The beginnings of the church and monastery in Miechów date back to the second half of the 12th century, when the knight from Małopolska, Jaksa Gryf, happily returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and decided to fulfill his vows and build a church in his native village. He also brought from Jerusalem the brothers of the order of Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, in Poland later called the Miechowits. They came to Małopolska in 1163, funding a small church and the first monastery buildings, which Polish princes and knights endowed generously in the following years. Initially, the convent consisted mainly of foreigners, mainly Germans and Czechs.
The first church of The Holy Sepulcher was too small, so after 1233, the construction of a new late Romanesque church and tower was started, carried out until the end of the 13th century. In the following years, it and the monastery suffered many damages due to supporting the Czech Přemyslid dynasty in the fight for the Polish throne. In 1300 the monastery was plundered by the Cumans and Hungarians, and in 1311 Władysław Łokietek expelled the monks, garrisoned the buildings with an armed crew and additionally fortified it. Canons returned only in 1314 after the change of authorities in the monastery and the easing of the prince’s attitude.
In 1344 a fire consumed some of the monastery buildings, two years later the troops of John the Blind ravaged the town, twice in 1347 severe storms destroyed the Miechoviens domum, and in 1379 a fire spread to the church and monastery buildings. These misfortunes forced the reconstruction and thorough Gothic rebuilding, which Stanisław Stojko undertook in the 80s of the 14th century. The works were continued from 1397 by Michał of Radomsko, erecting, among others, new cellars, infirmary and library. On his initiative, a new monastic building was erected in 1401 (the House of the Generals of the Order), which was the residence of the Miechów provosts. Then, in 1434, the parish priest Jan rebuilt the refectory. In 1506, the monastery burned down during a great fire of the town. After collecting funds from donors, the reconstruction was initiated by Tomasz Bylica from Olkusz, for whom the chapel of the Tomb of Christ was also built. The renovation of the generals’ house, which also suffered during the fire, was carried out in 1545 under Jan of Lwówek, the then provost of the order.
The early modern transformations began at the beginning of the 17th century, when an additional storey was added over the three wings of the monastery: north, east and west. In 1618, Maciej Łubieński began a thorough renovation of the generals’ house, combined with the reinforcement of the walls and the piercing of new window and door openings. Unfortunately, the fires of 1732 and 1745 caused such damages that for some time the monks were forced to live outside the monastery and started the necessary construction works themselves, carried out in the Baroque style.
In 1819, the tsarist authorities dissolved the order, and clerical institutions were introduced into its buildings. The main monastery building was partially inhabited, serving as a school, apartment or office of the Russian troops stationed in Miechów. In 1844, the poor technical condition of the buildings almost led to the demolition of the eastern wing of the monastery, but it was finally decided to renovate it.
The church from the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries was a three-aisle, three-bay Gothic basilica. Its length, measured in the nave, was about 50 meters, and its width was 25 meters. The central nave was finished from the west with a straight stone wall, made of blocks with a characteristic Romanesque structure. Above the niche, housing a medieval fresco, there was a round Romanesque window, so this wall probably came from the former Romanesque church. At the southern wall of the church, in its western corner, there was a four-sided and finally a six-story tower built. In the lower part, it was made of stone blocks, in the upper part – of bricks with zendrówka patterns. The last floor was walled with material from the Romanesque church. Formerly, the tower was covered with a Gothic hip roof.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the monastery was a square of buildings, originally with two storeys high, surrounding a rectangular patio. The buildings atypically adjoined the western wall of the church and were connected to it. In the Middle Ages, the southern range had a basement, with two rectangular rooms, interconnected by a portal and covered with barrel vaults. In one of them there was an oven, probably intended for baking bread. Therefore, they could be utility rooms, which would be confirmed by their basement character and simplicity of reazlization. In the fifteenth century, cellars were also built under the northern wing, originally covered with a vault. The arrangement of the upper storeys of the monastery wings is unknown, perhaps the buildings were still loose, even partially wooden, at that time. They had to contain all the rooms known from the sources: the refectory, the dormitory or the infirmary. At the beginning of the 16th century, all wings were connected with cloisters, added to the already existing buildings. They were covered with cross-rib vaults with bosses in the shape of shields.
To the south of the claustrum, a rectangular building was erected of sandstone blocks and bricks, the so-called House of the Generals of the Order. Next to it, there was a polygonal tower, with two floors clearly marked with a cornice, covered with a hip roof. Since the end of the fourteenth century, the entire monastery was to be surrounded by a stone wall.
The appearance of the church and monastery today is largely the result of the 18th-century late Baroque rebuilding. The claustrum buildings have been raised by one storey, and their external elevations have been unified. What stands out from the original building is a small tower at the House of the Generals of the Order, the Gothic-Renaissance cloisters with cross-rib vaults have survived, and the cellar rooms of the monastery, now discovered during archaeological works. The monastery church has been completely rebuilt, with a Romanesque-Gothic tower distinguished from its early modern body. Currently, in the monastery buildings, there are offices of justice and the Museum of the Miechów Region. The church performs sacral functions.
Kamińska M., Niewalda W., Kościół i klasztor bożogrobców w Miechowie – wstępne wyniki badań architektonicznych [w:] Fundamenty średniowiecznej Europy, red. R.Biskup, A.Radzimiński, Ż.Sztylc, D.Zagórski, Pelplin 2013.
Krasnowolski B., Leksykon zabytków architektury Małopolski, Warszawa 2013.
Website polskiemuzy.pl, Kolegiata Grobu Bożego w Miechowie.