Bohoniki and Kruszyniany - Mosques and Mizars, Bohoniki
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Bohoniki and Kruszyniany - Mosques and Mizars

Bohoniki

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Bohoniki and Kruszyniany are a living proof of the cultural richness and religious tolerance in the bygone days of the First Republic of Poland. They form an exceptional piece of evidence of the centuries-old existence of a Muslim community in a Christian country - evidence of the fact that the members of this community have managed to retain their identity while at the same time becoming assimilated into the Polish society, which is confirmed by unusual historic monuments in the form of grave inscriptions written in Polish, but with the use of Arabic alphabet. In addition, these mosques provide a unique link between the traditions of Islam and the local customs in the field of construction of sacred buildings.

The members of the Tatar community were taking residence in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to which these towns used to belong during the period before the Partitions of Poland from the late 14th century. In exchange for military service, they received allotment of land mainly in the region of Vilnius, Troki, Grodno and Kaunas. From the 17th century onwards they also began establishing settlements in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland (Corona Regni Poloniae) itself - mainly in the Volhynia and Podolia regions as well as in the Suwałki region, where they began settling at the end of the century. They were mostly political refugees from among the elders of the Golden Horde as well as from Crimea; others were farmers, while a few were prisoners of war.

The establishment of Tatar settlements in Bohoniki and Kruszyniany was the result of the Lipek Rebellion (1667-1672) - a mutiny among the Tatars (named Lipeks after the part of Lithuania which was controlled by the Turks at that time) to whom John Sobieski, in exchange for overdue soldier’s pay, promised to give land that was owned by the Crown. In 1679, the subordinates of the cavalry captains Bohdan Kieński and Gazy Sielecki was allocated the village of the Bohoniki, while colonel Samuel Murza Krzeczowski with his troops was allocated a few pieces of land, including the village of Kruszyniany. The officers were provided with farms, while their soldiers, treated as petty nobility, were given houses. They established religious communities and erected mosques made of wood, for only such were allowed to be built at the time. Their builders were the local craftsmen who were not familiar with the architecture of the Middle East and who could only model their work on the sacred buildings that existed in the region of Podlasie which, in terms of appearance, differed from the established design patterns prevailing in the Islamic world. As a result, the local mosques are unique in terms of appearance and bear no resemblance to the Muslim temples which exist in other countries.

At first glance, the mosque in Bohoniki looks like an Orthodox church - with its symmetrical design and the small pinnacle in the centre which performs the function of a minaret, crowned with a bulbous dome; it was built in the centre of the village at the end of 1873, most likely replacing an older temple erected at the end of the 17th or in the early 18th century. Following the damage sustained during World War II, when the mosque performed the function of a military hospital, its was renovated and restored to its former function at the beginning of the 1950s. The building was restored once again in years 1982-1985. The mosque in Kruszyniany stands in a picturesque spot some distance away from other buildings, its appearance similar to that of small countryside churches. Its design is a nod towards the churches which were built near the borders of Mazowsze, in Podlasie and in the Suwałki region, their distinguishing feature being the pair of towers at the front. It was built at the end of the 18th century, replacing an older temple founded by Samuel Krzeczowski. After the war, it was restored on a number of occasions (1957, 1976, 1984-1985), each time with the use of traditional materials.

Another unique element of the Tatar legacy are the Tatar cemeteries, also known as mizars. The cemetery in Bohoniki is located beyond the village and is the largest Muslim cemetery in Poland (approx. 2 hectares). It was most likely established in the 18th century and subsequently extended in the 19th century. The cemetery in Kruszyniany (approx. 1 hectare) is situated in the eastern part of the village, about 200 metres from the mosque, on a wooded hill. It was probably established in the 2nd half of the 17th century; the area was fenced during the 18th century. The arrangement of the gravestones does not follow a regular pattern, although all of them are oriented towards the south. There are numerous graves dating back to the 19th century, some of them in the form of obelisks crowned with metal crescents. They were decorated with garlands and inscriptions in Polish and Arabic, and after 1863 also in Cyrillic. The inscriptions are accompanied by symbols e.g. a crescent with a star or so-called tamgas (hereditary coat of arms of the Tatars). Old, earthen graves featured a lens shape, accentuated by three or five layers of small field stones placed along a grave and two large stones - a larger one, bearing a carved inscription, positioned near the head of the deceased and a smaller one positioned at his or her feet. The oldest inscriptions which are still legible date back to 1796 and 1769 in Bohoniki and Kruszyniany respectively.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: XVII - XIX w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Bohoniki
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district sokólski, commune Sokółka - obszar wiejski
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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