Chełmno – Cistercian Monastery

History

   The Cistercian sisters were brought to Chełmno around 1266 on the initiative of the bishop of Chełmno, Frederic von Hausen, and the Teutonic land master Ludwik von Baldensheim. A year later, the mayor and the town council gave nuns four construction plots (belonging to a certain Konrad from Papowo) together with the town gate for the future monastery, with the reservation that the nuns bear the costs of building town walls and repairing wooden defenses on this section. In the following years, the monastery was enriched with subsequent grants, donated by nobles and citizens, including Bertold of Czyste and his wife Krystyna, who handed over all their goods to the nuns, with reservation of their use. Subsequent goods donations took place in the fourth quarter of the thirteenth century and early fourteenth century. In 1282, the monastery, its property and income, were covered by the special protection of the Pope Martin IV.
   News about the functioning of the convent in the fourteenth century are few. It is only known that in 1312, the Teutonic master Charles of Trier, in memory of his victory over the Lithuanians, gave the monastery the village of Grabowo near Świecie. In turn, in 1349, nuns from Toruń and Chełmno were sent to the new monastery in Königsberg. There are also a few names of the then abbots: Zofia from 1275, Katarzyna from 1337, and Elżbieta from 1354. In the fifteenth century, one of the then superiors of the convent was the sister of Nicolaus Copernicus.
   From 1461, a letter written by abbot Barbara to the bishop of Chełmno came from, reporting the losses suffered by the monastery during the Thirteen Years’ War. Interestingly, since 1429, nuns were no longer referred to as Cistercians, while in 1483, for the first time appeared a document, that explicitly referred to Benedictines. Apparently, during the fifteenth century, the convent changed the rule, but it is not known what was the reason for it.
   In the sixteenth century, the monastery significantly declined due to the Reformation, which penetrated the Chełmno Land. In addition, the town was ravaged by plague, so that at one point in the convent only two nuns remained – Agnieszka Plemięcka and Gertruda Lubodzieska, sister of the bishop of Chełmno. The latter favored the Reformation, striving through not accepting novices and giving property to the final liquidation of the monastery. The situation was changed by the joining of the energetic priest Magdalena Mortęska in 1579 to the monastery. She led to the renewal of the strict rule of Saint Benedict and restoration of the monastery, which became the center of the so-called Chełmno reform, radiating to convents throughout Poland. At that time, many construction works were carried out, thoroughly rebuilding the monastery buildings, including further chapels were added and the tower was raised.

  
The period of the greatest splendor of the Chełmno monastery was interrupted by the Polish-Swedish wars that ravaged monastic possessions. The Benedictine convent was dissoluted by the Prussians in 1821 and a year later the monastery buildings were taken over by nuns from the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity.
 

Architecture

   Monastery church of St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist was built in the north-west corner of the Old Town, on the edge of the high slope of the Vistula’s valley. It was created in several stages between 1280 and 1330. At the end of the 13th century, circumferential walls were erected. Around 1310-1320, the lower church was vaulted, and around 1330, the upper church was vaulted and the gothic gables were created.
   Church is a brick, five-span structure with a pentagonal closed presbyterial part. Its length has reached 27 meters, width is 9.2 meters and the height of the interior is 18 meters. The church was reinforced with external buttresses, with the one buttress on the north side replaced by a staircase turret. The western façade was decorated with a gothic gable with shallow niches and not too prominent pinnacles. The church’s nave is two-storey, thanks to the incorporation of a spacious brick matroneum. The lower part, intended for lay people, is double-nave, with a rib vault supported by three square pillars. Above the upper gallery, where nuns participated in prayers and liturgy, a stellar vault was erected. Vaults of the upper part of the church were decorated with 21 zoo and anthropomorphic creatures. It is not known whether they fulfill a symbolic function or whether they are merely an ornament. The church’s lighting was provided by large ogival windows, originally filled with tracery. In 1595, to the presbytery, a burial chapel of nuns was added from the north, at which the walls of the former tower were used, and from the south the chapel of St. Michael.
   Medieval equipment of the monastery church include a tombstone of the burgher of Arnold Lischoren brought from Flanders, who died in 1275. This is one of the oldest monuments of sculpture in Pomerania. Before the mid-fourteenth century, vault bosses were created, and in the mid-century wall paintings on the monastic matroneum – the cycle Songs of songs, of iconography unique in the European scale. From the end of the 14th century comes the figure of Christ in a grave with moving arms.
   The oldest element in the monastery is the four-sided so-called The Mestwin Tower (Mściwoj Tower), perhaps built in the second quarter of the 13th century. It could then serve as a Teutonic watchtower, because its location allowed for observation of the vast Vistula valley. Its interior in the later period of the Middle Ages was rebuilt. Among other, in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, a hall with a cross-ribbed vault was created on the first floor. In the upper storey there are late romanesque, semicircle-topped niches.
   From the north and west, the monastery was surrounded by town defense walls, increased several times in the fourteenth and perhaps in the fifteenth century. To the east of the church was built a brick wall on a stone foundation, reinforced with buttress. In its sequence was placed a tower originally housing the entrance gate. To the church from the west adjoins the main, northern monastery wing, connecting it with the Mestwin Tower. Originally it was a two-storey and two-bay structure with rooms covered with wooden ceilings and illuminated with large ogival windows. Its south elevation was decorated on the ground and first floor with ogival blendes, there was also a portal leading to the communication porch. The blende decoration was on a triangular western gable too. In the fourteenth century, a two-storey west wing was also built, adjacent to the north wing and two-storey thirteenth century east wing, not connected with the church. Few remains indicate that both were decorated with gothic gables at shorter sides and ogival blendes.

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bibliography:
Domasłowski J., Kościół i dawny klasztor cysterek w Chełmnie, Warszawa 1983.

Webpage icimss.edu.pl, Chełmno Zespół klasztorny pocysterski, ob. SS. Miłosierdzia.