Kraków – Dominican Friary


   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 monastery.
   In 1251, Pope Innocent IV gave an indulgence to all those who will contribute to the reconstruction and expansion of the Dominican church and monastery. 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 1360s, or at the beginning of the 15th century at the latest, the church was rebuilt from the hall to the basilica, while in the next 15th century the walls of the chancel were raised, and Gothic chapels were added to the side aisles. In the first half of the 17th century, Baroque dome chapels were built in a different style.
Along with the construction of the church, north of it, from the moment of its Dominicans arrival  to the seventeenth century, the monastery buildings were shaped.
   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. The choir was crowned with a ceramic frieze with a lily motif, carried out at a height of 18.5 meters, while both the chancel and the nave were reinforced with numerous buttresses. The chancel was higher than the nave and had its own western gable (a fragment of it was preserved in the valults of the central nave).
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 from the fourteenth / fifteenth century, during which the walls of the nave and chancel were raised, slender, three-aisle Gothic basilica was erected in the pillar-buttresses system characteristic for Kraków, with an elongated chancel ended with a straight wall. The western façade was topped with a slender stepped gable with pinnacles, and below there was a large ogival window pierced. The eastern wall of the chancel was also crowned with a high stepped gable with pinnacles and pierced with a large pointed window. Additional windows illuminated the chancel from the south, two per bay. The chancel and the nave were covered with a common gable roof, the side aisles had originally also gable roofs. The main entrance to the church led through the western ogival portal from around 1400, with rich sculptural decorations. Inside, the chancel was covered with a net vault, a central nave with a stellar vault and aisles with rib vaults. The nave was open to the side aisles with ogival arcades.

   The monastery 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 monastery 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. 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.
   In the northern part of the eastern wing there is a strongly elongated late-Gothic, two-aisle hallway, topped with rib vaults based on three pillars. In its south-western corner there are stairs leading to a large corridor, descent to the basement under the refectory and a portal leading to the refectory. From the east to the Gothic hallway adjoins three rooms with a metric dating back to the 13th and 14th century. Originally there was a multi-storey, basement-free, brick building, covered with pilaster strips, erected on a rectangular plan with external dimensions of 21×10.8 meters. Its ground floor was divided into two rooms: the larger northern one and the smaller southern one (still existing as the treasury). Soon the larger room was divided into two more rooms. All were had vaults from the beginning, and the main entrance was in the central part of the west façade. The building was lit by a Romanesque two-light windows with rectangular jambs and a semicircle finials. The first floor was accessible by stairs hidden in the thickness of the west wall. There is no certainty what function the building had, perhaps it was a provincial theological study.

Current state

   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 monastery buildings in which numerous Romanesque and Gothic elements can be admired were more lucky. The oldest preserved part of the enclosure is the Romanesque refectory, the Gothic chapter house or the late Gothic vestibule are also valuable rooms.

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