The friary with the church of St. James was founded in relation with bringing the Dominican order to the town. It is not known when exactly this happened, but it could have been the result of the charity of Prince Mieszko the Fat, who in his will in 1246 gave 200 fines of silver for the construction of the monastery to the Racibórz’s Dominicans. Mieszko’s wish was also to bury him in the monastery church, although this request was probably postponed until the 1250s. The existence of the Dominican monastery in Racibórz was unequivocally confirmed by the document of prince Władysław of Opole from 1258, in which the monks received land for monastery buildings and numerous salaries. The Racibórz convent belonged to the Polish Dominican Province, and the first prior of the congregation was a father Wincenty.
The oldest written mention of the church appeared in 1285, although, according to a later, unreliable tradition, it was to be consecrated in 1258 by Bishop Thomas II. This first church had to be destroyed in a large fire of the town from 1300, because no early Gothic elements have survived from the second half of the 13th century. Probably, a Moravian workshop took part in its construction at the beginning of the fourteenth century, working at that time also on the construction of the parish church in Racibórz.
Little is known about the medieval history of the Racibórz Dominican Monastery. In 1371, a chapel of St. Urszula was to be arranged in the large chapter hall and in 1466 the interior of the cloister was to be covered with paintings of Italian Dominican. In 1574, the friary were destroyed in a town fire, and the church was later rebuilt only provisionally. The thorough reconstruction of the church was started only after another fire in 1637. The works were carried out until 1655, and during them the nave was lowered and divided into three aisles in the eastern part. As a result, the Gothic interior layout and the medieval character of the temple were blurred. The church was made almost completely baroque in the third quarter of the 18th century. It was neglected then, the walls were cracked, damaged by numerous floods, and the shingle roof had holes. The renovation started in 1774 led, among others, to the establishment of baroque vaults and a change in the pattern of the western facade window openings.
In 1810, after the cassation of the Dominican monastery, the monastery buildings were allocated to warehouses, and the church was closed. In 1823, the enclosure buildings were demolished, placing a military training ground in their place. The church was also to be demolished, but as a result of the clergy’s efforts an agreement was made under which it remained a filial Catholic temple. There was also a rebuilding, as a result of which the western facade was given a neo-Gothic character, and the other facades were refaced. In 1945, during the war, the church was seriously damaged.
According to the convent’s rule, the friary was erected within the town walls, near the market square. The church was located in the southern part of the monastery, so that it was in the north-eastern corner of the main town square. Its originally high shape, topped with a high gable roof, was probably one of the dominant features of the medieval buildings of the Racibórz.
The church of St. James was a brick structure orientated towards the parts of the world. It consisted of a rectangular, single nave and a narrower, elongated, four-bay chancel with a three-sided eastern end. In the southern corner of the nave and chancel a squat, four-sided tower crowned with a hip roof was incorporated in the fifteenth century, while a flat porch was added to the nave on the south side. The church’s façades were varied with symmetrically arranged, ogival closed windows, placed between stepped buttresses.
The original church, modeled on the plan of the Dominican church in Wrocław, was subject to strict order’s regulations, as evidenced by the construction of an aisleless nave, covered with a timber, flat ceiling, elongated projection of the choir and the lack of a tower (added at a later stage). The interior of the presbytery was originally crowned with a six-field vault in three bays.
Reconstruction from the 17th and 18th centuries blurred the original layout of the church interior, while the church’s silhouette was changed by lowering the nave in the western part and facing the facades with modern machine bricks. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the greatest modifications touched the western facade, decorated with pseudo-Gothic, banal and unsophisticated decorations. Currently, the chancel from the north is adjacent to a row of outbuildings, which are the remains of a former cloister of the monastery. They were adapted for the sacristy, storerooms and staircase. The destruction of the remaining parts of the monastery in the nineteenth century is undoubtedly a great loss, all the more so as no iconographic sources have been preserved that allow the reconstruction of its appearance.
Kutzner M., Racibórz, Warszawa 1965.
Pilch J., Leksykon zabytków architektury Górnego Śląska, Warszawa 2008.