According to written sources, the monastery was founded in 1075 by the Hungarian king Géza II in order to colonize the Hron valley, then densely forested and devoid of larger human settlements, and to support Christianity. The discovery of valuable deposits of gold and other minerals in the surrounding mountains soon attracted numerous colonists, who founded a settlement under the monastery, in 1217 gifted with the town privilege by Andrew II.
The monastery’s property, large since its foundation, was increased by new donations in the 12th century. Among other things, in 1157-1158 Stefan, son of Adrian, having no descendants, gave with the king’s consent his property for the benefit of the monks, and in 1165 for the same reason a certain Farkaš gave them his property in Slepčany and Ebedec. The increased income allowed, after about a hundred years of functioning, at the end of the 12th century, to build a magnificent Romanesque basilica on the site of the original wooden monastery church.
In the years 1346 – 1375, on the site of the demolished Romanesque church, a Gothic St. Giles church was built. After 1537, the monastery under the threat of Turkish attacks, was rebuilt into the fortress, joining it with defensive walls and artillery towers. Strengthening the defensive function caused the destruction of several Gothic architectural elements. These appeared again in the changed shape, only as part of the alterations made at the end of the 19th century during the reconstruction, after the great fire of 1881.
The first stone church was a Romanesque basilica with three aisles, without a separated externally chancel, ended in the east with semicircular apses: one large closing the central nave and two smaller ones at the end of the side aisles. They were all situated at one height. On the opposite, west side, the façade was formed by two four-sided towers. Inside, the six-bay central nave was twice as wide as the aisles and opened to them with arcades based on four-sided pillars. On the other hand, the towers in the ground floor had full walls, not opening with arcades neither to the inter-tower porch nor to the side aisles (a feature characteristic of the second half of the 12th century). Perhaps there was a gallery between the towers.
The Gothic basilica also received the form of a three-aisle structure, shifted a bit more to the north than the older temple and a bit longer. The west façade was again made up of two four-sided towers, although more massive, and from the outside, the chancel was not separated from the nave, which in the east was located in three, already Gothic, polygonal ended apses: again larger on the extension of the central nave and smaller at the end of the aisles. Inside the church, a layout was used with three square-like bays in the central nave (as well as one rectangular bay between the towers) and three rectangular bays in each of the aisles, all of which were topped with cross-rib vaults. The eastern apses were equipped with single rectangular bays covered with cross vaults and polygonal closures with six-section vaults. The entire church, except on the south side, where there was a cloister, was reinforced with buttresses. From the south, a late-Gothic chapel of Holy Blood was attached to the church in 1489.
The monastery complex was built on an irregular quadrilateral plan. The courtyard was surrounded by cloisters with rib vaults, around which there were buildings of the enclosure and the church of the Virgin Mary and St. Benedict. The southern and eastern wings of the monastery were mainly residential and representative. According to the Benedictine pattern, the eastern wing housed, among others, the chapter house in the ground floor and the dormitory on the first floor, and the refectory in the southern wing. In the western part, there were warehouses and pantries as well as lay brothers’ rooms, and the northern side was closed by the church.
In relation with the Renaissance reconstruction in the sixteenth century, the area of the monastery grew about three times and was reinforced with massive, cylindrical cannon towers. An additional protection was the defensive wall, which in the sixteenth century was raised, thickened and equipped with platforms for shooters.
Entrance to the monastery walls is possible, however, the object is not suitable for sightseeing. The interior of the church can be seen only in July and August, and in other periods after prior telephone notification. There is also available a courtyard and a part of the preserved Gothic cloisters.
Mencl V., Stredoveká architektúra na Slovensku, Praha 1937.
Wasielewski A., Zamki i zamczyska Słowacji, Białystok 2008.