Gniezno – Franciscans and Poor Clares Friary


   The construction of the church and the Franciscan friary began at the turn of the third and fourth quarter of the thirteenth century, on the initiative of prince Bolesław the Pious and his wife Jolenta. The works could be interrupted by the death of the founder in 1279, but shortly thereafter, Prince Przemysł II began building of a convent of Poor Clares, in which Duchess Jolenta was to find shelter. Przemysł II endowed the friary in 1284 and 1295, thanks to which at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries an oratory of Poor Clares was added to the church.
   In 1303, the deceased Duchess Jolenta, who entered the convent of Poor Clares before her death, was buried in the church. Her daughter Jadwiga, who stayed with her mother in Gniezno until 1293, became the wife of king Władysław Łokietek, and another daughter, Elżbieta, was the wife of Henry V the Fat, the prince of Wrocław and Legnica. Thanks to this, the friary had rich and influential donors who contributed to its expansion.
   In 1331 the friary complex survived the devastation of the town by the Teutonic Knights. At that time, some of the town’s inhabitants were to take refuge there. In the years 1409 – 1418, brick monastery buildings, a bathhouse, a kitchen and a monastery brickyard were erected, and two rooms were to be renovated. In 1519, during a fire in the town, the church was damaged, including the collapse of the vaults over the nave.

Church and friary buildings burnt down in 1613. After rebuilding and especially after a thorough reconstruction in the second half In the 18th century, they lost many of their original style features. In 1836, the Prussian authorities closed the Franciscan monastery, a year later the same fate affected the Poor Clares. The Franciscan monastery was occupied by the army, and the Poor Clares house was demolished at the turn of the sixties and seventies of the 19th century. The Franciscans returned to their former seat in 1928. In the years 1930-32 they carried out the restoration of the temple, restoring it in part to Gothic forms.


   The friary was situated in the northern part of the town, on the hill called Panieńskie, in close proximity to the town’s defensive walls. It was located between the market square (separated by a plot of bourgeois buildings through which a short street led) and the valley of the Srawa river, behind which the church of St. John was situated. The complex consisted of the church and the Franciscan monastery buildings on the north side of the chancel and the Poor Clares building on the north-west side of the nave. The friary church was connected with the Poor Clares building by a brick porch 5.5 meters wide, enclosed with buttresses and covered with a gable roof. In the fifteenth century, the house of Poor Clares was extended from the south by a perpendicular Gothic wing, and from the north by another building located parallel to the older one.
   Early Gothic church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Anthony was built as an aisleless structure with a five-bay nave measuring 8.1 x 31.5 meters, and an elongated, four-bay chancel measuring 8.1 x 20.5 meters, built on a rectangular plan with the same width as the nave. On the north side, a two-level, four-bay oratory of Poor Clares was added. Outside, the church was clasped with buttresses, between which narrow pointed windows were pierced, with a distinctive large eastern window. Over the nave and chancel there was a common gable roof, and the oratory was covered with a mono-pitched roof.
   All bays of the nave and the chancel had a progressive plan of a rectangle transverse to the axis of the church, with the exception of the last bay of the nave, which was erected on a square plan. The chancel was topped with an early Gothic cross-rib vault, supported on consoles without a shafts (the first such example in Greater Poland region), but it is not known whether the nave was originally covered with a vault or only a timber ceiling. The matroneum (gallery) on the first floor of the oratory of Poor Clares was opened to the nave with openings, while in its ground floor there was a mortuary. Perhaps its ogival arcades were connected with the nave, or perhaps it was only one arcade leading to the eastern bay of the oratory (where Duchess Jolenta was buried in 1305). The chancel from the nave was separated by a rood screen, consisting of a screen wall and a tribune supported by columns, opened to the nave with arcades. The entrance to the first floor of the rood screen led through the southern, cylindrical staircase turret.
   In the second half of the fourteenth century, difficulties in the visual contact of Poor Clares with the altar contributed to the construction of a chapel measuring 6.4 x 7.4 meters, added to the oratory from the east, and to the extreme bay of the nave from the north. The chapel was covered in the western bay with a cross-rib vault, and in the eastern bay with a three-support. Its lighting was provided by one window from the north and two from the east. Then, at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, another chapel and sacristy were added to the church, with a semi-oval turret on the south-west side. From the west in the 15th century, a four-storey, four-sided tower was added to the nave, covered with a tent roof.

Current state

   The friary church was significantly transformed in the early modern period. This applies especially to external facades, but also in the interwar period the oratory floor was liquidated and transformed into an aisle, by pircing large arcades in the wall. The pseudo-Gothic vault of the nave was founded in 1930-1932, however the original vault of the chancel has been preserved. Of the medieval monastery buildings, only the foundations remain, on which a new monastery was erected in the 18th century.

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Kowalski Z., Gotyk wielkopolski. Architektura sakralna XIII-XVI wieku, Poznań 2010.
Maluśkiewicz P., Gotyckie kościoły w Wielkopolsce, Poznań 2008.

Murowana architektura romańska i gotycka w Wielkopolsce, red. J.Tomala, tom 1, Kalisz 2007.