Trzebnica – Cistercian Monastery


   The monastery in Trzebnica was founded by prince Henry the Bearded in 1202, under the influence of his wife Hedwig, as the seat of the first female order of Poland. It was designed for bringed a year later from Bamberg Cistercians. Between 1208 and 1219 one of the first brick churches in romanesque style was built in Poland. Especially important for the history of architecture is built in 1268-1269 the Chapel of St. Hedwig, which is the first gothic building in Poland. In the chapel rested the remains of St. Hedwig, also the Czech king, Ottokar II of Bohemia, married in it. The significance of the monastery rapidly increased when, in 1212, Gertrude, the daughter of the rulers of Silesia, Henry I the Bearded and Hedwig, who in 1232 became a abbes, joined him. About great importance of the monastery facts that from 1214, the Czech princesses lived here and grew up for several years: Agnes and her sister Anna, later wife of Henry the Pious. From the very beginning the basilica became the mausoleum of the Silesian Piasts, and in total buried there 22 representatives of this family.
Hussites invasions combined with the devastation of abbey and monasteries lands in 1432 and 1433, and then the destruction in 1475 by the Hungarian army of Corvinus, initiated a long period of decline and stagnation of the monastery, perpetuated by Silesian entanglement with religious disputes connected with the expansion of Protestantism. In 1464, as a result of a lightning strike in the church, the roof of the chapel was destroyed, however, the monastery survived. Another fire touched the monastery and church in 1486, then in 1505 and 1595. As a result, the monastery was partially burnt.
It was not until the increasing prosperity of Silesia and its recatholisation, after the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 and the victorious war with Turkey, created an economically and politically advantageous base for increasing the worship of St. Hedwig, with which both Poles and Catholic Habsburgs were identified. The first works on the renovation of the temple began in 1676. The baroquesation of the temple and monastery took place in the second half of the 17th century and in the 18th century. In 1810 the monastery was secularized. The valuable collection and numerous interior furnishings were transferred to Wrocław, and in the monastery a military hospital was created. In 1870 the owners of the monastery became Knights Hospitaller, and in 1889 the Sisters of Mercy of St. Borromeo. Both orders have managed hospitals in their parts. In the 1930s renovation works were started, also continued after the war. After the transfer of the hospital, all the monastery buildings were taken over by the Sisters of Mercy of St. Borromeo.


   The monastery and parish church of St. Bartholomew the Apostle and Saint Hedwig was built of bricks in the monk bond, using stones in structural and decorative elements. Originally, it was a three-nave basilica with a transept, an chancel closed with an apse and two chapels on its sides, and a large arcade porch at the west facade. The outer façades of the church were surrounded by a frieze of interpenetrating arcades, over which a decorative strip of oblique bricks ran. The same frieze was framed the gables which edges were made of stone blocks. On the south side were the monastery buildings of the Cistercians.
   Inside the church, a rib vaults were used. The interior of the chancel received dimensions 7.9 x 9 meters, transept 29.1 x 8.9 meters, the central nave width 9 meters, and the aisles 4.5 meters wide. The whole church (without the porch) was 62 meters long. Unique in Cistercian architecture was the three-nave crypt under the presbytery and the matroneum of nuns, built not as usual in the western part, but in two eastern bays of the central nave and extending up to middle of the transept. Exceptional is the use of figural sculpture in the church. Two preserved of three original western portals and a multitude of remains preserved in the lapidarium, testifies to the fact that in the Middle Ages the church had a large complex of late romanesque sculptures.

   In the eastern part of the church, on the southern side of the chancel, there is a three-bay, pentagonal ended chapel of St. Hedwing. This is the first building on the Polish lands built entirely in gothic style. It transplanted many French solutions to the Silesian area, among others, it is a local variation of the “glass cage”, that is a building with walls dematerialized by large windows. It was built on the plan of an elongated rectangle with four bays, which walls were pierced with high lancet windows. Because a rib vault was installed inside, and on the end of each of the bays there is an arch band, all the ancillary columns on long walls were tied in three, while in the corners they flow one by one.

Current state

   The monastery church has preserved its original spatial arrangement. The main changes consisted in the demolition of the right chapel at the chancel (replaced by the magnificent gothic chapel of St. Hedwig) and the demolition of the western porch, replaced by an early modern tower. The angle of the roofs over the northern aisle was increased, the original apse vault at the presbytery was demolished and its walls were raised. The quadrangular pillars of the crypt come from the 17th or 18th century and replaced the medieval columns or pillars with columns. Unfortunately, due to the baroque rebuilding, most of the church’s window openings were transformed. Only the windows of the apse and chapel of St. John, some oval windows of the central nave and rosette and slide in the west wall have survived. Inside, the original system of vault supports has been preserved, but is partly covered with baroque stucco. Fragmentally collapsed vaults have been rebuilt in their former form, although in the northern aisle they lack bosses. Medieval monastery buildings have completely lost their original stylistic features.

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Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Dzieje budownictwa w Polsce według Oskara Sosnowskiego, t. 1, Świechowski Z., Zachwatowicz J., Warszawa 1964.

Jarzewicz J., Kościoły romańskie w Polsce, Kraków 2014.
Kozaczewska H., Średniowieczne kościoły halowe na Śląsku, “Kwartalnik Architektury i Urbanistyki”, 1-4, Warszawa 2013.
Świechowski Z., Architektura na Śląsku do połowy XIII wieku, Warszawa 1955.
Walczak M., Kościoły gotyckie w Polsce, Kraków 2015.

Website, Bazylika i sanktuarium św. Jadwigi w Trzebnicy.