The church of St. James and the Dominican Friary was erected from the foundation of the bishop of Cracow Iwo Odrowąż in the years 1226-1250. This was then the second Dominican monastery in Cracow and one of the oldest in Europe. It stood on the spot of an older church from 1211, founded perhaps by the duchess Adelaide, the daughter of prince Casimir II of Cracow. In the first phase of construction, in the years 1226-1236, soon after the Dominicans were brought to Sandomierz, the chancel and sacristy were built, and in the second, the nave and eastern wing of the monastery, which began around 1236 and with a break caused by the Mongol invasion in 1241, were continued until the middle of the 13th century.
At the turn of 1259 and 1260, the Mongols slaughtered all the monks with the prior Sadok, but soon came to Sandomierz the Dominicans from other convents. At the end of the 13th century, an early Gothic belfry was added to the western wall of the church, and the southern wing of the claustrum was also built during this period. At the latest, probably in the second half or at the end of the fourteenth century, the west wing was built. In 1399, the church underwent the first major renovation after the destruction suffered during the Lithuanian invasion and fire. Financial support was provided by Queen Jadwiga Anjou, who often visited the friary.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Baroque elements were added, mainly in the side chapels of the monastery church. In the 18th century, the complex began to gradually fall into ruin, and in 1864 the monastery was dissolved. After 1884, the magistrate of Sandomierz demolished most of the deserted buildings, leaving the eastern wing and part of the western one. The cloisters were also demolished, with the exception of a short section at the east wing. After a fire in 1905, which consumed the main altar and part of the chancel, the church underwent a thorough renovation, during which the Romanesque character of the building was restored. The church was damaged during World War II, another restoration took place only at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s.
Church of St. James and the monastery were situated on the gently sloping eastern side of the hill, called Świętojakubskie, on the left bank of the Vistula. The hill was occupied by a large, open trade settlement in the 12th-13th centuries, and the monastery complex itself was built on a rectangular plan, the northern side of which was a church, and the other three were buildings of the claustrum.
The late-Romanesque church had the form of a basilica (central nave and two aisles) of interior size 17.4 x 22 meters, with a straight-ended, elongated chancel on the eastern side with interior dimensions of 7.9 x 18 meters, and a four-sided, two-story belfry added to the north-west corner. The walls of the belfry were supported by buttresses, while the north-west buttress was interestingly solved, with an arcaded passage that once allowed communication with the west wing of the monastery.
In the northern façade of the church there was the main entrance, a magnificent, richly decorated with a number of ornamental motifs, moulded, bipartite portal from the 13th century. Its projection was originally crowned with a triangular pediment, mistakenly removed during renovation. The northern façade of the nave, facing the town, was also decorated at the top with a wide frieze with the motif of interpenetrating braids, and the windows on this side were decorated with archivolts with zoomorphic motifs. The frieze also run around the lower parts of the nave and the chancel, in addition, the northern and eastern walls of the chancel were decorated with a frieze of intertwining arcades, accompanied by a row of oblique bricks.
Inside the church, the five-bay nave was divided by a series of ogival, not moulded arcades based on square pillars. The central nave was covered with a wooden flat ceiling, while the side aisles received an open roof truss. The chancel was also originally covered with an open roof truss, possibly replaced with a timber ceiling in the 15th century.
On the south side, a rectangular monastery complex was added to the church. The eastern wing had a basement, taking advantage of the natural slope of the terrain. In the southern part, there was a basement with a total of four bays, with a cross vault on arch bands supported by a central pillar. A second, small cellar was connected to it. In the ground floor, at the chancel of the church, there was a sacristy, then a chapter house with openings on both sides of the entrance in the west wall (from the side of the patio), and then a number of utility rooms. Among them was an oblong room with a staircase leading to the dormitory on the first floor. During the Middle Ages, the patio did not have brick cloisters, but the southern portal in the presbytery seems to testify to the existence of wooden cloisters. The southern wing initially did not touch the eastern wing, perhaps even the refectory there was a separate building, set at right angles to the cloister.
Church of St. James and the Dominican friary are one of the oldest brick churches in Poland and one of the most valuable national monuments. Attention is drawn primarily to the decoration of the northern and eastern elevations, and Romanesque north portal, which is a unique architectural detail in Poland. Unfortunately, its triangular front was mistakenly removed during the renovation. The belfry has one of the oldest bells in Poland: the smaller one from 1314 and the larger one from 1389. In the chancel there is a piscina and a timber sarcophagus of Adelaide, according to the tradition the founder of the pre-Dominican church. The vault in the chancel dates back to the 17th century, when some of the windows were also widened, and some were pierced. In addition, during the renovation, the impost’s cornices of the pillars and most of the plinths were replaced. The church still has sacral functions, and the Dominicans returned to the monastery after a long break in 2001. The eastern wing rebuilt in the early modern period (without the southern bay) has survived. Also a fragment of the former west wing has survived, transformed in the 17th century into the chapel of St. Jack.
Kunkel R., Późnoromańskie klasztory zakonu braci mniejszych i braci kaznodziejów w Małopolsce [w:] Architektura romańska w Polsce. Nowe odkrycia i interpretacje, red. T.Janiak, Gniezno 2009.
Świechowski Z., Architektura romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 2000.
Świechowski Z., Sztuka romańska w Polsce, Warszawa 1990.