n the second half of the 12th century, prince
Casimir II the Just (Kazimierz II) (d. 1194) founded the abbey, endowing it with more than a dozen villages, among them Siiow (Sulejów) annually 13 bałwans (5 tons) of salt, imported from Russia, duty free, a fourteenth bałwan (400 kg) from Cracow and nine beavers. The princely foundation was supported by the bishop of Cracow Pełka (d. 1207) and the archbishop of Gniezno Piotr Łabędź (d. 1198), as well as the Mazovian rulers Leszek the White (d. 1227) and
Konrad (d. 1247), who in subsequent years gave the Cistercians further endowments and rights, among them income from the customs chamber and fairs, the right to catch beavers in the Ner River, and even dozens of slaves.
VIEW OF THE MONASTERY FROM THE NORTH, WITH THE ATTIC TOWER IN THE FOREGROUND
irst Cistercians, presumably twelve monks, arrived in Sulejów in 1176 or 1177 from Morimond in Burgundy. Based on the strict Benedictine rule, the order belonged to one of the richest in Europe at the time, and numerous royal privileges, donations from lay people, as well as an efficient agricultural economy, income from fairs and tax exemptions consolidated its strong economic position, thanks to which it was able to build a magnificent monastery. Soon after their arrival, the Cistercians erected a temporary temple, which they expanded in 1213-32 into a three-nave church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Thomas Becket. In the year of its completion, under abbot Wilhelm, the temple was consecrated by the archbishop of Gniezno, Pełka (d. 1258).
St. Thomas Becket, bishop of Canterbury and chancellor of king
Henry II of England, became the patron saint of the Cistercian church in Sulejów. He fought to limit the influence of the state on the church, which led to his conflict with the king, and eventually to his death: in 1170 he was murdered by four knights on the altar of
ASSASSINATION OF THOMAS BECKET, DRAWING FROM AROUND 1200
n the first half of the 13th century, the monks began work on construction of the chapterhouse and erection of earthen ramparts, which, together with the moat, are the oldest fortification units of the Cistercian monastery in Sulejów. In 1232, by the grant of Władysław Odonic, prince of Greater Poland (d. 1239), they took over six more villages, and in the 1250s they received property of the convent in Szpetal (which was destroyed by Prussians). It is the peak period of the development of the Sulejów abbey, which under the leadership of a certain Piotr (presumably a Frenchman) already had about fifty villages and the revenues from forty more, as well as other properties and numerous privileges.
GRANTING OF NEW LANDS TO THE MONASTERY IN SULEJÓW BY PRINCE WŁADYSŁAW ODONIC, JUNE 29, 1232
ONE OF THE PAGES OF "KOPIARZ SULEJOWSKI" CONTAINING A LIST OF PRIVILEGES AND ENDOWMENTS
TO THE ABBEY OF SULEJÓW STARTING FROM 1217
he dynamic growth of the monastery economy was halted in 1259 by the invasion of Mongols, who destroyed the church and unfinished buildings. The abbey's position was also weakened by numerous and long-lasting conflicts with the neighboring Norbertine convent in Witów (concerning rights to taxes and use of the banks of the nearby river), and especially by abuses in the use of the property of the former monastery in Szpetal, as a consequence of which the superior authority punitively transferred the monks of Sulejów to the abbey in Byszewo, and in their place brought monks from Wąchock near Kielce. These events coincided with a loosening of moral norms among the members of the convent, as reported by contemporary chroniclers.
CISTERCIANS ON A MEDIEVAL MINIATURE
uring the struggle for Małopolska between the Czech rulers and
Władysław Łokietek (d. 1333), the Sulejów Cistercians supported the Polish prince financially and organizationally, for which the latter returned the favor by exempting the abbey from customs duties and granting it new privileges. The importance of Sulejów for the prince of Cracow is emphasized by the fact that a general assembly of knights was organized here in 1318, at which the decision was taken to make him king of Poland. The monastery also hosted kings
Casimir the Great (d. 1370) and
Władysław Jagiełło (d. 1434), whose knights - according to legend - before the great expedition against the Teutonic Knights in 1410, sharpened their swords on the columns of the local church portal.
In 1316, abbot Piotr of Sulejów or his successor went with abbot Piotr of Wąchock to the general assembly at Citeaux. They were supposed to deliver the Peter's Pence to Avignon on the occasion. Unfortunately, near Munster (Germany) they were mugged and the entire content of the treasury, worth more than 6 kg of silver, got into the hands of thieves. The abbots themselves were not harmed during this robbery.
THE CHURCH PORTAL, WHOSE COLUMNS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE USED TO SHARPEN SWORDS OF POLISH KNIGHTS IN 1410
t is believed that in the mid-14th century the monastery received stone fortification walls, which were expanded and modernized over the next centuries. The masonry fortifications were intended primarily to deter Tartar and Turkish invasions, of which there was a widespread fear in Poland at the time. The walls took the shape of extensive fortifications, supplemented by four corner towers (Moorish, Musical, Attic, Abbot's) and two gate towers (Cracow, Knight's). Around 1530, during the reign of abbot Salomon (d. after 1542), work on the construction of the monastery's south wing was completed. In this period, about 25 monks resided in the abbey.
Sulejów also hosted papal nuncio
Giovanni Francesco Commendone (1565), as well as another nuncio Annibal di Capua (1588), while in 1597 cardinal
Enrico Gaetani stayed here with his court for three days. His secretary cited some details from there, including the use of twigs instead of palms by the Poles on Palm Sunday.
It is worth noting that important guests usually did not stay overnight in the abbey, but in a wooden manor nearby.
IN FRONT OF CRACOW GATE
hanks to its strong walls, at the end of the 16th century the monastery was chosen as one of the places where money intended for maintenance of the royal army was to be kept. To this end, the royal surveyor in 1584 ordered some changes to its fortifications, including the bricking up of the western gate in the Knights' Tower. Shortly thereafter, under abbots Stanisław Ostrowski or Arnolf Uchański (d. 1601), a building known as the Arsenal was added to the Abbot's Tower, and a representative palace was built in the southern part of the monastery, on the embankment over the Pilica river.
THE KNIGHT'S TOWER WAS INITIALLY USED AS THE MAIN ENTRANCE GATE TO THE MONASTERY
The economy of the Sulejów Cistercians mainly based on agriculture, while craftsmanship played a secondary role, and virtually disappeared in the 18th century. The main reasons for this were devastations wrought by the Swedes and Russians, as well as the abbot's not very good relations with the authorities of the city of Piotrków.
The 18th-century monastery gained income from the town of Sulejów, as well as from the surrounding villages of Barkowice, Cekanów, Koło, Krzyżanów, Kurnędz, Łazów Duży, Łęczno, Milejów, and Przygłów. We know from old documents that the Cistercians cultivated oats and rye, raised fowl, were engaged in beekeeping, milling, hunting, innkeeping, fishing and beaver hunting.
CISTERCIAN AGRICULTURE IN DANIEL MEYER'S ENGRAVINGS OF 1733
n the second half of the 17th century, the monastery was invaded and destroyed by Swedish troops, and in 1731 a huge village fire spread to the abbey buildings, causing them to be partially damaged. To make matters worse, by virtue of new regulations, from 1737 Sulejów abbots were appointed by the king, and not - as before - by the convent. These individuals had little to do with the monastery, and treated endowments they received from the king as a form of reward for their services to the monarch. Such a practice of course negatively affected the monastery's economy.
WOODEN SCULPTURES IN THE SOUTHERN PART OF THE MONASTERY COURTYARD
y the 18th century, the monastery fortifications were outdated and could not provide effective protection for the abbey residents. Part of the walls were therefore demolished, and to some of them the monks added outbuildings, including a brewery, distillery, warehouses, mill and granaries. Just before the fall of the Bar Confederation, in 1772, the abbey was inhabited by twenty nine monks, taking care of four parish churches: in Sulejów, Bałdrzychów, Łaszów and Mogielnica. For a time, the troops of Polish general
Józef Zaremba, as well as the Russian soldiers of
Ivan Drewicz, also stationed here, causing numerous damages to the monastery equipment and inventory, thus further impoverishing the convent. To make matters worse, a fire in 1790 partially destroyed the church and monastery buildings.
ARSENAL AND ABBEY TOWER IN A 1930 PHOTO AND PRESENT STATE (2021)
n April 1819, primate
Franciszek Skarbek-Malczewski (d. 1819), while already on his deathbed, signed a decree by virtue of which the liquidation of 25 male and 4 female monasteries began, among them, unfortunately, the Sulejów abbey. Its property, including monastery buildings and equipment, five manors, as well as a library of more than 2,300 books, passed to the (Russian-dependent) state administration, which leased farm buildings and land to peasants, while the church was handed over to the diocese.
A FRAGMENT OF THE NORTHERN WING WITH THE CRACOW AND ATTIC TOWER, 1910
oon after the abbey was liquidated, local authorities considered placing a textile factory, a home for retired priests and grain warehouses in the monastery buildings, but none of these ideas lived to see realization. Over time, the buildings, being deprived of proper care, deteriorated at a fast pace, in which local villagers had an infamous share, robbing them of construction materials and leftover equipment. Decline of the former abbey was accelerated by a fire in 1847, which completely burned down the roof of the chapter house. Although the roof was reconstructed fairly quickly, but due to lack of funds it was done in the cheapest possible way, using ineptly forged sheet metal.
ENGRAVING FROM 1885
n 1883, the local authorities sold part of the outbuildings and half of the monastery to a certain Barbara Brzeszczyńska, who opened a brewery here. The remaining edifices were mostly unsuitable for use, so a decision was made to demolish the eastern wing of the monastery and leave only its small part with a sacristy and chapterhouse. In 1904, the local agricultural society, in cooperation with conservators from Warsaw, began efforts to adapt the northern buildings for an agricultural school. However, this initiative collapsed a few years later due to complicated ownership and lack of funds.
VIEW OF THE ABBEY FROM THE SOUTH, BELOW YOU CAN SEE A PROJECT TO CONVERT THE MONASTERY BUILDINGS
INTO AN AGRICULTURAL SCHOOL (CA. 1905)
he church burned down again in 1923. It was rebuilt in a makeshift manner even before the outbreak of World War II, while renovation work of real importance began here only in 1973. Then, after the purchase from a private owner, the northern part of farm buildings underwent revitalization and later adaptation to a resort, and the historic fragments of the mill and the abbot's palace were given the form of a permanent ruin. In 1986, the Cistercian Order returned to Sulejów and then thoroughly renovated the church and the surviving monastery buildings. On October 22, 2012, the entire site was declared the national monument.
A FRAGMENT OF THE NORTHEAST WING WITH THE MUSIC THE CRACOW TOWERS, CONDITION IN THE 1960S AND TODAY
ulejów abbey is one of Poland's most beautiful and best-preserved medieval monasteries. It was erected on a terraced site on the right bank of the Pilica river, which formerly flowed much closer to the buildings, maybe even right next to the monastery walls. The complex included a church, an adjoining three-winged monastic house with a fourth outer wing, known as the abbot's wing, as well as a number of outbuildings and a defensive wall with six towers.
VIEW OF THE MONASTERY FROM THE SOUTH IN PHOTOS FROM THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
he oldest building on the monastery grounds is the Romanesque church of St. Mary and St. Thomas Becket. It was erected on a Latin cross plan, from sandstone blocks, while the vaults and interior walls were made of brick. The body of the temple has survived in very good condition, preserving all its structural features, as well as a large part of the original architectural details.
MONASTERY CHURCH, PHOTO FROM 1908 AND CURRENT STATE
FROM THE SOUTH, THE CHAPTER HOUSE IS ADJACENT TO THE CHURCH
articularly interesting is its western facade with a portal (1230) decorated with columns and a tympanum, as well as three rosettes placed in the eastern, northern and western facades. Next to the main entrance is another smaller wicket (north), which is believed to be a relic of an earlier 12th-century church, the so-called oratory. It is decorated with a Romanesque tympanum depicting an early Christian cross, with bas-reliefs of a bird and a sun.
ROMANESQUE ROSETTE IN THE WEST ELEVATION OF THE CHURCH
PHOTO LEFT: THE OLDEST ENTRANCE TO THE CHURCH WITH AN EARLY CHRISTIAN CROSS
PHOTO RIGHT: MAIN PORTAL FROM AROUND 1230
he length of the church is 37 meters, and width - 19 meters. The architecture of its interior combines Romanesque and Gothic styles - Gothic are the cross-ribbed vaults (partially reconstructed in the 19th century), based on pillars and half-columns, whose heads are decorated with Romanesque motifs of braid, leaves and twigs. Eight such pillars divide the church into three naves: a high central one and lower side ones. The plan of the building is complemented by a transept, as well as a chancel and two chapels located in the eastern part, where fragments of 12th-century stone bowls presumably used for washing liturgical vessels have been preserved. The temple has thirteen windows, including the three rosettes mentioned earlier.
PLAN OF THE CHURCH AND STRICT MONASTERY ACCORDING TO Z. ŚWIECHOWSKI: 1. MAIN ENTRANCE TO THE CHURCH,
2. MAIN NAVE, 3. SIDE NAVES, 4. TRANSEPT, 5. CHANCEL, 6. CHAPELS, 7. CLOISTERS, 8. CHAPTERHOUSE,
9. RELICS OF THE SOUTH WING, 10. RELICS OF THE WEST WING, 11. FORMER PATIO (VIRIDARIUM)
nterior decor of the church predominantly represents the Baroque and Rococo periods. It includes, among others: Four side altars date from the 1640s: Our Lady, St. Thomas Becket, St. Bernard and St. Benedict. Two Rococo transept altars: the Holy Trinity altar with an ebony cross considered "miraculous", and the altar of Lord Jesus with a Gothic crucifix. Rococo main altar of 1788, in the center of which is a 17th-century painting by Jan Tricius depicting the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To the left and right of the painting are six columns and four figures of evangelists: Mark, Luke, John and Matthew.
FRAGMENT OF THE CHANCEL WITH THE MAIN ALTAR, ON THE LEFT WE SEE ONE OF THE ALTARS IN THE TRANSEPT
n the main nave there are finely carved stalls dating from the second half of the 18th century, and the pulpit of a similar style and color scheme, topped with a canopy and a sculpture of St. Thomas Becket kneeling surrounded by angels.
Musical sensations in the church are provided by the 18th-century organ, equipped with 22 voices (its smallest pipe weighs just a few grams, while the largest... 600 kilograms). In the 1970s the Sulejów organ was disassembled and left without proper maintenance, which led to its irreparable damage. At the turn of the centuries, the historic instrument underwent restoration and partial reconstruction.
Decoration of the church is complemented by Renaissance polychromy in the chancel, as well as Baroque furnishings in the chapel of Blessed Wincenty Kadłubek, where the ashes of Otto Schenking, bishop of Riga and abbot of Sulejów in 1625-37, are placed.
THE MAIN NAVE: HERE WE SEE A LATE BAROQUE PULPIT, STALLS, AND (IN THE DISTANCE) THE ORGAN
djoining the church to the south was a strict monastery, of which the best preserved is an east wing, considered the oldest section of this part of the abbey. The east wing was built on a rectangular plan measuring 35 x 12 meters, of brick and fieldstone, and finished with sandstone details. Its ground floor housed a sacristy, chapterhouse, staircase, a chamber with a furnace, a workshop and latrines. On the first floor supposedly were a dormitory, an abbot's cell and a monastery archive.
THE CHURCH WITH A FRAGMENT OF THE PRESERVED EASTERN WING OF THE STRICT MONASTERY
f the buildings of the strict monastery, the best preserved are the chapterhouse and a fragment of the 15th century Gothic cloister. The chapterhouse has plan close to a square (9 x 9.7 m) and is covered with a beautiful cross-ribbed vault,
supported by one column. The joints of the vaults are decorated with keystones with Piast and Jagiellonian symbols, among which an unusual detail depicting
four heads touching with their chins stands out.
CHAPTERHOUSE, PHOTO FROM 1908
MONASTERY CLOISTER, 1908 / COLUMN SUPPORTING THE VAULT OF THE CHAPTERHOUSE, 1915
f the other wings of the strict monastery, only partially reconstructed south wall remains, which is now one of the most romantic elements of the entire complex. Formerly, the three wings surrounded a small cloistered viridarium, which was not only a place for rest and contemplation, but also served as a herbarium and vegetable garden. Further east, along the escarpment stood a fourth wing, known as the abbot's wing, which housed, among others, abbot's chambers with a private chapel, residential cells for monks, a scriptorium, library and outbuildings. Relatively at the latest, in the 16th century, the so-called small monastery was erected - a single-aisle building running parallel to the east wing and separated from it by a narrow courtyard.
PARTIALLY RECONSTRUCTED WALL OF THE STRICT MONASTERY SOUTH WING
djacent to the small monastery to the north was Arsenal, added to the Abbot's Tower in the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. Initially it served as a lodging for guards, and later as rooms for servants and guests. After the cancellation of the monastery, the edifice was used for apartments, and since 1922 it housed a school. The youngest part of the complex is represented by outbuildings encircling the abbey from the east and north. They formerly functioned, among others, as a brewery, granaries, stables and warehouses. At the end of the 19th century, some of the buildings were demolished, but in 1973-81 they were reconstructed and later adapted into a resort.
ARSENAL WITH THE ABBEY TOWER, IN THE BACKGROUND WE CAN SEE THE NORTHERN OUTBUILDINGS (NOW A HOTEL)
ARSENAL IS IN VERY POOR CONDITION AND URGENTLY NEEDS RENOVATION (2021)
enturies ago, the church and monastery were surrounded by fortifications with a total length of more than 530 meters. To this day, their northern and western parts remain, which include sections of the walls and the six towers: Moorish Tower from the 14th or 15th century - the oldest of the surviving monastery towers, built on a semicircular plan. Originally it had four stories and measured about 12 meters high. In its vicinity there was a fulling mill, and later a sheepfold. Currently it is adjacent to the rectory. Knights' Tower (Gate) - a quadrilateral Renaissance western gate tower from the 16th century. Nearby are the ruins of an 18th-century mill, now represented only by foundation of the northeast wall, about 11 meters long. Attic Tower from the 16th century - a corner tower at the junction of the western and northern walls, measuring about 12 meters high. It was erected of stone in the lower part and brick in the higher parts, and topped with a Renaissance attic, from which it took its name.
MOORISH TOWER, NEXT TO IT THE RECTORY
THREE TOWERS IN THE WESTERN PART OF THE MONASTERY: ATTIC (CLOSEST), KNIGHTS' AND MOORISH
racow Tower (Gate) from the 16th century - the tallest (34 meters) and most imposing of the monastery towers, served initially as the northern, and later as the only gate. Years ago, in addition to an oak portcullis, it was equipped with a drawbridge. It also had a clock. Music Tower - the only monastery tower built on a circular plan (6 meters in diameter). It was formerly adjoined by a brewery and granaries, the walls of which were incorporated into the existing buildings. Abbot's Tower - a quadrilateral, late Gothic tower from the 15th/16th century, built of stone in the lower parts, and brick above. It is the easternmost fragment of the surviving fortifications, measuring about 15 meters in height. At the end of the 16th century the tower was joined to Arsenal.
The abbey lacked typical fortifications in its southern part. In fact, it was protected there by the terrain (river, escarpment) and a line of monastery buildings.
IN FRONT OF THE CRACOW TOWER, THE MUSIC TOWER ON THE LEFT
BIRD'S EYE VIEW OF THE ABBEY: 1. CHURCH, 2. CHAPTERHOUSE (MUSEUM), 3. RUINED CLOISTER, 4. RECTORY, 5. MOORISH TOWER,
6. ATTIC TOWER, 7. CRACOW TOWER, 8. MUSIC TOWER, 9. ABBOT'S TOWER, 10. ARSENAL, 11. OUTBUILDINGS (HOTEL),
12. SITE OF A NON-EXISTING ABBOT'S WING, 13. SITE OF A NON-EXISTING SMALL MONASTERY
Admission to the monastery grounds - free
Admission to the church - free
The chapterhouse accommodates a small museum covering the history of the abbey and its architecture. It is open to tourists at irregular times, e.g. after Sunday mass - admission fee.
The outbuildings in the southwest part of the monastery are occupied by rectory.
The outbuildings in the northern part operate as a hotel and restaurant.
Photo ban in the chapterhouse
It takes about 60 minutes to tour the abbey including the church and museum.
Lack of facilities for people with physical disabilities
AT THE HOTEL RESTAURANT
he monastery is located on the east bank of Pilica river and about 1.5 km north of the Sulejów Market Square. Signposts lead there. Address: Sulejów, Władysława Jagiełły street.
To the west of the monastery is a large free parking lot (Opacka street).
Bicycles can be brought into the monastery grounds.
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2. B. Kwiatkowska-Kopka: Domy opackie w klasztorach rycerskich w Małopolsce, Cis. Mater Nostra 2010
3. R. Pakuła: Opactwo cysterskie w Sulejowie i projekt adaptacji na średnią szkołę rolniczą, P. Z. H. 15/2014
4. J. Parol: Spory cystersów sulejowskich i norbertanów witowskich w XIII i XIV w.
5. A. R. Sypek: Zamki i warownie ziemi mazowieckiej, TRIO 2002
6. ks. Jan Wiśniewski: Przewodnik po opactwie cystersów w Sulejowie, UM Sulejów 2008
7. Piotrków Trybunalski i okolice - przewodnik, it 1997
Castles nearby: Piotrków Trybunalski - royal castle from the 16th century, 16 km Piotrków Trybunalski-Byki - fortified mansion from the 15th-17th centuries, 23 km Majkowice - ruin of a 16th century fortified mansion, 28 km Bąkowa Góra - ruin of a 15th century fortified mansion, 29 km Opoczno - royal castle relics from the 14th century, 30 km
Przedbórz - royal castle relics from the 14th century, 35 km
Fałków - ruin of a 17th century fortified mansion, 36 km Ujazd - relics of a knight's castle from the 15th century, 39 km
Modliszewice - fortified mansion from the 16th century, 42 km
Mikorzyce - relics of a 17th century fortified mansion, 45 km