Built between 1687 and 1693, and later surrounded by an ample rectangular cloister, the hugely popular church was built around four identical corner towers, all housing chapels. The best artists from Warmia, Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and Vilnius were commissioned for the furnishings and decoration, which were completed by about 1740. Since then the church has hardly changed, neither inside nor out, and is regarded as one of the purest examples of a late-baroque church in the country.
The entrance to the complex is an elaborate wrought-iron gateway. Just behind it, the two-towered cream facade holds a stone sculpture of the holy lime tree in its central niche, with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top.
Once inside (appropriate clothing is required to enter – no shorts or hats for men, covered heads for women), the visitor is enveloped in colourful and florid, but not overwhelming, baroque ornamentation. All the frescoes are the work of Maciej Meyer of Lidzbark, and display trompe l’œil images, which were fashionable at the time. These are clearly visible both on the vault and the columns; the latter look as if they were carved. Of course Meyer also left behind his own image – you can see him in a blue waistcoat with brushes in his hand, in the corner of the vault painting over the organ.
The three-storey, 19m-high altar, covering the whole back of the chancel, is carved of walnut and painted to look like marble. Of the three paintings in the altar, the lowest one depicts the Virgin Mary of Święta Lipka with the Christ child, complete with subtle lighting for effect.
The pulpit is ornamented with paintings and sculptures. Directly opposite, across the nave, is a holy lime tree topped with the figure of the Virgin Mary, supposedly placed on the spot where the legendary tree itself once stood.
The pride of the church is its breathtaking organ, a sumptuously decorated instrument of about 5000 pipes. The work of Johann Jozue Mosengel of Königsberg, it is decorated with mechanical figures of saints and angels that dance around when the organ is played. Short demonstrations are held every hour on the half-hour from 9.30am to 5.30pm, May to September, and at 10am, noon and 2pm in October.
The cloister surrounding the church is ornamented with frescoes, also masterminded by Meyer. The artist painted the corner chapels and parts of the northern and western cloister, but died before the work was complete. It was continued in the same vein by other artists, but without the same success.