he town of Stary Sącz, founded in 1257 by the duchess Kinga of Cracow and Sandomierz (d. 1292), in the second half of the 13th century was the most important administrative and economic center in the entire region (nowadays this function is performed by the city of Nowy Sącz). Kinga received these lands from her husband Bolesław V as a marriage dowry, and when he died in 1279, she gave up her princely rule and moved to Stary Sącz, where on July 6, 1280, founded the convent of the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare. She donated the town and 28 villages to the convent and became a Poor Clare herself. The foundation of the monastery was preceded by a conflict between Kinga and Leszek Czarny, Duke of Lesser Poland (d. 1288), who at first refused to agree to her proposed privileges and income for the new congregation.
IN FRONT OF THE MONASTERY GATE
ventually, however, the monastery received the most generous endowment of all-female religious foundations established in Poland in the 13th century. This was due both to the rule of the order allowing to posses the common property and to the very high rank of its founder, a member of the order. For its development and maintenance in the first years of existence, the income from the town of Stary Sącz and adjacent villages as well as the proceeds from the nearby customs house were allocated. It is known that in 1281 the congregation was already functioning, and it consisted mainly of sisters brought to Stary Sącz from the convent in Skała near Cracow. Only a few years later (1289) the Tartars invaded Lesser Poland. Kinga and her sisters survived this dangerous period by hiding in a mountain castle in Pieniny.
MONASTERY TOWER IN THE SOUTHERN WALL
Kinga (Kunegunda) was the daughter of Hungarian King
Bela IV and Greek Empress Maria Laskarina. She was born on March 5, 1234 in Esztergom, the first capital of Hungary. Kinga came to Poland in 1239 at the age of five to get engaged to Bolesław V, Duke of Sandomierz. When she married the prince at the age of 12, her dowry consisted of
40 thousand grzywnasApproximately 8 tons of silver and, according to tradition, also Hungarian salt, which at that time began to be mined on a larger scale in Bochnia and Wieliczka.
We do not know much about the princess' childhood and youth, except that she received a thorough education, first at the royal court in Buda, and later in Sandomierz and Cracow. In Poland, she was brought up by her mother-in-law, Princess Grzymisława, and her sister, Princess Salomea, the first Poor Clare on Polish soil, which undoubtedly influenced the religiousness of the later saint. According to tradition, as a child Kinga liked to spend time praying, and she set as her goal to remain in virginity forever. At the age of nineteen, she took a vow of lifelong chastity in marriage, because of which, many years later, historians gave her husband Duke Bolesław the nickname the Chaste.
The Duchess took an active part in the political and economic life of the duchy, which is confirmed by the presence of her seal on many documents issued at the ducal court. She also supported the poorest, which helped to build the myth of a protector and, in the future, a miracle-worker, whose cult would develop soon after her death and would last for centuries. Undoubtedly, the Duchess's popularity was influenced by her great generosity to the Cracow churches and neighboring monasteries, as well as her numerous foundations, including churches in Bochnia and
THE LARGEST CHAPEL IN THE WIELICZKA SALT MINE IS NAMED AFTER ST. KINGA, WHO IS CONSIDERED THE PATRON SAINT OF MINERS
Kinga's magnum opus was the establishment of a Poor Clares monastery in Stary Sącz, where she settled after the death of her husband in 1279. Although officially she never held any important functions or dignities in the convent, documents show that she maintained a large court here to run business and administration. She died in the reputation of holiness on July 24, 1292, after a long illness, and was buried under the floor of the monastery chapel.
Soon after Kinga's death, some "miracles" and "graces" performed through her intercession were reported. In the years 1307-12, 21 such events occurred, which gave cause to undertake efforts to have the foundress of the monastery declared a saint. Over the following centuries these attempts were made repeatedly, but without success. She was only beatified by Pope
Alexander VIII in 1687, and in 1999 Pope
John Paul II declared her a saint.
The history of the Duchess was documented in the so-called the Biographies, probably created on the initiative of the Franciscans from Cracow. The oldest part of them was written only 30 years after Kinga's death, thanks to which the Biographies are regarded today as a valuable source of information, at least in the context of the historical realities they describe.
MONASTERY CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY, ON THE RIGHT SIDE THERE IS A CHAPEL WITH THE REMAINS OF ST. KINGA
hanks to Kinga and her "miracles" the convent in Stary Sącz enjoyed great interest from both secular and ecclesiastical rulers. It was supported by Polish kings such as
Władysław Łokietek (d. 1333) and his wife Jadwiga (d. 1339),
Kazimierz Wielki (d. 1370), his sister Elżbieta Łokietkówna (d. 1380), and
Władysław Jagiełło (d. 1434), who - according to tradition - donated two pots of gold to the Poor Clares as a vote of thanksgiving for the victory in the Battle of Grunwald. The monastery derived income from rents, tithes, and crops, as well as from the right granted by King Kazimierz the Great to salt trade in the whole Spisz region. Its development was greatly influenced by participation of the representatives of royal families in the monastery life, among them Jadwiga, the widow of King Władysław Łokietek, who became a nun in 1337. In the 1350s the post of the superior of the monastery was held by Konstancja of Świdnica (d. before 1364), the niece of King Kazimierz the Great, and the widow of Duke Przemek of Głogów (d. 1331).
MYSTERIOUS, PROBABLY XIV CENTURY ENGRAVINGS ON THE WALLS OF THE CHOIR IN THE CHURCH OF ST. TRINITY
M. KORNECKI: "OCHRONA I KONSERWACJA ZABYTKÓW W WOJEWÓDZTWIE KRAKOWSKIM W LATACH 1945-75"
t is likely that during Kinga's lifetime the construction of the first brick church in Stary Sącz began. In 1285 the Archbishop of Gniezno,
Jakub Świnka (d. 1314) consecrated it and granted forty-day indulgences to all those who would visit the town and financially support the building works. It is certain, however, that the church did not exist in its entirety at that time and the consecration involved only a part of it, probably the Romanesque presbytery, which is believed to be the oldest segment of the building. In 1332, the Bishop of Cracow Jan Grot (d. 1347) re-consecrated the temple, giving it the patronage of the Holy Trinity. It is not known, though, whether the ceremony concerned the completion of construction work begun during Kinga's lifetime or referred to a completely new edifice erected in Gothic style already in the 14th century.
XV CENTURY GOTHIC BAPTISTERY IN THE NARTHEX OF ST. TRINITY CHURCH
oon after Kinga's death Stary Sącz became a destination of pilgrimages and the main center of her cult. The oldest known case of visiting the tomb of the later saint was an ex-voto visit, which took place here in 1307 to heal nine-year-old Dobrosława, the daughter of the royal official Marcin from Szczyrzyc. It is likely, therefore, that there was already a separate space in the monastery church (which was still under construction) where pilgrims could worship and pray to the foundress of the monastery. Probably, however, it was neither representative nor lavish at that time. The first real Kinga Mausoleum was erected in the 1470s by the bishop of Cracow, Jan of Rzeszów (d. 1488).
According to the founders' intention, the Poor Clares should live with prayer on their lips, giving to God all the needs of the Church and the world. In addition to prayer and penance, the work of the order is mainly focused on service to the Church, and missionary activity. The sisters live separated from the outside world.
Their attire consists of a brown tunic girded with string and a black and white veil covering their forehead and neck.
Currently, there are about 550 monasteries of the Order of St. Clare all over the world, including seven in Poland: in Stary Sącz,
Kalisz. The oldest Polish Poor Clare convent was the monastery in
Zawichost, founded in 1245 by Bolesław Wstydliwy, and the first Polish Poor Clare was Blessed Salomea (d. 1268), daughter of the Cracow Prince Leszek Biały.
THE STARY SĄCZ MONASTERY ACCORDING TO AN ENGRAVING BY TOBIAS BILDENHARTER, 1617
t the end of the sixteenth century, the authority over the female congregations was taken over by the bishops. In 1595 one of them,
Jerzy Radziwiłł of
the Trąby coat of arms (d. 1600), ordered to expand the monastery and carry out minor repairs in the Holy Trinity church, including the reconstruction of Kinga's chapel. It is worth noting that until that time the nuns lived in small individual houses, which were now to be demolished in order to erect in their place a grand four-winged edifice capable of accommodating both nuns and novices as well as secular maidens staying here for their education. Bishop
coat-of-arms Ciołek (d. 1608), managed this investment, although the convent paid for it. The construction works were supervised by an Italian architect Giovanni di Simons (d. 1627) and their cost (without furnishing) amounted to over 8000 zlotys. They resulted in a new monastery building with a residential house for priests. In addition, the walls surrounding the monastery were raised and adapted for the use of gunpowder weapons.
STARY SĄCZ ON LITHOGRAPH BY R. LANG FROM 1841, THE MONASTERY TOWERS DOMINATE OVER THE TOWN
The Poor Clares' monastery in Stary Sącz, already in the Renaissance period, became famous for its high musical culture cultivated by superiors of the nuns' community, named ksieni (the female analogue of the abbot). The monastery employed an organist, whose duty was to play the organ during masses and church celebrations, and to participate in the rehearsals and concerts of the monastery band, which at first consisted of boys, and from the second half of the seventeenth century also consisted of nuns. We do not know exactly how large the group was, but we do know the instruments it used. Accounts from those days show the purchase of a bass violin, cello, the winds (bassoon, tuba, trumpets, pipes), and even two timpani.
It is likely that the nuns also composed their own music. According to historians, there could have been as many as a dozen of such original works created here, among them melodies and texts dedicated to Blessed Kinga, known only in the Stary Sącz monastery: Złota winnico, Już pódź Oblubienico, Zawitaj Oblubienico and O Kunegundo.
MONASTERY AND CHURCH IN 1851 ON THE ENGRAVING BY BOGUSZ STĘCZYŃSKI
Another sign, besides music, of a rich spiritual life and cultivation of Franciscan traditions was the Poor Clares' love of reading and collecting literary works. The monastery library owes its growth not only to purchases made by ksieni but also to numerous donations from church dignitaries and from girls who brought their books with them when they entered the convent. Signatures and ownership notes prove that the books passed between the sisters from generation to generation, and some Poor Clares had more than a dozen.
Despite the losses caused by the secularization of the Order, the library's book collection contains at least 1645 Polish, 127 Latin, 241 German, and 82 French works. Among them are music manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries, including the four-voice conductus Omnia Beneficia, considered the oldest historical monument of Polish polyphonic music. The most valuable items in the library's collection are graduals on parchment (Graduale Romanum Franciscanum) from the end of the thirteenth and the first half of the fourteenth centuries, antiphonaries (Antiphonarium Franciscanum) from the second half of the thirteenth century, a psalter from the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as well as Vita beatae Cunegundis ducissae Regni Poloniae... by Jan Długosz, dated ANNO 1473.
MONASTERY ON A LITHOGRAPH BY NAPOLEON ORDA, 'ALBUM WIDOKÓW' 1881
n October 7, 1764, the fire ignited in the attic of the monastery house, quickly engulfed the entire building, and then spread to the church, destroying its roof. However, the rebuilding of the temple began soon. During renovation of the monastery and reconstruction of the church roof, its western gable received decorative volutes and a turret with a figure of a prince's crown. These were the last major investments of the convent before the partitions of Poland (1772-95). Only a few years after their completion, Emperor
Joseph II Habsburg (d. 1790) shut down the novitiate, confiscating all property of the monastery for the religious fund. However, the Poor Clares living there were allowed to stay until their death.
THE MONASTERY IN STARY SĄCZ ON POSTCARDS FROM THE 1920S
he Austrians deprived the Poor Clares not only of their property and land, but also of all valuables, including Kinga's relics, archives and rich book collection. Some of the disadvantageous regulations were withdrawn after 1811, for example, the Poor Clares were again granted the right to run a novitiate, but on the condition that a school for girls would be opened within the walls of the monastery. The sisters operated school facilities here until 1938, when they turned it over to the care of the town, focusing from then on the religious nature of their ministry.
FARM GATE AND A TOWER IN THE SOUTHERN PART OF THE WALLS
PHOTOGRAPH FROM THE 1950S AND PRESENT STATE
he monastery is located in the southeastern part of the town, at the fork of the Poprad and Dunajec rivers. At first, it consisted only of wooden buildings, only some of them stood on a stone foundation. The oldest brick monastery building is the Holy Trinity Church, dating from the early 14th century. Its presbytery is probably even older, as it dates back to the 13th century, which seems to be confirmed by stonework and late-Romanesque engravings preserved on one of the walls. This building consists of a wide choir, a short nave divided into two bays, and arched presbytery. The nave and the choir were originally covered with wooden ceilings, but currently, they are capped with a cross-ribbed vault, just like the aforementioned presbytery.
PLAN OF THE CHURCH IN THE XV CENTURY: 1. PRESBYTERY, 2. NAVE, 3. CHOIR, 4. CHAPTER HOUSE, 5. KINGA'S CHAPEL
VAULTING OF THE NAVE AND THE PRESBYTERY IN THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY
he interior of the temple has a Baroque décor given to it in the 17th century by Polish, Italian and Scottish artists. It consists of, among others, polychromies depicting the figures of St. Adalbert, St. Stanisław and St. Kinga,
altars with rich sculptural decoration by Baltazar Fontana as well as the 17th century door leading to the vestry with painted scenes showing the life of St. Kinga and her husband Bolesław the Chaste. Also noteworthy is the Baroque pulpit located in the northern part of the nave and depicting the family tree of Jesus and his mother (the so-called Jesse tree). Adjacent to the southern wall of the church is a fourteenth-century St. Kinga's Chapel with a Baroque altar, the central part of which is occupied by a figure of the Holy Duchess of Sącz made of linden wood, and a small coffin containing her relics. The chapel is separated from the nave by an embellished 17th-century wrought-iron lattice framed by a lavish marble portal.
rom the west, a two-story annex adjoins the nave and the choir, the upper part of which is occupied by an oratory shaped by the Scottish master James Scott, while the lower part housed a chapter house, and currently a vestry. This arrangement resulted from the monastery's strict rule that the oratory should be separated from the church. The chapter house is covered with a ribbed vault consisting of four bays spanning around a central octagonal pillar.
IN THE CHAPTER HOUSE
or the first few centuries, the nuns lived in modest wooden houses. Only after 1601 these wooden buildings were replaced by a four-winged edifice with galleries running around the small courtyard. Farm buildings rised next to the monastery, and a high stone wall was erected on the south, west, and partly on the east. This wall is particularly strongly fortified in the southern part, where it is flanked by a cylindrical tower. Years ago, the monastery wall was oranmented with a sgraffito decoration depicting the Tartar invasion of Stary Sącz in 1289, which unfortunately no longer exists.
PLAN OF THE MONASTERY: 1. GATE WING WITH CLOCK TOWER, 2. NORTH COURTYARD, 3. FIELD ALTAR, 4. CHAPLAIN'S HOUSE,
5. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, 6. CONVENT GATE, 7. RESIDENTIAL PART, 8. SOUTH COURTYARD, 9. FARM BUILDINGS, 10. FARM GATE,
11. SOUTH TOWER, 12. GARDEN
he monastery in Stary Sącz is one of the most valuable historical buildings in the region and one of the most popular destinations for pilgrimage tourism in Poland. It serves as St. Kinga Sanctuary of the Poor Clares, who cultivate here a rich spiritual life according to the strict Franciscan rule. The monastery was divided into two parts, the northern part open to all and the closed southern part available only to nuns. The open area around the large courtyard contains the gatehouse with a clock tower, the field altar, the (former) chaplain's house, and the Holy Trinity Church. The interiors of the church and, conditionally, a small museum in St. Kinga's House (the former chaplain's house) are open to the public.
NORTHERN COURTYARD: WE CAN SEE THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY (ABOVE), THE CHAPLAIN'S HOUSE AND THE FIELD ALTAR (BELOW)
he monastery church has retained its original Gothic character, which is emphasized by the cross-ribbed vaults, the pointed arches and the tracery decoration of the windows. Its furnishings and paintings, however, are the work of artists creating in the Baroque period. The most notable of these is
Jesse's tree, an almost 8-meter high pulpit depicting the family of David, from which Christ's mother descended. In addition to wall sgraffito, the church is decorated with seventeenth-century paintings in carved marble stucco. The most valuable furnishings are rococo stalls, eighteenth-century benches, and a relatively young, dating from the late nineteenth century, an 8-voice pipe organ made by Rieger. Of particular importance for deeply religious people is the Chapel of St. Kinga, with its Baroque altar and silver coffin containing the remains of the saint.
CHOIR WITH RIEGER PIPE ORGAN, JESSE'S TREE ON THE RIGHT
fortifications enclosing the monastery from the south, east and west sides have been preserved in very good condition. In the southernmost part of the wall stands a
round whitewashed tower, four stories high and topped with a cylindrical cupola, which today is one of the most recognizable elements of the architecture, not only of the monastery but of the entire town. It is also worth noting the wooden Sekler gate standing by the western wall, one of three of its kind in Poland, which was founded by the Association of the World Union of Hungarians to commemorate the canonization of St. Kinga. On the gate, in addition to carved images of St. Kinga and St. Jadwiga (both born in Hungary) and the Polish and Hungarian coats of arms,
the inscriptionSZENT KINGA NEPUNK OLTALMAZOJA (translated: Saint Kinga, Mother of the Nation) was placed.
Admission is free to the northern courtyard, the church, and the museum. The museum can be visited in groups by appointment.
To see the monastery from the outside, visit the church and the courtyard, you need about 30-45 minutes.
No flash is allowed in the church.
Animals are not allowed in the monastery.
You can fly a drone, but respect local regulations, and do it responsibly.
You can bring your bike into the north courtyard.
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COMPLEX LOCK MECHANISM OF THE XVII CENTURY CHAPTERHOUSE DOOR
Nowy Sącz - ruins of the royal castle from the 14th century, 10 km
Rytro - the Gothic castle ruin from the 13th/14th century, 12 km
Jeżów - the Renaissance fortified manor house from the 15th century, 34 km
Rożnów - ruins of the knight's castle from the 14th century, 36 km
Rożnów - ruins of the magnate castle from the 16th century, 36 km
Szymbark - the Renaissance fortified manor house from the 16th century, 42 km Muszyna - ruins of the Cracovian bishops' castle from the 14th century, 45 km
Czorsztyn - the Gothic castle ruin from the 13th/14th century, 47 km
Krościenko - relics of the Pieniny Castle from the 13th century, 51 km
Niedzica - ruins of the knight's castle from the 14th century, 51 km
Frydman - the Renaissance fortified manor house from the 16th/17th century, 55 km