The monastery was founded in 1176 by prince Casimir II the Just, bringing the monks from the abbey of Morimond in Burgundy. In 1232 the archbishop of Gniezno Pełka consecrated the monastery church of St. Mary and St. Thomas of Canterbury. In the thirteenth century, the development of the monastery was hampered by frequent Mongol invasions, therefore the monastery was surrounded by wooden and earthen fortifications, and since the fourteenth century began work on the construction of brick fortifications.
The monastery supported Władysław I the Elbow-high’s fight with the Czechs, so the prince surrounded the Cistercians with special care, giving them numerous privileges. In 1318, the convent of nobility and knights held at monastery, in which the “suplex of Sulejów” was proclaimed, asking the pope for the crown to the Władysław. During the reign of king Casimir the Great in the abbey were congresses, four times also visited here in the 15th century Władysław Jagiełło. Legend tells that knights heading for Grunwald battle sharpened swords on the columns of the church portal.
After 1499 the abbey was expanded, enlarging the area enclosed by walls, new towers and monastery wings were added. At the end of the 16th century a abbots palace was built. During the Swedish Deluge in 1656, the Brandenburg army burned a monastery settlement, further destruction caused a fire from 1731. The following years brought the monastery even greater problems, from damages during the Confederation of Bar to the great fire in 1790. The building declined even further because of the dissolution of Cistercian order in 1819. Since then, the process of prolonged destruction of the object has begun, as a result of which the abbots palace and part of the monastery were demolished. Restoration work, renovations and adaptations began in the 20th century, and the Cistercians returned to Sulejow in 1986.
The oldest abbey building is the church of St. Mary and St. Thomas of Canterbury. It is a romanesque three-nave basilica with transept and rectangular chancel, made of precisely worked large size sandstone blocks and bricks. In the corners between the arms of the transept and the rectangular chancel are chapels. In the central part of the western facade is a romanesque portal with three columns on each side. There are two entrances to the aisles: the north and the south of the cloister. The main portal is a window with an octagonal rosette of considerable size, similar rosettes were placed in the east elevation of the presbytery and in the northern transept.
The interior of the church is characterized by clear divisions and consistent composition. The inter-nave arcades with squat pillars and semi-circular arches carry high walls, the upper part of which is separated by a cornice and contains windows. Above the cornice, massive arch bands rest on the semi-column capitals, and the prominent ribs are mounted on corbels added on the sides of the pilaster strips. The inter-nave pillars are equipped with semi-columns, on which inner arches of arcades, separated with faults, are based. This is one of the classic motifs of western romanesque architecture. The nave of the church is covered with the rib vaults.
Monastery buildings were best preserved in the late romanesque chapter room, supported by a central column with carved capitals. Next in the east wing was originally the parlatorium, then the auditorium, similar shape and structure to the chapter room. From the southern wing, built in the 16th century, only one wall and basement has survived. It contained a refectory, an abbot’s residence and the cells of the monks. In ruins there is also a western wing from which only the basements are preserved. All the buildings along with the cloisters surrounded the courtyard.
The church and the monastery were surrounded by a ring of late gothic fortifications in the form of a curtain wall and six towers. The oldest of the towers is the semi-circular Mauretan Tower, located in the south-western corner, dating from the end of the 15th century. It is a gothic building erected from brick. Between it and the west tower there was a fulling mill. Fortresses had once two entrances: one through the Krakowska Gate from the north, the other from the west. Least fortified side was the southern side, naturally protected by the Pilica river.
Dzieje budownictwa w Polsce według Oskara Sosnowskiego, t. 1, Świechowski Z., Zachwatowicz J., Warszawa 1964.
Jarzewicz J., Kościoły romańskie w Polsce, Kraków 2014.
Website wikipedia.org, Opactwo Cystersów w Sulejowie.