History of the church and parish

 The church dedicated to St. Bartholomew in Drohobycz is one of the oldest remaining churches in this area. It’s a three-nave   sanctuary with the vault supported by octagonal pillars, gothic, slender, without towers. The length of the church, including   the thickness of the walls (1,33 m), amounts to 42 m, the width of the front façade – to 23 m, the width of the chancel – to 11 m.

 At the beginning of this century three windows in the chancel were funded to be filled with stained glass based on the   projects of Stanisław Wyspiański, Józef Mehoffer and Stefan Matejko. The stained glass windows were made in S.G.   Żeleński's stained glass studio in Cracow. Unfortunately, 95% of them has been run down. In the XVIII century the gothic roof  was covered in pantiles, now it’s only sheet metal. Above the roof there was a ridge turret, formerly octagonal, since 1793 tetragonal; the turret didn’t blend in with the gothic style. After the last renovation of the roof and covering it with a copper sheet, the turret has been removed. Crosses, thrown off the church and the belfry in 1949, returned there in 1991.

The oldest elements of the design include stone contours of a massive foot, hand and a head, embedded high in the outer wall of the chancel. According to a legend, those are the remains of a statue of a pagan god, preserved at the request of the king Władysław Jagiełło to be a sign of the triumph of Christianity. The stone orb below is a symbol of bread that was sold one denarius for a loaf during the time the church was built. The western façade is finished with a cross, inside there is an iron door leading to the attic.

There used to be two entrances to the church – in the southern wall and opposite to it, in the northern wall, where currently the chapel is located. The front wall, currently with the main entrance, didn’t have doors. The entrance door of the southern wall – made of white marble – was crafted in 1422. The costs were covered by Jan Mężyk from Dąbrowa, of Wadwicz coat of arms, butler of king Jagiełło and the first village mayor of Drohobycz. Above the door he placed the most momentous event of his life, namely the battle of Grunwald in 1410. He was the one who took the famous two swords from the hands of Teutonic envoys before the battle and delivered the king’s response to them. To commemorate this event Jan Mężyk ordered the architect to sculpt in the stone near the door two enormous Teutonic swords, the national coat of arms and an inscription : “Hoc templum ineuntes Deus benedie – memento animi”(God bless the people entering this sanctuary – remember about your soul).

In 1791 the door was misshaped. Two Teutonic swords were converted into crosses and at the top of the gothic arch the third smaller cross was added. The Mężyk coat of arms was replaced by the one of the town.

The soul of every person who enters the sanctuary becomes overwhelmed by the feeling of reverie and pity, worship and adoration, especially when they look at the beautiful vaults, and at the lofty, powerful pillars. The church has three naves, without the transept (the transverse aisle). The main nave is almost two times longer and slightly wider than the aisles. The walls and the vault of the sanctuary were initially decorated with frescoes with floral themes. Their restoration was conducted in 1790 by Andrzej Solecki from Krechowice a well-known, at the time, painter. As requested by the parson, Fr. Ignacy Jarocki, the artist painted a new interior polychrome. On the vaults he placed baroque religious scenes with illusionistic motifs (trompe l'œil).

According to the inventory from 1797, on the left side of the chancel there used to be a choir. The entrance to it led from the sacristy through the stairs in the tower, the stairs which further lead to the attic. This choir was removed in 1790. During this time the current choir with the organs was put up. It extends to the width of all three aisles. It demonstrates the round-arch style, with artfully decorated arches between the columns. To let the light through to the aisles, large round windows, framed with iron for safety, have been placed on both ends of the choir.

The eleven- tone and five pedals organ was constructed in 1868 by Roman Duchenski, a Lviv organ builder. In the 1950s, on the Soviet authorities’ order, the instrument was disassembled and it is said to have been exported to one of Transcaucasian republics. In December of 1990 an electric organ was funded for the parish by the Lviv Friends Society.

In the main nave we can admire a beautiful built-in renaissance statue of Katarzyna Ramułtowa, the wife of a Drohobycz official. The sculpture is 5.5 m high and 3 m wide. It was created in 1572 by a Lviv architect and sculptor, Sebastian Czeszek. The middle part of the statue constitutes quite a deep niche placed among alabaster pilasters of a pale yellow shade. The niche is covered with black marble. Much bigger than in real life, the female figure, slightly supported on her right arm, is lying on a diagonal slab. The whole statue is made from dark brown lustred alabaster with eye-catching grain.

Near the church there is a belfry, a former bastille. The frescoes in the downstairs funeral chapel, painted by professor Tadeusz Rybkowski, are in a dilapidated condition. The World War I ruined the plans of filling the chapel’s windows with stained glass, which had already been made in Żeleński Stained Glass Workshop in Cracow.

The church’s history is really interesting: founded in 1392 it was supervised by the king and managed by town parsons. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was frequently plundered and destroyed. After each act of profanation, the church was reconsecrated, that is why the temple is known under three invocations: of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the Holy Cross and of St. Bartholomew and All the Apostles. In 1558 the church was granted as a benefice to the Chełm cathedral chapter.

Fr. Stanisław Banaś, the last parson of the parish, in 1947 was forced to leave and stay in Rudnik on the San river. The church wasn’t affected in September 1939 – during the first phase of WWII. However, the whole hatred of occupiers was directed towards the citizens of Drohobycz. After the Soviet invasion, the arrestments of the Poles started, most of the arrested ones were never again heard of. In January 1940 the mass deportations to Siberia started. In June 1941 Mr. Edward Stadnik, the organ player, was arrested and murdered.

When in 1944 the Soviets came again, they ordered (in accordance with the new “law” of the Soviet authorities) to set up a so – called “Church committee”. Mr. Józef Przeniczka became its first chairman. The terrible time began: Some citizens were deported to Poland, others to Siberia. The parson was forced to leave. The orphaned parish was supported by Fr. Marcin Karaś CSsR and Fr. Kazimierz Stopa. Ms. Irena Ziółkowska took over the duties of an organ player. The church functioned till the terrible day of June 29, 1949. Then, on the day of Saint Apostles, Peter and Paul, during the holy mass celebrated by Fr. Kazimierz Stopa, the church was violently entered by some representatives of Soviet authorities. They forced everyone to leave and took the keys to the temple. The Golgotha time started for the parishioners. All the crosses were removed from the church, the interior was destroyed and the temple was turned into a stage props depot. However, the church’s impressive walls, pointing to the sky high above, gave courage to the few parishioners who survived. Their religious life seemed to die out but in fact it did not.

Catholics were buried by Orthodox church priests. If Catholic priests were to come from functioning churches in Sambor, Stryj or Lviv to celebrate a funeral, a special permission of town authorities was required. The faithful of Drohobycz suffered witnessing the continual devastation of their temple. Many of them approached the church to silently pray there. One of the most courageous ones was Ms. Grech who kept bringing flowers to the church’s door and prayed there openly. She died praying in that way.

On 24th August, 1973 to celebrate the St. Bartholomew’s Day – the church’s patron’s day- a solemn service, without the authorities’ permit, was held in the chapel. Hundreds of both the Polish and Ukrainian (Greek Catholics) faithful, who hadn’t converted to Orthodox church, gathered together to take part in the service. The celebration uplifted all the participants, which seriously annoyed the atheistic authorities. They started cruel persecutions.

In 1974 the collection of signatures for the petition to register the parish and get back the church started. However, the document wasn’t submitted to the authorities so as not to expose people to persecutions, which were getting more and more severe. At the beginning of 1988 some parishioners returned to the idea of registering the parish. The time of “thaw” in Gorbachev’s policy had already started. Twenty-eight signatures necessary to register a parish were gathered. A committee to regain the temple was set up with Mr. Czesław Bulkiewicz as its chairman. The petition was taken to Warsaw by Halina Bulkiewicz and Wilhelm Lasowy (a WWII veteran). The committee was struggling to achieve their aim for a year and a half. They talked to the authorities in Drohobycz, Lviv and Moscow. They wrote hundreds of letters to different institutions. Most importantly, the faithful kept praying ceaselessly, even in Częstochowa, before the miraculous image of the Black Madonna of Jasna Góra. And God heard their prayer. On 13th December 1989 the joyful news came: the church  - until then the museum of atheism – was given back to the Catholics. The reactivated parish was given under the charge of Fr. Kazimierz Mączyński, the parish priest from Sambor.

In 1991 a pilgrimage to Lubaczow and Częstochowa to meet John Paul II was organized. In 2007 the parishioners collected the money and funded the statue of John Paul II to express their gratitude for getting back the church. The statue was blessed on 24th August 2007 by the bishop Marian Buczek. Currently, the parish belongs to Stryj decanate, Lviv archdiocese and it is full of hopes entering its next – the seventh century of age.