Officially, the Franciscans settled in Krosno in 1378 by the decision of the bishop of Przemyśl, Erik, but they had to act in the town much earlier, certainly before establishing a parish, which would be indicated by a dispute between the Krosno parish priest, Klemens, and the Franciscans, on the performance of their parish functions. The beginnings of the parish were connected with the incorporation of Krosno to the Polish kingdom by Casimir the Great in 1340 and the foundation of the town, so the monks had to come to Krosno in the first half of the 14th century.
In 1397, Queen Jadwiga approved the granting of land to the Krosno convent, and canceled the patronage of the town council over the church and the Franciscan friary. It also forbade the mayor and councilors to interfere in the affairs of the friary under the threat of a severe financial penalty, and this was confirmed by King Władysław Jagiełło who stayed in Krosno in 1407. These steps were caused by the fact that the town authorities made claims to the management and care of the church, friary, its furnishings and property. The most sensitive issue was the inspection of liturgical and decorative vessels in the church equipment, which came from the donations and gifts of the inhabitants of Krosno. The patronage of the town council was also the result of the tradition according to which the Franciscans, after arriving in Krosno, were to settle at the town chapel.
After a fire in Krosno in 1399, which destroyed the friary and the wooden church, which were still outside the town, the Franciscans moved from the right bank to the left bank of the Wisłok river, bought a plot of land near the defensive walls and in 1400 they received from King Władysław Jagiełło and the starost of Sanok, Ścibor, permission to settle in the royal town. They immediately began building the chancel of a new, Gothic-style brick church, which, together with the sacristy and wooden friary buildings, was to be completed as early as 1402. During the first half of the fifteenth century, it was expanded with a brick nave, and next the Chapel of the Transfiguration was added. The Franciscans also joined the action of expanding the city’s fortifications, donating 100 fines for the modernization of the town’s defense system, in connection with the plans of the mayor, Piotr, to surround Krosno with the second fortification line. The decoration and furnishing of the friary church continued until the beginning of the 16th century. In 1510 in Rome, the Czech-Polish provincial, Walenty of Krosno, obtained indulgences for the donors, as a result of which the church was equipped with 11 altars, stalls, paintings and sculptures.
The Franciscan friary in Krosno was not only of local importance. It was also a support for the missionary action in Rus. This role appeared especially after the union of Poland with Lithuania in 1386, when huge Ruthenian-Lithuanian territories were opened for missionary work. The second important role of the friary was its defensive function, caused by being included in the town fortifications. In the event of an invasion, the convent undertook to man the nearby tower with its own crew and, for this purpose, always have armaments prepared, which was indeed often recorded by the inventories. The defense system passed the test in 1657 during the siege of Krosno by the army of the Transylvanian prince George II Rákóczi.
In 1591, the voivode of Sandomierz, Jerzy Mniszech founded new, brick friary buildings. In 1615, the early modern chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary was erected in the corner between the chancel and the southern aisle of the church, and in 1647 Stanisław Oświęcim, a courtier of King Władysław IV, added the Oświęcims Chapel. Despite these foundations, the Protestant Reformation brought stagnation, and even a serious regression, in the activities of the Franciscan friary. Public processions disappeared, the brotherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary ceased to exist, the number of calls to the novitiate decisively decreased, as a result of which in 1581 the number of monks in the Krosno friary dropped to two. The situation began to improve at the beginning of the 17th century after the introduction of the first reforms of religious education and the creation of the cult of the image of Our Lady of Murkowa.
In the 18th century, wars, natural disasters, plague and economic crisis resulted in impoverishment, depopulation and the decline of the town and, consequently, the friary. During the Northern War, the Swedes plundered the church, and poverty prevailed in the depopulated convent. In 1717, part of the friary was ruined. Renovations could only be carried out in 1731, thanks to a donation from the landowner Antoni Baranowski. The convent survived in this state until the dissolution of the friary imposed by Emperor Joseph II in 1782. It is true that at the beginning of the 19th century a part of the church was allocated to grain storage, but thanks to the efforts of the townspeople and monks, the convent was allowed to return to the friary.
In 1872, as a result of a fire, almost all the interior of the church burnt. Its consequence was also the collapse of the Gothic vault of the chancel and the destruction of the roof structure. The renovation of the building was carried out in the years 1899-1904, which was combined with the regothisation of the church, by removing most of its elements from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Franciscan friary at the beginning of the 15th century was located in the south-eastern part of the town, in the corner of the defensive wall built by King Casimir the Great, between the lower tower on one side and the higher tower on the other, near the Hungarian Gate. A narrow street led from it to the Franciscan walls. Wąska Street, also known as Do Franciszkanów, led from the market square to the church. The town council operated in the tenement house at the corner of Franciszkańska Street and the market square, while the almshouse was located on Franciszkańska Street.
The friary church was erected as an orientated, three-aisle building of a pseudo-basilica arrangement (the central nave higher than the side aisles, but without its own windows), three-bay with a chancel slightly narrower than the central nave, three-bay, polygonal ended in the east. The chancel and the sacristy situated on its northern side were the earliest church from the beginning of the 15th century, functioning in this condition until the construction of the nave. The space between the sacristy and the northern aisle of the church was filled with the chapel of the Transfiguration, commemorating the original chapel at which the Franciscan missionaries worked.
When nave was added, advanced construction works had to be carried out, because the chancel was built on a lower ground level than the rest of the church (this is evidenced by the plinth running around the chancel and aisles). A shaft was made in the chancel and the floor was raised to the level of the central nave floor, probably also the vault in the chancel was raised. The nave received a vault supported by four stone, octagonal inter-nave pillars and three pairs of half-pillars (from the east, west and north). On the stone bosses of the stellar vault of the central nave, rich rosettes and coats of arms were made by the sculptor’s chisel. The ribs were lowered onto pyramidal bosses. In the aisles, the sacristy and the chapel, a cross-rib vault was made. The vault above the chancel was probably cross-rib and six-part.
The original friary buildings from the beginning of the 15th century, located on the south side of the church, were of wooden construction until the end of the century. In 1402, it was decided to fortify the monastery. It received stone and brick walls, over one and a half meters thick, from which a new town wall ran further in two directions. The Franciscans were also to protect the windows with iron bars both in the room (refectory) and in residential cells. They also received a permit to run a drainage channel under the new, outer line of the defensive wall.
At the end of the 16th century, in the friary building, there were two large rooms (summer and winter refectory) a kitchen, and monks’ living quarters on the first floor. The refectory was covered with a decorated larch ceiling. According to the opinion of those times, the friary looked more like a castle than a traditional convent. It was surrounded on all sides by a wall, while on both sides the complex was surrounded by a double wall, known as the upper and lower one. From the north-east side, behind the double wall, there was a road to the mills, and behind it there was a mill-house, which brought water to them from the Wisłok. Only at a certain distance did the river flow.
The current appearance of the friary church is due to a thorough renovation and regothization at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The eastern and southern walls of the chancel were refaced, the early modern annexes from the west and south were demolished, the original appearance of the west façade was restored, including the reconstructed gable. New window traceries were also made, while the early modern southern chapel at the chancel and the early modern vault in the chancel were left. The friary buildings have completely lost their original stylistic features.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. M.Arszyński, T.Mroczko, Warszawa 1995.
Widawski J., Miejskie mury obronne w państwie polskim do początku XV wieku, Warszawa 1973.
Zwiercan A., O franciszkanach w Krośnie do końca XVIII wieku. W 600-lecie kanonicznej erekcji klasztoru w Krośnie, “Nasza Przeszłość”, tom 51, 1979.