The foundation of the monastery in Kołbacz took place in 1173. The castellan of Szczecin, Warcisław Świętoborzyc, brought here the Cistercians from the Danish monastery in Esrom. The new abbey was to be named Mera Vallis, that is Pure Valley. The first group of monks led by abbot Reinhold came to Kołbacz at the beginning of 1174. In the salary they received six villages, soon enlarged by three more settlements. As a result of further donations, purchases and exchanges, the monastic property already at the end of the 14th century constituted a compact area extending around Lake Miedwie, from the Reglica river in the west to the Ina river in the east. They dealt with agriculture, breeding, milling and crafts. In 1183, the monks changed the lower course of the Płonia River, directing it to their settlement in Dąbie, and stacked the water near Kołbacz, causing the water level in Lake Miedwie to rise. Religious watermills and windmills, shoemaking, tannery, saddlery, weaving, cloth and blacksmith workshops prospered in monastery property. The spinning mill in Sobieradz and the saltworks in Kołobrzeg were known. No less popular were monastic breweries, wine bars, brickyards and about 30 taverns. They also conducted political activities, sitting in prince and bishop’s councils.
The construction of the temple began in 1210 in the late-Romanesque style, and was completed after more than 130 years, in 1347, in the Gothic style, wherein in 1307, the construction of the western part was completed, and the year 1347 was the consecration of the church by the bishop of Kamień, Jan, in the presence of prince Barnim IV. This act was probably connected with the completion of the rebuilding of the chancel in a new Gothic form.
In 1242, during the war of the Szczecin dukes with Brandenburg, the monastery was severely plundered by the Pomeranian army. Significant damage was also caused by the subsequent invasions of the Brandenburgers in 1273 and 1478, as well as the invasion of the Hussites in 1433. The damage was so great that the monastery was released from all charges for the Pope, but it never regained its former glory. In order to avoid similar invasions, the entire monastery and the nearest buildings were surrounded in the 15th century by the circumference of the walls with towers. After the secularization of the monastery in 1535, the monastic goods went to the prince of Szczecin Barnim XI, who turned the abbey into a residence and the seat of the prince’s domain. The Thirty Years War brought about great destruction, and the fire of 1662 made a complete fall. The first restoration work was undertaken only in the 19th century.
The monastery church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary was a three-nave church, orientated, built on a latin cross plan with a transept and a two-bay, pentagonal chancel. Its facade is flanked by a pair of four-sided extensions, one of which (north) houses stairs. It is much larger than the southern one, which disturbed the symmetry, but at the same time the appearance of the facade was diversified. Asymmetry was compensated by a varied width of blendes. The lowest storey of facade is accented by an arcaded frieze, above which there are mentioned, large pointed blendes, among which the central one was originally a window, and the whole is crowned with a triangular gable with a magnificent rosette filled with a brick tracery.
The chancel is clearly divided into the western bay belonging to the Romanesque phase and the eastern, Gothic part. Originally it was ended with an apse, fragments of which were discovered during archaeological research. The oldest part of the church is the Romanesque transept and the three eastern spheres of the naves. There were massive wall pillars made of pilaster strips and ancillary columns, as well as semi-circular and narrow windows. In five western bays, half-octagonal pillars were used instead of semi-columns, and the windows here are clearly wider, taller and topped with ogival arches. Larger differences between the construction stages are visible in external facades. The oldest part is characterized by careful brick technique and abundant use of decorative elements, including various types of friezes.
The interior of the temple was vaulted with a stellar vault in the chancel and the central nave, and rib vault was in the arms of the transept. Church was also divided by a non-existent rood screen, which determined the part intended to the congregation from that available only to monks.
Next to the church, on the south side there was a patio with cloisters adjacent to the monastery buildings. The northern part of the west wing was occupied by the house of lay brothers. This three-story building was erected on the projection of an elongated rectangle. Its granite foundations conceal a two-nave, five-bay, covered with a rib vault, a storage room. Probably, it kept food products for the lay brothers table. The upper floor, made in brick, was a refectory of lay brothers. The west façade of this storey is divided into ten ogival windows. On the eastern elevation, there are traces of the vault of cloisters, which connected, among others, with the well’s building (lavabo) located opposite the southern wing. The south wing had a extended refectory of monks with basement.
Nearby, at the south-eastern corner of the patio, there was an abbot’s house. It was connected with the cloister by the covered passage. It was erected on a rectangular plan and decorated with architectural detail, giving it a representative character. The western portal is currently attracting the most attention, coming out originally to a small patio surrounded by cloisters. The second portal was located on the axis of the gallery leading to the eastern wing of the main monastery.
In the monastery complex on the east and south-east side, apart from the abbot‘s residence, there were buildings of the inn, hospital, etc. On the north side of the church, a cemetery was located. In 1302 in this place prince Otto I ordered to erect the chapel of the St. Mary and All Angels. From the south there were gardens, and from the west, probably the economic buildings of lay brothers. At least two artificial canals from the 14th-15th centuries passed through the monastery area. One of them was on the south side, with the abbot, monks and lay brothers latrines. The second canal from the north side surrounded the abbot’s house, partially entering the buildings of a so-called small monastery.
Among the once existing numerous economic buildings located within the monastery – barns, granaries, stables, slaughterhouses, bakeries, smokehouses, dairies, shoemakers, wheelers and coopers workshops – only the fifteenth century Gothic barn (sheepfold) has survived. The building was built on a rectangular plan and reinforced with buttresses. Originally, it was probably open with ogival arcades, which were later closed and provided with slit windows. The gable roof is based on triangular gables, partly half-timber. The whole of the buildings with a monastery formed a monastic settlement, with a size of about 8 hectares. It seems that the economic buildings were located west and north of the monastery. On the eastern side of the river, there was a mill, a forge, a sawmill, probably also fishermen’s buildings. The south-west part of the settlement was occupied by the brewery buildings and the wine press. On the south-east side, houses for servants were probably built in Cistercian times.
The whole of the monastery was surrounded by fortifications since 1349. It seems that the whole ring of fortifications with a circumference of about 1040 meters, consisted of three distinct sections, separated by gates. The south-eastern section was probably strengthened only by a palisade or even a fence. The southern and south-western sections were reinforced with a low wall, perhaps with two towers and a moat. From the north and north-east sides there was a wall preceded by a moat, which was the old riverbed. Three gates led to the monastery complex: Stargard Gate from the north-east, from the direction of Stargard and the Duchy of Słupsk, strengthened with the still preserved tower, the Lake Gate from the south, perhaps from the direction of Dębin and the motte stronghold and the Szczecin Gate from the north-west, from Szczecin, Pyrzyce and further the Pomerania region. Also the area of the settlement was divided by walls or fences into individual parts.
The defensive wall was probably brick, only 2.5 meters high, without crenellation, thus constituting only a passive obstacle, with a small thickness, probably close to 0.5 meters. Numerous economic buildings adjoined the walls, and in the western course there was a small wall bend. The defensive walls were reinforced with several towers. Probably from the west side there was a small rectangular tower, it seems that the next one was on the southern side. Also, the tower could be an object on the defensive wall line adjacent to a parallel farm building. One can not exclude the existence of a corner tower near the prince’s stable and the chapel of St. Otto. The only element of medieval fortifications preserved to this day is the so-called Prison Tower. It is made of brick on a square plan with a side of 5.5 meters, two-story (originally four-storey) and covered with a gable roof. Internal communication was made possible by stairs, placed in the wall thickness. On all sides on the two upper levels of the tower, there were arrowslits with considerable clearance. Next to the fourth-floor arrowslits, there are small niches, most probably decorative or used to mount the corbels that support the overhang wooden porch, perhaps formerly crowning the building. In the first floor of the tower, accessible directly from the ground, there is a dark, vaulted room, originally serving as a prison. The upper floors were topped with flat, wooden ceilings.
The monastery in Kołbacz is one of the most valuable monuments of brick Gothic architecture in Western Pomerania. To this day, the monastery church has survived, unfortunately deprived of side aisles, chapels at the southern arm of the transept and vaults in the main nave. From the monastery and farm buildings located around the church only the rebuilt north part of the west wing has been preserved, so-called conversion house. You can also see the abbot’s house with great architectural details, giving it a representative character. From the defense system has survived the tower, today called the Prison Tower. In addition, a XV century Gothic barn has been preserved within the monastery complex.
Dzieje budownictwa w Polsce według Oskara Sosnowskiego, t. 1, Świechowski Z., Zachwatowicz J., Warszawa 1964.
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