The Dominicans came to Kraków from Bologna in 1222, brought by the Bishop of Kraków, Iwo Odrowąż. They were placed at the church of Holy Trinity, which was the original parish church of Kraków, given to the monks after their arrival in the town. In 1223, the church was re-consecrated, already as a monastic one, and in 1227 bishop Iwo Odrowąż issued a privilege granting the monks the property of this building. As early as in 1225, the oldest dormitory in the friary was supposed to set fire, and in 1241, the Mongol invasion destroyed the entire friary.
In 1251, Pope Innocent IV gave an indulgence to all those who will contribute to the reconstruction and expansion of the Dominican church and friary. A similar indulgence was given by the bull of the Archbishop of Gniezno, Jakub, in 1286. They provided income, thanks to which the construction of a new, Gothic friary church began. It started with the construction of the chancel, connected from the north with the monastery building. The chancel of the Dominican church in Kraków was founded as one of the oldest long choirs in Europe, obtaining its final form around 1248 – 1251. Certainly it was completed in 1289, because then Prince Leszek the Black was buried there. The construction of the nave was completed until the beginning of the 14th century.
Along with the construction of the church, work on the cloister buildings were underway. The first to be built was a stone refectory, erected after the older, timber one, burnt down in 1225. At the end of the thirteenth century, the construction of the eastern wing began, which was one of the first brick buildings in Kraków and one of the oldest in Lesser Poland region. After a break caused by the Mongol invasion, work continued, thanks to which the cloisters around the courtyard formed a closed circuit in the middle of the 13th century. The next stages of the friary expansion from the second half of 13th century were carried out in the early Gothic style.
Probably in the 60s of the fourteenth century, and at the latest at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the friary church was rebuilt from a hall to a basilica, while in the following years of the fifteenth century, the walls of the chancel were raised. After a fire in 1462, the chancel vault was renovated, and a new eastern gable was built, funded by a certain Katarzyna Białuszyna. Along with the reconstruction of the church in the Gothic period, the friary buildings were expanded. As early as in 1467, the indulgence “pro fabrica et structura conventus” was announced, and the Kraków murator Clemens was recorded. At the end of the 15th century, mainly repairs were carried out. In 1469, an indulgence was announced “ad reperationem ecclesiae ac domus”, in 1482 the donation was intended for “pro reperatione ecclesie”. The last medieval indulgence for church repairs took place in 1501.
The great fire of Cracow in 1850 laid the end of the church’s splendor. The whole interior had gone all out, with the exception of some of the chapels, and the vault of the nave also fell. Despite the huge damages, the Dominicans decided to rebuild the church. The pillars were reconstructed almost from scratch, as well as the nave’s vaults. The work was completed in 1872, adding only a neo-Gothic porch just four years later.
The church of the Holy Trinity from the mid-thirteenth century was a three-aisle hall or pseudohall, because the central nave was slightly higher than the side aisles. All the aisles were the same width and had square bays, built of bricks laid in the monk bond (the stone was used only for structural and decorative elements). From the east, the church ended with a long, rectangular chancel. Both the chancel and the nave were reinforced with numerous buttresses at the corners at an angle. Between them, the walls were pierced with a regular rhythm of pointed, high windows, in the chancel two per bay and in the aisles one per bay. The chancel was crowned with a ceramic frieze with a lily motif, led at a height of 18.5 meters. Unusually, the chancel was higher than the nave and had, apart from the eastern one, also western gable (a fragment of it in the central nave has been preserved).
The churches of the mendicant orders were open to all people, so this involved the necessity to divide the church into a part for monks and a part for the lay people. That’s why long choirs, that is a multi-bay chancels, clearly separated from the church’s naves began to be built and along the walls of the choirs, stalls, that is benches for monks, were placed. Originally in the second half of the thirteenth century, the chancel of the church of Holy Trinity was covered with a rib vault, flowing down to the overhanging ancillary columns, alternately half-octagonal and semicircular. The floor was made of ceramic tiles. They were multi-colored (tin-brown, yellow and green), it had a glaze and embossed geometric (braid), floral (palmette) and figural (griffin, deer hunting) ornaments. Under the eastern side of the choir, there was a crypt, partly buried in the ground.
As a result of the reconstruction in the second half of the fourteenth century and the first quarter of the fifteenth century, the church of Holy Trinity became a slender five-bay basilica with a central nave and two aisles, with an internal length of the nave of 37.1 meters and 23 meters in width, erected in a pillar-buttress system characteristic of Kraków, with an elongated six-bay chancel, ending in the east with a straight wall, long inside 30.2 meters and 9.4 meters wide. Around the mid-fifteenth century, the chancel walls were raised, and for most of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, chapels were added to the longitudinal walls. On the south side of the chancel, at the junction with the aisle, there was a chapel of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, while the next ones were built at the nave from the north and south, where they were added between the buttresses. The sacristy was situated at the eastern part of the northern wall of the chancel, as part of the eastern wing of the claustrum.
After the late Gothic rebuilding, the church was still clasped with stepped buttresses, as chapels were also supported by them. The west facade of the nave was topped with a stepped gable with pinnacles, and below a large ogival window was pierced. The eastern wall of the chancel was also crowned with a high stepped gable, separated by pyramidal blendes with stepped frames and topped with pinnacles. Below, the wall was pierced with a large pointed window. Additional two-light, splayed windows illuminated the chancel from the south, two for one bay (older traceries from the 13th century were used in them). The central nave and the aisles were illuminated by single three-light windows, while with time the role of lighting of the aisles was taken by wide, pointed, three and four-light windows of the chapels. The chancel and the nave were covered with a common gable roof, and the aisles also with gable roofs. The main entrance to the church led through the western ogival portal from around 1400, with rich sculptural decorations operating in three orders with plant and zoomorphic motifs. The portal was also decorated with a carved impost frieze, relief representations on the capitals, and openwork tracery in the tympanum.
Inside, the central nave was separated from the chancel by a pointed-arch arcade with impost cornices on two levels. The aisles were divided by the pillars on the projection of elongated octagons, set on plinths, with buttresses from the side of the aisles and shafts descending to the floor from the side of the central nave. The central nave was opened to the side aisles with ogival arcades with moulded archivolts, over which there was a moulded cornice separating the slightly recessed window zone, placed in moulded, pointed niches. The central nave was covered with a stellar vault, side aisles with rib vaults, and the chancel with a net vault. The latter was springing from the shafts and fastened with bosses in the form of shields. The central nave also had shafts, and corbels were used in the aisles.
The friary buildings were situated on the northern side of the church. Their oldest, Romanesque building was the refectory, a room measuring 15.9 x 9 meters, built of irregular limestone (the so-called wild stone) and sandstone ashlar in the corners. It had two storeys: a two-aisle rectangular basement room that served as a cellarium and the upper storey where monks eat. Cellarium was divided into two parts by three massive, four-sided pillars, supporting cross vaults with the arch bands. The original height of the lower room did not exceed 2.3 meters, the plan was 5 x 15 meters, and the walls were about 1.4 meters thick. It was illuminated by small semicircular and rectangular windows in the northern, southern and eastern walls. Initially, it was accessible only through a barrel-vaulted passage with stairs on the west side. The room on the first floor, originally 4 meters high, with walls about 1 meter thick and covered with a wooden ceiling, was in the 15th century crowned with a cross-rib vault and covered with wall polychromes. From the eastern side, the access of light was originally provided by a triad of semicircular windows with an oculus in the middle, and an additional three Romanesque windows were pierced in the southern wall. There, near the western corner, there was an entrance portal: a three-step, closed semicircular, with a carved motif of a plant braid in the central part of the archivolt. The longer wall of the refectory was attached to the garth in the south. The cross-ribbed vaults of the cloisters were built in the 14th century.
The eastern range in the second half of the 13th century was a building measuring 11 x 44 meters with corners reinforced with buttresses and a chapter house protruding to the east. The range was situated at an unusual angle in relation to the church, which would indicate its earlier date of erection. It had two floors. In the ground floor there was a sacristy from the south, a 6-meter wide room, the aforementioned chapter house, a room 4.5 meters wide, a passage leading from the cloister to the friary gardens, and two similar rooms 5 meters wide.
The chapter house, strongly protruding in front of the friary’s façade, was originally short, three-bay (7.5 x 4.5 meters) and closed with a straight wall at the height of diagonal buttresses. It faced the cloister with the facade, in which the entrance portal was placed, flanked by two pairs of twin, lancet windows. The architectural composition of the front wall of the early Gothic chapter house was probably inspired by the form of the older late-Romanesque chapter hall with a semicircular portal and two tow-light openings on its sides. The eastern part of the chapter house, after being extended in the fourteenth century, was closed with three sides, and the whole was covered with a cross-rib vault.
The early Gothic period is related with a building with a plan similar to a square with a side of 10.5 meters, located north of the eastern wing. It had two floors, the lower one being a cellar partially recessed into the ground, with cross vault on the central pillar. The ground floor was 7 meters high, illuminated with ogival windows and probably also vaulted on a single pillar. This building may have housed the oldest libraria, connected with the theological study located next to it, or the winter refectory (relicts of the fireplace were here discovered).
At the end of the Middle Ages, the monastery buildings were concentrated around three garths: the largest southern one, the smallest centrally located, and the third, the youngest, located in the northern part. All three cloisters were connected by the 90-meter long east wing, running diagonally from the north-east to the south-west.
The cloister around the first, trapezoidal garth was characterized by arms of various widths. It was cross-vaulted with ribs fastened with circular bosses and lowered onto pyramidal, moulded or tracery corbels, as well as exceptionally two consoles carved in the shape of a bird with a human head and with floral decorations. The large, pointed windows of the cloister were splayed on both sides. At the northern part of the east wing, on the extension of the eastern arm of the cloister of the first garth, a late-Gothic, strongly elongated, two-aisle, four-bay vestibule was placed. It was topped with cross-rib vaults based on arch bands and three octagonal pillars. In its south-west corner there were two-flight stairs built leading to the upper large passage, a descent to the basement under the refectory and a portal leading to the refectory.
From the east, three rooms dating back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were attached to the Gothic vestibule. Originally there was a two-story brick building without a basement, covered with pilaster strips, erected on a rectangular plan with external dimensions of 21 x 10.8 meters. Its ground floor was divided into two rooms: the larger northern one and the smaller southern one (existing until today and called the Treasury). Soon the larger room was divided into two more rooms. All of them were vaulted from the beginning, and the main entrance was located in the central part of the west façade. The building was illuminated by Romanesque two-light windows with rectangular jambs and a semicircular heads. The first floor was accessible by stairs hidden in the thickness of the western wall. It is uncertain what function the building played, perhaps it housed a provincial theological study.
The cloister of the third garth in the western part of the northern arm was topped with a net vault, and the rest had a cross-rib vault. At the eastern and northern arms of the cloister, buildings with many rooms were erected in the 15th century. The elongated, rectangular building also reached the middle of the western arm of the third garth, connecting in the south with the corner of the refectory and a 13th-century room rebuilt in the 15th century.
The perimeter walls of the 13th-century church have survived to this day. In its two southern windows of the chancel, original traceries are visible, re-inserted after the walls were raised in the 15th century, but a large part of the architectural detail was destroyed during a fire from the 19th century. During the reconstruction, the facade was unfortunately obscured by a neo-Gothic porch, the western gable and the vault in the nave were also rebuilt. The friary buildings in which numerous Romanesque and Gothic elements can be admired were more lucky. The oldest preserved part of the claustrum is the Romanesque refectory, the Gothic chapter house or the late Gothic vestibule are also valuable rooms.
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