Legnickie Pole - Post-Benedictine Monastic Complex, Legnickie Pole
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Legnickie Pole - Post-Benedictine Monastic Complex

Legnickie Pole

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For centuries the defeat at Legnickie Pole was looked upon as a sign of the Apocalypse. The growing strength of the monarchy of the Silesian Henries, capable of uniting a divided country, suddenly imploded when confronted with the wild, though excellently trained in the art of warfare, Mongol army. Our main source of information about the Battle of Liegnitz, fought on 9 April 1241, comes from the History of Poland written by Jan Długosz approximately 200 years later. It has been estimated that around 8000 Mongol warriors may have engaged in combat; the Polish forces were roughly comparable in number. A pivotal moment in the course of events was the retreat from the battlefield of Mieszko, Duke of Racibórz. After this ignominious act, Duke Henry the Pious is purported to have cried “Misfortune has befallen us”. The disastrous battle ended in Henry’s capture and decapitation. The Tartars are said to have impaled his head on a spear and paraded it in front of the defenders of Legnica’s stronghold. The scale of the defeat is reflected in the following account: “Having collected their booty, the Tatars, wishing to know the exact number of the dead, cut one ear off each corpse, thus filling nine large sacks to the brim with ears”.

According to tradition, the construction of the ecclesiastical complex at Legnickie Pole is linked to the discovery of Henry’s body on the battlefield. His mother, St Hedwig of Silesia, is said to have founded a church and monastery at this site for the Czech Benedictines from Opatovice. The earlier of the two present-day churches is indeed dated to the early 13th century. The associated Benedictine abbey was dissolved in 1535 after its inhabitants had converted to the Protestant faith in 1523, and its properties were sold off. It was Othmar Zinke, the Benedictine Abbot of Broumov, who finally obtained an imperial decree in 1703 commanding the resale of the estate.

Construction work on the Church of the Holy Cross and St Hedwig, designed by Prague architect Kilián Ignáz Dientzenhofer, began in 1719. In 1723 the Benedictines obtained permission to found a parish here, Abbot Zinke laying the foundation stone of the monastery. The church was consecrated on 7 October 1731, but finishing work continued until 1733. In its original ground-plan the central nave was connected to an accentuated and elongated chancel. This effect was achieved by combining two intersecting ellipses in the nave, covered by a sail vault supported at six points. The church is adorned with fine sculptures, stuccowork and woodcarvings. The highlight of its interior décor are the trompe l’œil frescoes on the vaults above the nave and chancel, painted sometime after 1733 by the Bavarian artist Cosmas Damian Asam. The sculptures inside the church and on its exterior, as well as the details carved in wood on the side altars and organ front are the work of Karl Joseph Hiernle, whilst the paintings of the side altars are by Wenzel Lorenz Reiner. The organ was made by the Silesian organ builder Adam Horatio Casparini, and the painting adorning the main altar was produced by Franz de Backer of Antwerp.

The twin towers of the west façade complement the symmetrically spaced buildings of the former monastery and prelature, each centred around a separate courtyard. Their construction was completed in 1738. The abbey’s demise came with secularisation in 1810. In 1836 the buildings were designated as the headquarters of the Cadet Corps, and expansion of the Baroque complex was undertaken according to a design by another great architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Surrounding the complex is a Baroque garden, which retains its original boundaries and features a garden pavilion at its centre.

The ecclesiastical complex at Legnickie Pole is one of the finest in Europe, whilst the Church of St Hedwig is justifiably regarded as a jewel of late Baroque Silesian architecture. It is worth emphasizing the fact that the most exceptional architects, artists and craftsmen of their day were commissioned to work here: from Dientzenhofer (architect of the monumental Church of St Nicholas in Prague’s Malá Strana district), to Asam (responsible for the painted decoration adorning the Church of St John in Munich) and Schinkel (the greatest architect of German Neo-Classicism). The somewhat nostalgic landscape of endless fields surrounding this site adds further adds to its charm.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: św. Jadwigi 4, Legnickie Pole
  • Location: Voivodeship dolnośląskie, district legnicki, commune Legnickie Pole
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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