The monastery was founded in 1286 by the margraves of Brandenburg, Otto IV, John IV and Konrad, from the older line of the Askan dynasty. At that time, it 500 łans (an old unit of field measurement used in Poland) were granted to the Cistercians from Kołbacz for establishing a daughter monastery. The time of the creation of the oldest part of the building can be determined for the years between 1294 (the arrival of the monks to Bierzwnik) and 1305 (altar funded by Hasso von Wedel, so at least part of the church had to function).
The period of the best economic situation for the monastery and the peace of the convent ended in 1326 when Władysław Łokietek’s led armed expedition against Louis V of Bavaria. As a result of hostilities and the plague that accompanied it, many of the New March settlements were completely deserted. The monastery was robbed, the buildings burnt down, and the Cistercians for many years could not get out of the state of economic collapse. A slow improvement of the situation took place only in the second half of the 14th century, thanks to the help of the monastery in Kołbacz and margraves of Brandenburg.
In 1539, margrave John of Kostrzyn carried out the secularization of the abbey, and a complex of monastery buildings became part of the state domain. The abbot church lost its sacral function and was slowly devastated. The abbey also suffered during the military operations of the Thirty Years War. Finally, in the first half of the 17th century, a summer residence of the Brandenburg electors was arranged in the preserved monastic buildings. Another loss brought to the buildings of the abbey, a fire from the beginning of the 19th century, in which the western part of the church was completely destroyed, and the chancel was severely damaged.
The monastery church was built of bricks in the monk bond on the foundation of granite blocks, devoid of transept, a three-aisle hall structure. Its corpus was eight bays long and was ended by an apse, preceded by a rectangular chancel bay, while at the end of the side asiles were rectangular chapels. Octagonal pillars marked rectangular bays in the central nave and close to the square in the aisles. In the interior, seven eastern parts of the polygon of the presbytery was divided into the lower part with ogival niches deeply pierced in the wall. High, ogival, two-light and rather narrow windows were embedded deeply in the wall and covered with modestly moulded jambs. Ancillary columns reached from the floor to the base of the vault. External facades of the choir were supported with slender buttresses, between which two-light moulded windows were placed, with the outer profiles being pulled higher than the window openings, creating a kind of niches into which the windows were placed.
The monastic buildings were to the south of the church. They consisted of three wings closing the inner patio and were connected by cloisters with cross-ribbed vaults. In the eastern wing there was a chapter house, a friary, and a vaulted sacristy on a square plan adjacent to the church. The chapter house was a three-bay hall without pillars, covered with a rib vault. A two-light portal with a trefoil crown led to it from the cloisters. In the eastern part of the south wing there were two parallelly located rooms: narrower four-bay and wider three-bay. Both were originally covered with cross-rib vaults flowing into wall brackets, decorated with motifs of stylized lilies.
Economic buildings were located to the south of the monastery, including a brewery (or granary) from the fourteenth century. It was made of brick and stone on a rectangular plan, reinforced with buttresses in corners and covered with a gable roof based on triangular gable walls, decorated with pointed blendes.
The relics of the medieval monastic complex preserved to this day, do not reflect the former splendor of the seat of the Cistercians of Bierzwnik. From the former church has survived the transformed eastern part, which consists of a polygonal choir and adjacent to it two bays of the former nave. The part of the nave located further west, has been almost completely destroyed. To this day only the external wall of the southern aisle has survived to the height of 3-4 meters. Of the monastic buildings survived: a single storey of the east and south wings, as well as fragments of the basements of the west wing and elements of the western cloister.
Jarzewicz J., Architektura średniowieczna Pomorza Zachodniego, Poznań 2019.
Pilch J., Kowalski S., Leksykon zabytków Pomorza Zachodniego i ziemi lubuskiej, Warszawa 2012.
Webpage bierzwnik.pl, Klasztor pocysterski w Bierzwniku.