In 1222, prince Henry the Bearded gave Nicholas, the cathedral canon of Wrocław, consent to settle the brothers of the Cistercian order in Henryków. Henry became the founder and patron of the abbey, thanks to which it had a chance for rapid development. The first monks came to Henryków in 1227. It was nine monks from Lubiąż Abbey, headed by Henry abbot. In 1228 a monastery location document was issued and in the same year the first timber church was consecrated. Despite the modest salary, the monastery grew quite dynamically until the Mongol invasion in 1241, when the church and monastery were burnt and plundered. In addition, the situation of the monastery deteriorated by the death of son of Henry the Bearded, prince Henry the Pious, at Legnica battlefield.
After the Mongol invasion, the Cistercians began to rebuild the monastery and regain their goods. In order to organize the property, the abbot Peter wrote a document called the Book of Henryków, which in addition to the description of the history of the monastery establishment, mentioned salaries and possessions belonging to the abbey in Henryków. Today, it is one of the most valuable monuments of Polish literature, contains, among others, the first sentence written in Polish.
Over the years, the Cistercians strengthened their position and increased their wealth. They gained their income mainly from land estates and craft activities. Their increasing position was confirmed by the establishment of the daughter abbey in Krzeszów in 1292. In 1304, they began the construction of a new gothic monastery church in which the princes of Ziębice organized a family crypts. In 1341, prince Bolek II of Ziębice was buried in the monastery and soon afterwards his wife. The Hussite wars, which touched the abbey in 1427-1430, brought the end of prosperity. The monastery was burnt and plundered, and the monks fled to Nysa and Wrocław. After rebuilding the abbey, again in 1438 it was destroyed by the army of Sigismund von Rachenau, and in 1459 by the invasion of Czech troops of king George of Podebrady.
The re-development of the monastery took place since the mid-16th century. At the time, abbot Andrew had great merits, during which reign, renaissance elements of monastery buildings were created. Reforms of discipline and order’s work were also carried out, which contributed to improving the condition of the abbey. The monks were ordered to close the dormitory for the night, the trysts of food and drink were forbidden, just like pointless disputes after the evening set. Women were also forbidden to enter the monastery. In parallel with the spiritual renewal, economic reconstruction took place. The monastery obtained permission to run outside an inn and the right to brew beer. The development process of the abbey was interrupted by the Thirty Years’ War, when it was plundered and burnt. Also a significant part of the original monastery library was destroyed. The disaster was increased by the plague that broke out in the abbey in 1633.
After the Thirty Years’ War the abbots Melchior Welzel, Henry Kahlert and Tobias Ackermann restored the monastery to its former glory. During this period, most of the baroque buildings were created, and the monastery church was rebuilt in this style. At that time, it became an important Marian sanctuary and a place of worship of Saint Joseph. The economic strength of the abbey in that period was confirmed by the acquisition in 1699 of the Cistercian abbey in Zirc in Hungary, destroyed by the Turks. From that time, up to the secularization of the monastery, the Henryków abbot, as part of a personal union, was the abbot of two monasteries. Around 1760 a chapel of St. Mary Magdalene was built, which became the mausoleum of the Piasts of Ziębice. Henryków’s development stopped in the period of Silesian wars between Prussia and Austria in 1741-1762. In the monastery, the army was stationed several times, plundering the monastic treasury, and high war contributions were imposed on the monks. The end of the monastery’s functioning brought the Napoleonic wars. In 1801, the Prussian authorities closed the monastery gymnasium and commandeered a monastery library with the richest book collection in Silesia, numbering 132 manuscripts and 20,000 books. In 1810, the Prussian king Frederick William III, seeking revenue for the strengthening of the army, announced the secularization edict. As a result, the monks were forced to leave the abbey, taking only the habit, breviary and food for two days, and the Henryków Abbey was liquidated.
Shortly after the secularization, Henryków‘s estate was bought by the Dutch queen Friederike Wilhelmine, the sister of the king of Prussia. The monastery was slightly rebuilt in order to use it as a magnate residence. In 1863 it was taken over by inheritance by the Saxe-Weimar princes. In 1879, a landscape park was created near the monastery, as well as an Italian-style garden. Later in the abbey’s buildings there was an elite hospital for the mentally ill. During the Third Reich, a military factory was organized in Henryków, in which prisoners from Luxembourg worked. At the end of the war, the monastery was robbed and devastated.
The medieval monastery church in Henryków was planned as a building in the form of a basilica, a three-nave with a transept and a chancel with an ambulatory, in a hall layout, surrounded by a wreath of low chapels. For the Tatar invasion in 1241 only a chancel was completed, and after the break in construction, the form of the hall presbytery was abandoned in favor of the basilica type, in which the central nave was higher than originally planned. Built-up ancillary columns with heads were not used to embed the vault’s ribs, but were raised and the ribs were supported on new heads. Three naves were probably covered by one gable roof. The chapels were much lower and perhaps also covered with gable roofs, which allowed for a significant reduction of the windows high in the chancel walls. The choir was closed from the east with a straight wall.
Until the mid-fourteenth century, the chancel, transept and two of the five eastern spans of the nave were completed. Around 1506, two chapels of the Holy Cross and the Holy Sepulcher were added to the presbytery from the north-east, and in 1608 a tower was erected from the west. Outside, the church was strengthened with buttresses. In the presbytery, transept and central nave, there were ogival windows decorated with tracery. A pointed portal of a modest form led inside the church. The nave and the presbytery part were covered with rib vaults, supported on six-sided pillars in the naves and rectangular in the chancel. The chapel of the Holy Cross is ended by a pentagon and covered with a rib vault. The Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher with the nave on a polygon plan and a small presbytery ended in a pentagon form, is covered with a stellar vault supported by a single pillar.
The monastery buildings were located south of the church. They consisted of three wings closing the inner patio.
At present, only the monastery church and the chapels of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Cross on its northern side have preserved the medieval stylistic features. Unfortunately, the western façade of the church was completely rebuilt in the baroque period, as was the whole monastery buildings. Since 1949, the abbey is again owned by Cistercians, who make it available for visitors, daily from May to September. Out of season only after prior telephone contact.
Kozaczewska H., Średniowieczne kościoły halowe na Śląsku, “Kwartalnik Architektury i Urbanistyki”, 1-4, Warszawa 2013.
Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska, Warszawa 2005.
Webpage wikipedia.org, Opactwo Cystersów w Henrykowie.