The church and monastery of the Augustians owed their construction to king Casimir the Great, who in 1342 brought monks from Prague. In this same year, the construction of a monastery complex, and more specifically, the eastern range of the monastery with the chapels of St. Thomas and St. Dorothy. In 1378, the presbytery of the church was consecrated by the bishop of Kraków, Jan Bodzanta. The construction of the nave took much longer, the main works were completed only in 1426. It also failed to complete all the plans, because the foundations prove that it was planned to erect two more towers to flank the west facade of the church. The temple was also supposed to be originally longer by one span. In its place, around 1404, Stibor of Stiboricz founded the chapel of St. Monika. In 1443, the nave vault collapsed due to the earthquake, which was rebuilt only in 1505. The completion of the construction of the southern nave and porch dates back to 1448, initiated by the Lanckoroński family and bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki. In the fifteenth century, a free-standing wooden belfry was built next to the church.
In the 16th century, the church was visited by misfortunes, first was flood in 1534, followed by a fire in 1556. In 1631, the church was restored, and the monastery’s buildings were raised by one floor. Unfortunately, a few decades later, during the Swedish deluge, the complex was devastated by the army of invaders. In 1786, it was hit by another earthquake, and shortly thereafter, the Austrian authorities turned the church into a weapons depot. Thanks to the efforts of bishop Karol Skórkowski and President of the Senate, Kasper Wielogłowski, the church and monastery were saved before demolition and renovated in the middle of the 19th century.
Church of St. Catherine is a three-nave basilica without towers, and without transept. It consists of a four-span chancel finished with a pentagonal apse, and a four-span corpus. What attracts the most attention is the beautiful, slender presbytery where brick and stone were used for construction. In contrast to it, a much simpler western part of the temple is made. The spacious, bright interior of the presbytery is illuminated by slender windows with tracery, placed in the eastern and southern walls, and covered with a stellar vault dating from the fifteenth century. In the side aisles of the church, rib vaults from the beginning of the 15th century have been preserved.
From the west side, the church adjoins to the gothic, raw chapel of St. Monika (Hungarian Chapel). It is covered with a gothic palm vault supported by an octagonal pillar. At the south aisle, at its second span on the east, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, a porch was built, erected on a rectangular plan, in which the main entrance to the temple was placed. The interior of the porch around 1449 was covered with a stellar vault, and on its supports we can see the bas-relief coat of arms of Zbigniew Oleśnicki. The outer facades of the porch are decorated with tracery, dividing it into pointed panels with the gothic motif of the trefoils.
From the north, a gothic Augustinian monastery with a courtyard and cloisters is adjacent to the church. A collection of renaissance and gothic frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries have survived in the cloisters. Its characteristic feature is the wall from the side of the courtyard, erected as a sequence of deep arcades supported by pillars and connected to the bottom by stone benches, serving monks for recreation and rest. A gothic chapel of St. Dorothy clings to the cloisters, which together with the east range is the oldest part of the monastery complex. The chapel is a two-span structure with rib vault supported by a pair of pillars. From the east it ends with a three-sid ended chancel. To the south of the chapel is a square chapter house with a rib vault supported by a single pillar, with letters on bosses forming the name of king Casimir. The whole of the monastery buildings consists of three wings and an extension of the east range, reaching on the north side up to the town defense wall, where the gothic tower was adopted.
The church together with the augustinian monastery is one of the best examples of gothic architecture in Poland. The towering silhouette of the temple and the diversity of forms and architectural detail distinguish this site in European construction from the times of mature gothic. Despite numerous renovations over the centuries, the temple, both outside and inside, presents the beauty of gothic forms, and together with the monastery is a rich collection of unique works of gothic art.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Krasnowolski B., Leksykon zabytków architektury Małopolski, Warszawa 2013.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.
Website krakow4u.pl, Kościół św. Katarzyny Aleksandryjskiej i św. Małgorzaty.