Wrocław – Bernardine Friary


   The founding of the friary took place in 1453, on the initiative of John Capistran, the papal legate, preacher and founder of the Bernardine Order who came from Italy. Thanks to fiery preaching, he quickly gained the support of the townspeople against Hussitism, and at the same time contributed to the persecution of Jews. An expression of support for the Bernardines was handing over by the parish priest of St. Maurice a plot of land for the planned friary, on which the first, probably provisional, oratory was erected and consecrated in the same year. The erection of a brick church dedicated to St. Bernard of Siena was started in 1463, initially under the supervision of master Hannos. After the break in construction works, the pace of works slowed down, it also had to be carried out unprofessionally, because in 1491 part of the chancel collapsed. Removal of damages and further construction lasted until consecration in 1502. At the same time, monastic buildings were also erected, thanks to the help of municipal gifts and numerous donors. The works were carried out by a well-known construction workshop from Lusatia, Hans Berthold, a master bricklayer and stonemason. Peter Franczke, a stonemason, and Hans’s son, Erazm, collaborated with him.
   With the advent of the Reformation, the Bernardines lost their privileged position, and new ideas turned the townspeople against them. Already in 1522, the city council ordered the Bernardines to move to the friary buildings at the church of St. James, but the brothers, offended by this decision, ostentatiously left the city. The friary was turned into a hospital, and the church, initially closed and unused, from 1526 became an Evangelical parish. Beginning in 1674, there was also a library operating there.
   The monastery complex was ravaged by fires many times. Lightning strikes destroyed the church tower in 1557, 1589 and 1609. The most serious fire in 1628 destroyed the walls of the western facade of the church, roofs, vaults and organ choir, as well as, quite seriously, the friary buildings. After the temporary renovation of the roofs and covering them with shingles, the slow reconstruction began, which lasted until the end of the 17th century. In 1634, the chancel vault was restored, and a year later the master bricklayer Georg Sauer strengthened the chancel from the south-east. The windows were also re-glazed. The completion of the work was commemorated with the date 1704, engraved on the new Baroque western gable of the church, but already in 1654 the building was damaged by artillery fire from the Prussian army.

In 1853, a rather unsuccessful reconstruction of the church was conducted. In 1871 the Gothic, eastern range of the friary was dismantled, replacing by the pseudo-Gothic, and in 1872 the friary was dismantled. Another reconstruction of both the church and the friary was conducted between 1898-1901. In this condition, the site survived until the end of World War II. In 1945 the losses were estimated at 60%. The reconstruction was carried out in 1947-1949 and 1957-1967 according to projects and supervised by Edmund Malachowicz.


   The oldest building in the friary was the oratory built in 1453, set on the north-south axis on the south-west side of the later church. It was a single-space, two-story building on a hexagon plan, with a polygonal, non buttressed ending from the south. The upper floor had pointed windows and was topped with a steep, hip roof. An analogous, also polygonal oratory was built (perhaps after replacing the earlier one with a chapel dedicated to Jan Kapistran) in the west wing of the friary. Probably the first oratory closed from the west the oldest, longitudinal half-timbered monastery building located on the east-west axis, partly in the place of the later southern church aisle and adjacent to the southern wall of the half-timbered chancel and the nave of the first church.
   The friary church received a late Gothic form of the basilica with a central nave, two aisles and an elongated, polygonal chancel. It was built of bricks, however, a stone strip every few layers was introduced, a characteristic feature of Hans Berthold’s workshop. The tower, low due to the vicinity of city fortifications, was placed in the corner between the nave and the chancel, on the southern side. The chancel and the southern side of the nave were enclosed with buttresses, the external facades were covered with plinth and drip cornices. The front elevation of the Gothic church, supported on a stone, squared pedestal, consisted of a high, topped with a triangular gable facade of the central nave and symmetrically added on both sides, lower facades of aisles finished with mono-pitched gables. Front elevation was divided by three stone, steep Gothic cornices, with the highest, richest eaves cornice surrounding the nave around. Its concave quarter shaft was additionally decorated with a sculptural frieze of stylized floral decoration. The central nave was illuminated from the west with a large tracery window, also side aisles had large single, pointed windows. The main, late-Gothic richly decorated entrance portal with a ogee arch was placed on the axis of the west facade of the central nave (probably it replaced a slightly earlier, double, pointed portal).
   The west facade of the church was initially added to the northwest corner of the former oratory of Jan Kapistran. In the next stage of building the Gothic church, the southern aisle of the nave absorbed the northern part of the oratory. This required its partial demolition, but the left walls were used to build the west wall of the southern aisle and the new chapel of the Virgin Mary, shifted to the south and roughly retaining the body and dimensions of the previous building. The demolition of the northern wall of the oratory and opening of the chapel inside the southern aisle created structural problems and required additional support of the western wall with a massive buttress.

Inside the church, the irregularly spaced pillars of the cross plan, separate the naves. The cetral nave and the chancel have stellar vaults, and the aisles have rib vaults. The six bays of the central nave were rectangular in shape, while in the southern aisle they were similar to squares and in the northern aisle they were also rectangular (except for the extreme west one) but with the longer sides parallel to the axis of the church. Many of aisles bays had an irregular form as a result of adapting the walls to older buildings or inadequate planning. Between the aisles there were ogival, moulded arcades, in the aisles lesenes supporting arch bands in the axis of the division into bays. The central nave was connected to the chancel with an arcade moulded with concaves. The chancel was divided into a square western bay, two central rectangular bays and a polygonal eastern closure. Originally, it was separated from the nave by a partition – the rood screen. The ribs of its vault were springing from the semi-cylindrical and semi-octagonal shafts with capitals with floral decorations, placed on a prominent offset. In addition, at the arcade, one of the shafts was mounted on a head-shaped corbel. The bosses received the shapes of coats of arms, rosettes, house marks, the head of St. John or the Eye of Providence.
The claustrum buildings were located on the south side of the church, where, together with the cloisters surrounded the inner garth. In 1492, there were already three two-storey wings. In the north there was a sacristy, preceded from the west by a vestibule covered with a rib vault based on one pillar. On the first floor, above the sacristy, there was a library. The wide southern wing housed a hall with stairs to the first floor, a large room and a refectory, i.e. the convent dining room. The latter was connected with a free-standing kitchen in the south. On the first floor in the southern wing there was a dormitory, i.e. a bedroom for monks. The eastern wing, erected at the latest, around 1500, housed a chapter house and a chapel protruding polygonally to the east. In 1517, the southern wing was extended to the west. Its interior covered with a net vault, presumably was intended for guests of the friary. This wing, the body of the church and the quadrangle of the monastery were surrounded by a second garden.

Current state

   To modern times, the Bernardine friary has survived almost entirely. The exception is the original gable of the church façade replaced with a Baroque one, the pulled down friary kitchen, top of the tower and the eastern wing of the claustrum destroyed in the 19th century, replaced today by a nasty modernist building that brings shame to the city. After the Second World War, the vaults of the chancel and aisles had to be partially reconstructed. The southern wing along with the western extension was significantly damaged. The church and the friary are now open to the public. Inside is located the Museum of Architecture. Open on Tuesdays 11: 00-17: 00, Wednesdays 10: 00-16: 00, Thursdays 12: 00-19: 00, Friday – Sunday 11: 00-17: 00.

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Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko, M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
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