVIII century. During that time some changes in the Cathedral were made such as walls and pillars were plastered, a lot of altars, tombstones and epitaphs were removed and painter Stanisław Stroiński in the years 1769-1775 created the new polychrome concerning the Virgin Mary theme. In 1765 the icon of the Virgin Mary mother of Mercy or so known Virgin Mary mother of Mercy of Domagaliczow was placed in the main Baroque altar crowned a year later. The history and the cult of the same Virgin Mary image is inextricably linked with the person of the king John Casimir who on 1 April 1656 in the Cathedral gave a religious and patriotic vow proclaiming the Virgin Mary the Queen of Polish Crown. The regothification of the presbytery of the Cathedral was done late in XIX century. In the year 1910 by the actions of Lviv metropolitan archbishop St. Józef Bilczewski (1865-1923) the Pope Pius X gave the title to the particular Cathedral of Minor Basilica. The most dangerous period of time for the Cathedral as the center of religious life was the war period especially the years of post-war Soviet occupation in 1945-1991 but the Cathedral happily survived preserving its sacred character. The range of renovation works were undertakenin the years 1952-1987 and in the 1999-2000 the presbytery of the church was deeply reconstructed. During the visit of the Pope John Paul II in Lviv in June 2001 two remarkable things hadtaken place in the Cathedral. The first one the coronation of a copy of the icon of the Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy placed in the main altar and the second the historical visit of the Pope in Basilica.
The central place of the church is occupied by the main altar of Rococo style from 1765-1771 by Piotr Polejowski project. The altar is adorned by four figures of Church Fathers such as St. Augustine, St. George, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome by the authorship of Maciej Polejowski. In the central bay the architectural composition is placed. The particular composition by it's style of the seven columns made from the silver brass has the close connection to the Biblical idea of the House of Wisdom. At the center of this composition can be seen the crowned image of the Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy adorned by a Golden Rose a give of the Pope John Paul II. In the middle parts of the altar two silver reliquaries by the XVIII century with the relics of different Saints are located. Right above the tabernacle the silver reliquary with the temporal remains of blessed Jakub Strzemię (about 1392-1409) the patron of Lviv archdiocese is fixed.
From the sacristy side on the sidewall of the presbytery marble epitaph of years 1770-1771 can be seen. The particular marble epitaph donated by the archbishop W. H. Sierakowski to Lviv metropolitans from XVI-XVII centuries.
Along the both presbytery walls the rows of oak stalls for canons from the second half of XVII century with reliefs of the apostles and with different ornaments made by Jan Kruszanowki in 1771 are located. Above the stalls two Neo-Gothic balconies of marble and of oak from the end of XIX century are set. Also there are located two Neo-Gothic portals leading to chapels of St. Casimir and St. Joseph. The presbytery space is subdivided into two parts by marble balusters from XVII/XVIII centuries. One of the monumental curtains for the icon of the Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy showing the episode of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was placed on the South wall after the year of 2000. A little bit lower the renaissance bronze tombstone of Mikołaj Herburt Odnowski Rus governor is set. Beside the tombstone the marble and bronze Neo - Baroque epitaph of Leon and Jadwiga of an important Polish nobility family Zamojscy Sapieh, by Antoni Popiel project since the end of XIX century is set. The bronze tombstone of Stanisław Żółkiewski, Rus governor since XVI century, is located on the presbytery North wall.
The walls and the vaults of the presbytery are adorned by the polychrome with the motifs of geometric figures since the end of XIX century. One of the many scenes by S. Stroiński brush particularly the proclamation act by the archbishop W. H. Sierakowski decree, about the famous acts of mercy by the icon of the Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, had remained on the single wall. Stained glass windows were designedin the end of XIX century according to Edward Ignacy Lepszy, Stanisław Kaczor-Batowski, Józef Mehoffer, Tadeusz Popiel, Jan Matejko, Tadeusz Kruszewskii Juliusz Makarewicz projects. The whole structures had been renovated in 1999-2001.
Two chapels of St. Casimir and St. Joseph are adjoined to the presbytery directly. The first one has originated from the second part of the XVIII c. with an alter and an icon dedicated to prince St. Casimir Jagiellon (second half of XIX c.). The second one is located vis à visand called the chapel of Zamojski of the third quarter of XVIIIc. Late renaissance alter of XIX c. made from alabaster is adorned with the image of St. Joseph with the Child. At the entrance against the wall the alabaster tombstone of the archbishop Jan Zamojki (1604-1614) and a little bit further Jan Tarnowski (1654-1669) tombstone are situated. Both archbishops are represented in the pontifical vestment in a horizontal position. More over, on the opposite wall the marble epitaph of archbishop Tomasz Pirawski (1564-1625) and the memorial of general Józef Dwernicki from 1868 by Parys Filippi chisel moved after the Ukrainian devastation in 1991 from the church of Carmelites are located. Two sacristies to the St. Casimir chapel are adjoined. The first one is called capitular or canonical (chapterhouse) and vicar’s one. In the first one the central place is occupied by the late renaissance alter from the end of XVI c., donated by Lviv family of Zapal, with the image of Christ crucifixion, but the vault is adorned with the polychrome by Stanisław Stroiński brush since 1771. In the second sacristy the polychrome of the same painter is present dated from the third quarter of XVIII c.
Entering the main nave of the Basilica from the presbytery two walls tombstones attract attention. To the left hand: the tombstone of Katarzyna from family of Ossolinski Jablonowski castellans Wiślicki lived in the second half of the XVIII c. can be seen. The whole tombstone demonstrating two crying characters at the turn was made of marble and bronze by Hartman Wittwer in Vienna. To the right can be seen the marble tombstone of Konstancja from the family of Siemianowski and Boguslawa from Ustrzycki family with the urn placed in the pediment of the church. The last element on the border with the presbytery and main nave is forged from iron with decorating elements from gilded bronze pulpit dated XIX c.
The walls of the main nave and aisles are adorned with the Stanisław Stroiński polychrome of Christological – Marian theme from the second half of the XVIII c. which was renovated at Soviet times after the Second World War. Adorned stalls for city governorsand benches of the third quarter XVIII are placed below the musical choir.
The musical organ at the musical choir dated since 1839 by Roman Ducheński from Lviv is still running. From the central part of the musical prospectus the stained glass window of Virgin Mary Queen of Angels with the Polish and Lithuanian Emblems by Teodor Axentowicz from the end of the XIX c. can be seen.
The whole building of the Basilica during all those centuries had been enriched and as a result extended by numbers of different side chapels. Going along the aisle towards the musical choir the first right-hand chapel is of the Blessed Sacrament or also called Gold or by Wiśniowiecki family. The chapel was created over XV-XVIII cc. The interior space of the dome is adorned by Stanisław Stroiński polychrome of the Eucharistic theme. In the Late Baroque alter of the second quarter of XVIIIc. a copy of the icon of XVII c. by Peter Paul Rubens The Descent from the Cross can be seen. On the walls there are two epitaphs: the tombstone in honor of Mikołaj Krosnowski the Chernihiv governor of the turn of XVII/XVIII c. and the memorial of Lviv metropolitan archbishop Franciszek Ksawery Wierzchlejski of the second half of the XIX c. by Tadeush Barączchisel.
The next chapel was created in the third quarter of the XVIII c. and is of Mary, Mother of Jesus or St. Antony. The polychrome with the characters of Polish patrons such as: St. Adalbert, St. Stanislaus the bishop, St. Florian, St. Michael the Archangel and St. Stanislaus Kostka by Stanisław Stroiński decorates the chapel. The Rococo style alter is adorned by the icon of Mary with the Child since XVIII c. covered with the image of Mary and St. John of Dukla by the brush of Józef Chojnicki from the third quarter of the XVIII c. The upper altar part is decorated by the contemporary portrait of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe. More over, the icon of St. Antony by the brush of Anton i Rajchan is placed on the altar mensa. The monumental icon of St. Josaphat and commemorative plaquein honor of Lviv metropolitan archbishop Andrzej Alojzeg Ankwicz (1774-1838) is set on the wall of the chapel.
The third chapel from the North side was devoted to the Flagellation of Christbut also it is called the chapel of Kampian. The chapel originates from the period of the second half of the XVI-II and the half of XVII c. The construction is one of the most valuable sacral Mannerism period antiques for Poland. The construction was built by Pawel Rzymianin and Andrzej Bremer. The marble alter of XVI c. with the figures of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Augustine and St. John Cantius was enriched with two icons the first of the Flagellation of Christ and the second Christ Carrying the Cross. The epitaphs dedicated to the founders of the chapel toLviv patricians: Pawel, Marcin and priest Krzysztof Kampian of the first half of XVII c. and mayor Marcjan Groswajer, assessor Marcin and Zuzanna from family Kampian Ostrogorski of the first half of XVII c. are placed on the wall. The chapel’s decoration was complemented with medallions of four Evangelists, Fathers of Church and Apostles. The dome is adorned with the polychrome by S. Stroinski: Christ before Pilate.
Passing under the musical choir to the South side two Renaissancetombstones can be encountered. The first one is the tombstone of Baltazar Bzowski the governor of Yavoriv of XVI c. in the posture of lying knight; above him the epitaph in honor of Lviv metropolitan archbishop Jan Skarbka (1661-1773) and also the contemporary cast of bronze plaque dedicated to the memory of professors of John Casimir’s University in Lviv murdered on 4 July 1941 by Germans in cooperation with Ukrainian nationalists. The second of already mentioned tombstones is reminding a lying posture of Lviv patrician Stanislaw Helen. Near the epitaph of pedagogue, patriot and writer Klementyna from family of Tanski Hoffman and also the plaque dedicated to Seweryn and Wojciech Dzieduszycki living in Lviv at the turn of XIX and XX cc. is placed. Near the side front doors the marble font with bronze lid is set.On the wall going to the chapel of Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Perpetual Help is placed the plaque in honor of Olga and Andrzej Malkowskithe founders of Scouting in Poland who in Lviv 1911 founded the first on the Polish territory Scout team.
The next row of chapels from the side of the choir, this time finished to the South side of the Basilica, is opened by the chapel of Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The chapel has been built by Piotr Milewski in the first half of XVII though its design was maintained in modern style. The alter of brown marble is adorned by the Cross with the postures of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelistat its foot. In the alter cavity the figure of St. Joseph with the Child (to 1946 there was the Merciful God sculpture) is placed. On the table (mensa) the reliquary with the relics of Lviv almoner and guardian of the poor Zygmund Gorazdowski (1845-1920) is set. He was canonized in 2005. In the upper walls the marble reliefs of theTriumphal entry into Jerusalem and Jesus fall under the Cross is shown. The polychrome shows scenes of healing the blind, raising young man of Naim, The Risen Christ and different Eucharistic symbols. The epitaph plaques of apostolate administrators of the Archdiocese in Lubaczow, particularly of bishop prof. Jan Nowicki (1894-1973) and bishop prof. Marian Rechowicz (1910-1983)heirs to the heritage of Lviv metropolis after the Second World War within the limits of People's Republic of Poland had been set in 1991 on the walls lined with gray marble. Also there is the epitaph of Archbishop Eugeniush Baziak (1890-1962)the last Lviv metropolitan had been living in Lubaczow and Krakow after 1946.
The middle chapel is of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa of the third quarter of XVIII century. The altar of the Rococo style of the second half of XVIII is adorned by two icons:The Immaculate Conception of Mary (of XVII c.) and Black Madonna of Częstochowa (of the second half of XIX c.). On the walls there are the epitaphs of the general Pawel Grodzicki – the commandant of Lviv fortress of the days of king Władysław IV Waza (1632-1648) and the commemorative plaque of cardinal Władysław Rubin (1917-1990), connected with the origin of Lviv archdiocese, the prefect of Eastern Church Congregation in Rome. The last was placed into the chapel after 1991. The whole design was complemented with S. Stroinki’s polychrome of the second half of XVIII century.
The last chapel in this row was dedicated to Jesus Crucifixion also called as the Jablonowki family chapel. Its founder was a Duchess Ann from family Sapieh Jablonski. It was created in the second half of XVIII century. The gothic crucifix is placed into the Baroque altar; also below there are two icons: the Virgin Mary and The Pietà of XVII c. Till 1946 the reliquary of Blessed Jakub Strzemie has been set in the altarpiece, now placed in the main altar. The tombstones of Lviv metropolitans are placedalong the walls, particularly of the archbishop Wacław Hieronim Sierakowski (1699-1780) from the western side, archbishop Ferdynand Onufry Kicki (nearly 1720-1797) from the eastern side and archbishop St. Józef Bilczewski (1860-1923) the prominent pastor, reformer of Lviv Church, scholar, philanthropist and statesman who was canonized in 2005. The mummified heart was placed into the pedestal of the last mentioned monument on the request of theSt. Józef Bilczewski. The makeshift memorial of the Metropolitan Basilica parson Rafał Władysław Kiernicki (1912-1995) the Franciscan, auxiliary bishop of Lviv archdiocese, who is buried in the crypt of the chapel, was placed against one of the walls. The polychrome of Biblical theme was by S. Stroinski of the second half of XVIII century.
Two aisles are adorned by two altars. So, the South aisle possesses the altar of the Transfiguration of Jesus by Piotr Polejowski project of the second half of XVIII c. and in the central there is the icon of the Transfiguration of Jesus of the same period, by Józef Chojnicki brush, surrounded by figures of St. Peter and St. James. Reliquary with the relics of St. Józef Bilczewski, transferred to the Basilica from the Yaniv cemetery in Lviv in 2011, rests on the altar’s mensa. The altar of the Trinity of the second half of XVIII c. by P. Polejowski is the last of the altars of the North aisle. The central image shows the Trinity (XVII c.) next to which the sculptures of St. Nicholas and St. Athanasius are set. The image of the Virgin Mary with the Child can be seen above the mensa.
In the Basilica catacombs,covered with a network of corridorsleading to the burial crypts, there are graves of Lviv metropolitans transferred there after the Second World War from other different Lviv churches due to the threat of Soviet desecration. The grave of the archbishop Boleslaw Twardowski (1865 - 1944) containing the relics of the priest originally placed in the Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn church established by him really deserves attention. Or graves of other hierarchs of XIX century buried in the seminary church of Our Lady of the Candles also worth attention. The tidying up of the catacombs’ crypts and opening it up for prayer and for visit will be planned as soon as possible.
On the Cathedral tower by length of 65 m. (213.25 feet) with the baroque spire there aretwo bells of XIX and XX c. and one of them was cast in a year after the archbishop Jozef Bilczewski death and this bell is named after the archbishop. External facade of Basilica has some interesting monuments. The plaque in honor of Tadeusz Kosciuszko is placed on the facade to the right hand from the tower. This plaque was set in 1917 the 100th anniversary of his death. The plaque dedicated to John Paul II was placed to the right hand from the tower to commemorate his visit to this church and Lviv. The architectonic composition of Jesus Christ in the Sepulchre of the XVIII century can be seen between the Flagellation of Christ (Kampiani) and the Blessed Sacrament (Wisniowiecki) chapels. The missiles of different historic periods, falling on Lvivin 1672 from the Turkish army and in 1919 from Ukrainian, are set on the external walls. The polychrome of the second half of XVIII reminds about the fact of the former churchyard of Domagalicz chapel existence from which the icon of the Gracious Mother of God was moved to the cathedral. The composition was renewed in 1998-1999. Late Renaissance epitaph plaque of Szolc-Wolfowicz family (end of XVIc.) showing the adoration of Resurrection of Jesus is placed on the lower part of the wall.
Gethsemani chapel of the Trinity and the Passion of Jesus Christ also called the Chapel of Boim family located just outside the Metropolitan Basilica. The chapel was built in XVII c. in Mannerism style as the family mausoleum of Lviv mighty merchants of Boim. The most beautiful decorations are made on the West side facade. They show the scenes of Stations of the Cross which repeats in the interior part of the chapel but in other approaches. On the external facade there are two painted portraits of Jerzy Boim and his wife Jadwiga. The lantern dome is crowned by The Pensive Christ sculpture.
After the year 1991 a large-scale restoration projectwas initiated for the sake of saving longcenturiesreligious and artisticheritage in Lviv Metropolitan Basilica of Latin Rite. The project in whole was financed by Polish institutions. The extensive renovation of the presbytery including the main altar was already mentioned. Also two sacristies were renewed, the replacement of the rafter and sheathing covering the roof with new copper plate was done and repair of the external facade is already completed,but in the following side chapels work continues successively. All those repair works caused that the church hasregained its former glory and dignity strained by the passage of time or humannegligence.