Bierzwnik – Cistercian Abbey

History

   The abbey was founded by Brandenburg margraves Otto IV, John IV and Conrad I from the older line of the Ascan dynasty. It was recorded for the first time in 1280, in the acts of the general chapter, but it was not until 1286 that the margraves granted the Cistercians of Kołbacz 500 lans to establish a branch. The first buildings were erected in Bierzwnik between 1294 (arrival of the convent in Bierzwnik) and 1305 (foundation of the altar by Hasso von Wedel), when 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. In 1341, due to the disastrous state of the economy, they were exempted from tax, but six years later the abbey was again destroyed by fire. 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.

Architecture

   The abbey was situated on a slight elevation of the area, on the eastern shore of Lake Kuchenne, and on the northern side of the settlement. The monastery consisted of a church, the claustrum buildings adjacent to the south with three wings surrounding with cloisters an irregular quadrilateral inner garth, and economic buildings located further to the south.
   The church was a brick building erected in the monk bond, on a foundation made of granite stones. It had the form of a hall with central nave and two aisles, without a transept or tower. The nave was eight bays long and was ended with a polygonal apse, preceded by a rectangular choir bay, while at the end of the aisles there were rectangular chapels. The external façades of the choir and apse (and probably also the aisles) were reinforced with slender buttresses, between which there were placed two-stage moulded windows, with the external profiles being pulled higher than the openings, creating a kind of niches into which were windows. The horizontal divisions of the façade were formed by the moulded plinth, the drip cornice at the height of the window sills and the under eaves cornice.
   In the interior of the church, octagonal pillars marked rectangular bays in the central nave and bays similar to a squares in the aisles. Moreover, the inter-nave arcades rested on wall half-pillars at the rood arch and at the western wall. The shafts of the vaults extended from the floor to the height of the base of the vault. The chancel was separated from the nave by the aforementioned massive, low-set chancel arch. The seven eastern parts of the chancel polygon were divided in the lower part with ogival niches deeply carved in the wall. High, pointed, two-light and quite narrow windows were set deep in the wall and were framed by modestly moulded jambs. Only one layer of bricks separated the niche heads from the windows zone.

   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. Their almond-shaped ribs flowed down onto ceramic corbels decorated with floral, figural and geometric motifs. 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.

Current state

   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. The eastern part, transformed in the 19th century, has survived from the former church, and it consists of a polygonal chancel and two bays of the former nave adjoining it. The part of the nave further to the west was almost completely destroyed. Only the outer wall of the southern aisle, preserved to a height of 3-4 meters, has survived to this day. Only the choir openings have retained the original shape of the windows in the church. The under-eaves cornice has not survived. The monastery buildings are: the ground floor of the eastern wing (with sacristy, chapter house and fraternity), southern wing (with transformed interior divisions) and parts of the basement of the west wing and elements of the western cloister, as well as the ruin of the monastery granary or brewery. Medieval vaults survived only in the cloisters.

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bibliography:
Jarzewicz J., Architektura średniowieczna Pomorza Zachodniego, Poznań 2019.
Jarzewicz J., Gotycka architektura Nowej Marchii, Poznań 2000.
Pilch J., Kowalski S., Leksykon zabytków Pomorza Zachodniego i ziemi lubuskiej, Warszawa 2012.
Płotkowiak M., Sandach I., Próba rekonstrukcji architektonicznej kościoła poklasztornego w Bierzwniku, “Zeszyty Bierzwnickie”, nr 4 (2002).