The monastery in Kamieniec Ząbkowicki was founded by the Augustians in the first half of the 13th century, but already in 1247, due to the internal problems of the order, it was handed over to the Cistercians. Admittedly, the Augustians tried to defend their property by addressing the Pope, but in 1251 Innocent IV approved the Kamieniec land acquisition and its perpetual possession by the Cistercians. Soon, they began building of the church and monastery buildings according to their own rule.
At the end of the 13th century, a dozen or so villages belonged to monastery goods, and up to 80 monks lived in the abbey. Along with the monastery, the settlement began to develop, which in a short time the Cistercians imposed tithes and created a farm on its territory. The Cistercians ran agricultural activities, which were supported by the good quality of soils in the area of the Nysa Kłodzka Valley, as well as cattle, horses and sheep breeding. The ponds provided the fish, and apiaries of honey, Cistercians also dealt with weaving, tailoring, tanning, shoemaking, bakery, brewing and distillery. These products met the needs of the monastery, the population of the monastery villages, it were also sold at the fairs. There were monastery forges too. The milling was another branch of industry. The monastery mills mainly processed grain from farms belonging to the abbey, but sometimes other people used them. The Cistercians started to build water mills, as one of the first in Lower Silesia. One of mills was within the monastery. It was driven by water from a specially conducted canal called Młynówka. Cistercian monks had still mills in the neighboring villages, but the most interesting one belonged to the abbey, bought in 1326, was a mill floating on rafts or barges, which could be moved anywhere in the river. In 1273, prince Henry IV Probus gave the monks the right to minerals and deposits extracted in the areas belonging to the abbey. The exemption from taxes for the prince, which the monks continued to gain, contributed to the improvement of the monastery’s wealth. In 1356, the prince of Ziębice, Nicholas, freed Cistercians from Kamieniec completely from such services.
The monastery was a political force that was important in the Middle Ages. The abbey played the role of a mediator in the conflict of the bishop of Wrocław, Tomas Zaremba, with Henry IV Probus. The monks supported the ruler’s unified plans and supported him in his quest to reach the crown. The Czech king Wenceslaus II also sought their favor. As a result, the important donation of the town of Międzylesie, together with the adjacent areas, was handed over to the abbey in 1294. Prosperity and significance caused that at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the construction of a new gothic monastery complex including the church was started.
Period of prosperity ended in the fifteenth century, when the abbey twice, in 1426 and 1428, was invaded by the Hussites, then the Hungarians, and subsequent destruction were caused by floods that occurred in 1496 and 1501. As a result of these invasions, not only monastic goods, but also the convent itself suffered. The number of monks decreased from around eighty in 1359 to around sixty in 1426 and only fourteen in 1463. In 1524, the Kamieniec monastery suffered due to a large fire, which destroyed some buildings and delayed the renovation works.
The next period in which the monastery fell into decline was the Thirty Years War. The abbey and its properties were devastated and plundered by armies. In addition, the monks were forced to lodge Saxon troops, as well as to pay money for the construction of trenches and fortifications near Bardo. Additionally, in 1633, the plague broke out and hunger prevailed because of high prices.
The abbot Simon III Rudiger, who arrived from Lubiąż, rebuilt the monastery goods and spiritual life. The church was renovated and a comprehensive reconstruction of the baroque abbey began. A new brewery, bakery, tavern and grange were also established, and a monastery library was created. Simon‘s successors: Frederick Steiner, Augustine Neudeck, and Gerard Woywoda continued reconstruction and rebuilding. The period of prosperity ended with the advent of the Silesian Wars. The high taxed monastery began falling into debt, almost reaching bankruptcy. In addition, the functioning was difficult because of the Habsburgs interference to the religious life and the selection of abbots. In 1807, the Napoleonic army was stationed in Kamieniec, furthermore charging the monastery. In 1810, the Prussian king Frederick William III issued a secular edict that liquidated the abbey. The monks were sent to work in diocesan parishes, and the monastic goods were dispersed and devastated. In 1817 a fire broke out in the monastery, as a result of which some of the rooms were destroyed. During World War II, the monastery and church were the largest storehouse of art and archives in Silesia. Since the end of the war, the post-Cistercian temple has been a parish church. In the surviving buildings of the monastery, a branch of the State Archives was established, and in the economic facilities a breeding center.
The abbey was founded in the Nysa Kłodzka valley, at the mouth of Budzówka river and at the foot of the Bardzkie Mountains. It was created on the foundations of the Augustinian monastery and probably because of this, it had a different layout from other Cistercian foundations, namely, the monastery buildings were located on the northern, not southern, side of the church. The temple was built unusually as a hall structure, not a basilica, three-nave with transept and the chancel ended with a straight wall. Church has 70 meters long, 20 meters wide, 24 meters high, and the length of the transverse nave is 39 meters. The naves have the same height over their entire length. The entire structure was reinforced with high buttresses, between which large ogival windows were pierced. The church was crowned with gable roofs, and originally the shorter walls of the naves, presbytery and transepts were topped with gothic gables. The interiors were crowned with rib vaults from around 1400.
The monastery church dedicated to Saint James the Elder has survived to the present day in the best condition. It has preserved its gothic shape, distorted only by the gables of the naves, presbytery and transepts, transformed in the baroque period, and the early modern porch by the west façade. Only some early modern buildings have survived from the monastery’s complex. To the north of the church you can see the foundations of the original buildings and cloisters that once surrounded the inner patio. In the former abbots building, erected in the extension of the northern wing of the monastery, there is a branch of the State Archives of Wrocław. The abbey’s economic facilities are now occupied by the Breeding Center.
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 Kamieńcu Ząbkowickim.