In the central-eastern part of the Polish Commonwealth, among the picturesque landscapes and vast forests, the Great Chancellor – Jan Zamoyski founded Zamość in 1580. It is one of the most beautiful town-planning and architectural complexes in the world, a "perfect city" related to the Italian town-planning ideas of XV-XVI Century. "A Pearl of Renaissance", a "City of Arcades", a work of a talented Italian architect Bernard Morand and the great founder Jan Zamoyski, it is a Historical Monument counted among UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as one of the fifteen objects of greatest importance to the history of the national culture.
In 1587 works began on the greatest work of Morand - the Collegiate Church. It is located to the south west of the Main Square.
The ceremony of official founding and creation of the Collegiate Parish and the Academy took place July 5th 1600. The Collegiate was given the invocation of The Lord's Resurrection and Its Witness - St Thomas the Apostle. The church was to be a votive offering for the battles won by the Hetman in defence of the Commonwealth.
Besides the architect and designer, other experts worked on the Collegiate Church; Italian builders invited from Moravia, Michał Belter, a builder of German descent, a sculptor Błażej Gocman, metal workers from Gdańsk -Krzysztof Wagner and Michał Lange. The pictures in the great altar were painted by a Venetian Domenico Tintoretto. It was only after the death of the Great Hetman (June 3rd 1605) that the Collegiate Church was officially hallowed by the Wallachian bishop Jan Chrzciciel Zamoyski. It was done on November 18th 1637.
In "Zamojski Country" the Collegiate played a similar role to what the Wawel Cathedral did for the whole of Poland, increasing the standing of the capital and the rule, immortalising the name of its Founders. It was there that the heirs to the lands would make their vows, received by a mirted prelate, there they were officially welcomed after long absences and there their ashes were laid to rest in the church crypts.
On March 25th 1992 the Collegiate Church in Zamość was elevated to the rank of a Cathedral for the newly created Zamojsko-Lubaczowska Diocese.
The Cathedral, a marvel of architecture created at the turn of the Renaissance and the Catholic Reform, one of the most beautiful and valuable buildings of this type in Poland, relates to its predecessors in the art of northern Italy. It contains a wealth of ideology and liturgy symbols, in the spirit of the post-Trident reform (emphasizing the cult of Virgin Mary, and the deity of Jesus, presenting the Holy Trinity, very though out invocations of the church and chapels) proving the important missionary role of this temple, in those times, in that part of the Commonwealth.
From February 19th 1803 the northern chapel has been a resting place of a very special painting of Virgin Mary. The people of Zamość have worshipped this painting as a source of blessings, referring to her as Mary the Protector or Mary of the Gatehouse. According to the legend the Painting was painted on the door of a prison cell in the second half of XVIII century, by a man accused of a serious crime. "After a short but fervent prayer, the shackles fell of him and the painting was surrounded by a halo of light..." The picture was cut out of the cell door and hung on the wall of a gatehouse (it is thought that it was also hung on the wall surrounding the Zamość fortress). The faith in the effectiveness of Virgin Mary's protection was reinforced by numerous blessings experienced by the worshippers praying before the Painting.
During his VII Apostolic Visit in Poland, on June 12th 1999, Pope John Paul II visited the Zamość Cathedral, saying that: "... it's in Zamość, (...) in a cathedral sanctuary the Virgin Mary has been worshipped for generations as the Mother of God's Protection. (...) We have a mute but so meaningful witness to the legacy of ages in the Collegiate Church of Zamość, which I have had the honour of elevating to the rank of a Cathedral. It contains not only the priceless relics of architecture and religious art but also the ashes of those who created this great tradition."
On the northern side of the Cathedral, at the end of Akademicka street and optically closing it, stands a bell tower built in the years 1760-75, in late Baroque style, topped with a slender, Baroque roof. It contains 3 bells: Jan, counted among the biggest in Poland, Tomasz and Wawrzyniec.
On the eastern side of the Cathedral there is a house of the Zamość deans – a historical home of the mirted prelates of the Collegiate chapter – Infułatka, accessible from the Cathedral side through a Baroque portal, one of the most beautiful in Poland. The Cathedral Sacral Museum located there contains the most valuable relics of the Collegiate. These include a collection of robes, vessels, items and holy books, reliquaries, the coronation alb of king Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, portraits of the mirted prelates and heirs to the land, coffin portraits, votive gifts.
The Cathedral in Zamość, a work of an Italian architect Bernard Morand and a great Polish man Jan Zamoyski, with a well thought out artistic and ideologic programme, elaborate architecture form and decorations, with valuable relics of history, art and craft, even today manages to enrapture, move, inspire to prayer and to search for the One to Who it is dedicated.