The construction of the monastery began after 1453 on the initiative of Jan Kapistran, founder of the Bernardine order, who came from Italy. Construction of a brick church dedicated to St. Bernard of Siena began in 1463 and its consecration took place in 1502. The works were carried out by a well-known construction workshop of Hans Berthold, a master of masonry and stonemasonry from Lusatia. Mason Peter Franczke and his son Hans, Erasmus, cooperateed with him.
Already in 1522, the city council ordered the Bernardines to leave the monastery. Brothers, offended by this decision, left the city demonstratively. The monastery was turned into a hospital, and from 1526 the church became an evangelical parish church. A library also operated here from 1674.
The monastery complex was repeatedly destroyed by fires. The most serious in 1628 destroyed the walls of the west facade of the church, roofs, vaults and organ choir, as well as, quite seriously, the buildings of the monastery. After temporary roof protection and covering them with shingles, slow reconstruction began, which lasted until the end of the 17th century. In 1634 the presbytery vault was restored, a year later the masonry master Georg Sauer strengthened the closure of the presbytery from the south-east, and the windows were glazed. The end of works was commemorated with the date 1704, engraved on the new Baroque western gable of the church.
In 1853, a rather unsuccessful reconstruction of the church was conducted. In 1871 the Gothic, eastern range of the monastery was dismantled, replacing by the pseudo-Gothic, and in 1872 the monastery was dismantled. Another reconstruction of both the church and the monastery 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 monastery 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 monastery. 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 monastery church received a late Gothic, three-aisle form of the basilica with 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 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 presbytery was originally separated from the nave by a rood screen.
The monastery buildings were added to the church from the south side. In 1492, there were three ranges. In the north there was a sacristy with a vestibule on one pillar. The wide western range and south range housed the cloisters and refectory, that is dining room of the convent. The latter was connected with a free-standing kitchen. In the southern range on the first floor there was a dormitory, that is a bedroom of monks. The eastern range erected at the latest, around 1500, housed a chapter house and a chapel extended eastwards to the chapel. The quadrangle of the monastery surrounded an inner courtyard. In 1517, the south range was extended westwards, presumably for the reception of monastery visitors. This range, the church’s corpus and the quadrangle of the monastery were surrounded by a second garden.
To modern times, the Bernardine monastery has survived almost entirely. The exception is the Baroque gable of the church facade and the unfinished eastern range of the monastery, replaced by a nasty, modernist building that shames the city. It qualifies for quick demolition and restoration of the original appearance. The church and the monastery 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.
Architektura gotycka w Polsce, red. T. Mroczko i M. Arszyński, Warszawa 1995.
Małachowicz M., Pietras K., Przemiany zachodniej elewacji kościoła św. Bernardyna we Wrocławiu [w:] Dziedzictwo architektoniczne. Rekonstrukcje i badania obiektów zabytkowych, red. E.Łużyniecka, Wrocław 2017.
Pilch J, Leksykon zabytków architektury Dolnego Śląska, Warszawa 2005.
Website zabytki.pl, Muzeum Architektury we Wrocławiu.