In ancient Polish, Ostrów Tumski means ‘The Cathedral Island’. It is located, broadly speaking, between the branches of two rivers: Warta and Cybina, and it has already existed in the 10th century, when prince Mieszko decided to build his fortress and a private chapel there, dedicating it to his wife, the Czech princess Dobrawa, who had brought Christianity to the newly born Polish state. Today one can visit the remains of the 10th century fortifications in the Genius Loci Archaeological Reserve, which is located in the heart of the Cathedral Island. The prince’s palace stood in the exact same location as the later Gothic church of Virgin Mary in Summo – Poznań Cathedral to this day.
The word ‘Tumski’ means Cathedral, and the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul in Poznań is the oldest Polish cathedral – Prima Sedes Episcoporum Poloniae – dating back to 968. It was first built in pre-Romanesque style and its remains can still be seen in the crypt of the present church – as is the baptismal font where prince Mieszko and his family were reportedly baptised. Inside the Cathedral one can find a replica of the Sword of Saint Peter – a gift from pope John XIII, with which the Apostle is said to have cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant during Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane. The original sword can be found in the Archdiocese Museum, also located on the Cathedral Island.
The cathedral was rebuilt several times throughout the centuries due to war damages and fires. The last of the great fires occurred at the end of World War II, on 15th February 1945. When the rebuilding of the church began, the conservators decided to return it to its earlier Gothic style, drawing from the medieval ruins revealed by the fire. In 1962 pope John XXIII gave the church the title of Minor Basilica.
It is the burial place of several Polish rulers: Mieszko I, Bolesław Chrobry (the Brave), Mieszko II, Casimir the Restorer, Władysław Odonic, Przemysł I, Bolesław the Pious and Przemysł II.
Behind the Cathedral, one can walk over the pedestrian bridge of Bishop Jordan (enjoying the best view of the Basilica) to the historic neighbourhood of Śródka, which during the Middle ages was a separate commercial town. From the bridge, the remains of the 11th century Prussian fortifications also come into view, as does a simple building housing Porta Posnania – an exposition centre, telling the story of the Cathedral Island using multimedia and interactive presentations.