Bernardine friary and church of St. Barbara were built in the years 1461–1465 by the foundation of Rafał Tarnowski from Jarosław and Przeworsk, the owner of Przeworsk and later Grand Marshal of the Crown and the Sandomierz castellan. First, work on the church began, while the adjacent monastery building had to be completed before 1489, because then the first chapter was held in the monastery by Władysław of Gileniów. The decision to establish the foundation was influenced by religious reasons, the desire to strengthen the town’s prestige and the manifestation of the wealth of the Tarnowski family. The monastery was also to play a significant role in the so-called Ruthenian mission, led on the initiative of King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk and St. John Capistran, which was aimed at strengthening the faith of the Catholic population and converting the Orthodox population in Red Ruthenia.
The great invasion of the Turks and Tatars in 1498, although it did not reach Przeworsk itself, was an impulse to include the monastery in 1506 in the town’s fortification system, to ensure the safety of the monks and the local population. The funds for the work were provided by the town and the nearby nobility. Due to the necessity to maintain fortifications by the Bernardines, in 1522 Pope Clement VII instituted an indulgence, and allowed the collection of donations for the purchase of cannons and gunpowder. King Stefan Batory visited the already fortified monastery in 1577.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the monastery church gained a mannerist gable above the presbytery and an octagonal tower erected in 1644, topped with a roof with an attic, serving as a watchtower during the threat of invasions from the east. The Northern War and the frequent marches of various troops through Przeworsk took their toll on the convent, but there were no major fights or requisitions here. The general commission in 1725 described the order in the monastery, both in terms of monastic discipline and the condition of the building. Unfortunately, the successful period in the history of the Przeworsk monastery ended with the fall of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the 18th century.
In 1822, the Galician bishops decided to put in a part of the monastery buildings a correction house for diocesan priests. The monastery authorities tried to oppose such a solution by asking the emperor Francis I to withdraw his decision, but to no avail. Later, the Austrian authorities were even inclined to completely take over the convent, but the monastery eventually remained in the hands of the order, and the correction house was liquidated in 1869. At that time, the archival and library collections were largely dispersed. Many manuscripts and antique books through antiquarians went to private collections. In the late nineteenth century, the situation improved, the first renovations and restorations of the temple began.
The Bernardine monastery was built on a small hill in the eastern part of the town. It consisted of a monastery church and three-winged enclosure buildings situated on its southern side, surrounding an irregularly planned, trapezoidal patio, built of bricks arranged in the Flemish bond with the use of zendrówka bricks and stones to create architectural details.
The monastery church was built as a late Gothic, initially probably an aisleless church, with a nave on a rectangular plan and a presbytery with a three-side ended closure on the eastern side. In the corner of the chancel and the nave there was a slender, four-sided tower, in the upper parts on an octagonal plan. The west facade of the church was decorated with a Gothic stepped gable filled with narrow, vertical blendes, while the whole building was surrounded by buttresses strengthening the structure, between which pointed windows were placed. Inside, only the chancel was originally vaulted, with a cross-rib vault over two rectangular bays, and a six-section vault over the eastern polygon.
To the south of the church, three wings of the monastery buildings were erected, which, together with the cloister, surrounded a small patio. In the first half of the 16th century, the most important was the eastern wing adjacent to the presbytery of the church, which, among others, housed the sacristy and chapter house. The southern wing with the refectory had a annex in the south-west, while the least developed was the four-bay western part of the monastery.
The church and the enclosure buildings, despite the early modern Baroqueization, have preserved elements with clear Gothic features: buttresses surrounding the church, pointed blendes, the western gable of the church (regothisated in 1902), vaults in the sacristy, treasury and cloister of the eastern wing and stone portals (in the chancel, from the cloister to the sacristy, from the sacristy to the treasury). In addition, an important relic of the Gothic interior are the remains of polychrome from the beginning of the 16th century, discovered in 1961 in the monastery’s cloister. The fragments of the paintings preserved on the chancel arch of the church already have Renaissance features. Also other elements of the church’s decor and equipment underwent significant transformations in the early modern period, and the original stylistic features were largely lost to the enclosure buildings.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. M.Arszyński, T.Mroczko, Warszawa 1995.
Kozak S., Polaczek J., Kościół i klasztor oo. bernardynów w Przeworsku, Przemyśl 1999.