Kraków – Dominican Friary


   The Dominicans came to Kraków from Bologna in 1222, brought by the bishop of Kraków, Iwo Odrowąż. Already in 1241, the Mongol invasion destroyed their first church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which was the original parish temple of Kraków, given to monks after their arrival in the city. After its destruction, a new, Gothic church was erected. It began with the construction of the chancel, connecting it from the north with the monastery building. The presbytery 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.
   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 presbytery 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 presbyteries, 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 presbytery of the church of Holy Trinity was covered with a rib vault, flowing down to the overhanging ancillary columns, alternately half-octagonal and semicircular. 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 partly reconstructed western façade is topped by a slender stepped gable with pinnacles, and below there is a large ogival window. The neo-Gothic porch hides a Gothic, ogival main portal from around 1400, with a rich sculptural decoration. The eastern wall of the chancel is also crowned with a high, stepped gable with pinnacles. The chancel and the nave are covered with a joint gable roof, while the aisles by mono-pitched roofs (originally gable roofs). Inside, the presbytery is covered with a net vault, a central nave with a stellar vault and aisles with rib vaults. The nave is open to the side aisles with ogival arcades.

   On the north side there are monastery buildings adjacent to the church, gathered around three cloisters: the largest southern, the smallest located centrally and the third, the youngest, situated in the northern part. All three courtyards were joined by a long east wing, 90 meters long, running diagonally from north-east to south-west. The east wing in the second half of the 13th century was a building with dimensions of 11 x 44 meters with corners reinforced with buttresses and eastward chapter house. It had two floors. On the ground floor from the south there was a sacristy, a room with a width of 6 meters, the mentioned chapter house, a room with a width of 4.5 meters, a corridor leading from the cloister to the monastery gardens, and two similar rooms with a width of 5 meters.
   Situated far in front of the monastery, chapter house originally was slightly shorter (7.5 x 4.5 meters) and closed rectangular at the height of diagonal buttresses (it was extended in the fourteenth century). It is facing the cloisters, in which there is an entrance portal, flanked by two pairs of twin, narrow windows. The eastern part of the chapter house is three side ended, and the whole is covered with a rib vault.
   The oldest part of the monastery buildings is a Romanesque refectory made of “wild stone”. It is located in the northern wing of the southern cloister. It has two floors with a two-nave hall on a rectangular plan on the basement floor. It is divided into two parts by four massive quadrilateral pillars, supporting the cross vaults. The original height of the lower hall did not exceed 2.3 meters. It was lit with small semicircular and rectangular windows in the northern, southern and eastern walls. Initially, it was accessible only through a vaulted corridor with stairs on the west side. The hall on the floor, measuring 9 x 15.9 meters (originally 4 meters high and covered with a wooden ceiling), was topped with a rib vault and covered with wall polychromes in the 15th century. From the east, the light was initially provided by a three windows with an oculus in the middle. The long wall of the refectory adheres to the southern gallery, which rib vaults come from the fourteenth century.

   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.
   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).

Current state

   The perimeter walls of the 13th-century church have survived to this day. In its two southern windows of the presbytery, 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.

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