Olesno - The Pilgrimage Church of St Anne, Olesno
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Olesno - The Pilgrimage Church of St Anne

Olesno

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The Pilgrimage Church of St Anne at Olesno in the Opolskie Voivodeship is one of the most unique wooden sacred buildings in Poland. It was erected on an unusual floor plan, rare both in Silesia and other parts of Poland. Its unexampled shape, interpreted as a rose with five petals, is associated with elaborate Christian symbols (monstrance) and the former name of Olesno – Rosenberg. Due to its unique form, the church belongs to the most valuable wooden monuments in Poland and is called a “rose enchanted in wood” by local residents.

The Church of St Anne at Olesno is situated in its original location and still serves the same religious function. It is a monument to the work of human hands and talent, but also a monument of contemplation of the Absolute in art and the beauty of creation. It is a witness of the stormy history of Upper Silesia. It is also a symbol of freedom in architecture, as its construction dates back to the period preceding introduction of Prussian construction regulations. Finally, it is physical evidence of the Polish construction craftsmanship, the tradition of which was passed down through generations from the times of the Piast dynasty.

The sanctuary commemorating Saint Anne, who is worshipped across Silesia, is one of the most beautiful churches in the historical region of Upper Silesia, as well as one of the most important pilgrimage churches in the Opole diocese. It is of great importance not only for local residents, but also for pilgrims from the entire Silesia, other parts of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

The architecture of the church combines Gothic and Baroque building traditions. Its foundation is associated with the legend of the miraculous rescue of a girl named Anna from robbers through intercession of St Anne. In the place of the miraculous event, the family funded a wooden sculpture of St Anne in due gratitude. It was hung on the pine tree which served as shelter for the girl. Soon after, the place became a destination of pilgrimages. In 1444, townspeople from Olesno erected a wooden chapel dedicated to St Anne, which was the size of the current chancel and surrounded the trunk of the miraculous pine with a cut-off crown, and on the trunk they hung a white oval plaque with the text “A venerable old pine, at the foot of which one young lady was saved from death through intercession of Saint Anne. July 1444”. The trunk of the pine remains embedded in the altar of the chapel.

In 1517, a Gothic triptych by an unknown artist was funded. In the central part of the altarpiece, a figure of St Anne was placed above the tabernacle. In the face of the growing number of pilgrims, at the beginning of 1518 a church was built in the place of the chapel, perhaps by extending it towards the west. In the new church, it served the function of a chancel. The rood beam features the text “Erecta et consecrata 1518”. The church was consecrated on 18 April 1518 by Wrocław Bishop Jan V Turzo, who in 1509 at a synod in Wrocław raised the day of St Anne to the rank of a liturgical holiday. At the time, the pilgrimage church at Olesno was the most important pilgrimage church dedicated to this saint, ows, sailors, the poor and Christian schools. Its importance declined with the growing fame of the basilica and Calvary on St Anne Mountain.

In 1619, parish priest Hieronim Perca ordered that a chapel featuring a timber-frame structure be added to the south wall of the church. From its open window, sermons were preached in Polish, Czech, Moravian and German. The visit documents of the parish from 1679 list 10,000 as the number of pilgrims on the day of indulgence. At the time, the church of St Anne at Olesno competed with the Marian sanctuary on Jasna Góra.

After the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), the state of preservation of the chapel was disastrous (it was on the verge of collapse), and in 1668 the church council decided to have it demolished and build a new church in its place, as after the war the pilgrimage movement experienced a renaissance. In 1668, parish priest (provost) Andrzej Pechenius (Pichenius), in consultation with the prior of the Order of Canons Regular in Olesno, Jan Patecius (Petetius) and the town council, after receiving approval of the owner of Olesno, Count Jerzy Adam Franciszek von Gaschin, decided to extend the church. On 6 December that year, the parish priest together with sub-prior Michał Ochotski, senior and president of the Order of Canons Regular in Olesno, concluded an agreement with master builder and carpenter Marcin Snopek (Sempek), born in Krakow and residing in Gliwice, where as an architect he belonged to the city guild. In accordance with the agreement, the carpenter undertook to add to a church “in the form of a five-leaf rose and featuring five chapels” the Gothic part of the building. The church was constructed using pine timber from a nearby forest. The construction works began on Tuesday, 19 March 1669, and was completed in mid-1670 – before St Anne’s Day, i.e. 26 July. Due to the need to accommodate a large number of believers, the church was not fitted with benches. Two pulpits were placed in a way allowing the priest preaching the sermon to be seen and heard from every location. In 1700, parish priest Krzysztof Biadoń ordered that the chapel be covered with wood shingles, and the church – for the convenience of pilgrims – be surrounded with cloister-type walkways. In 1707, a spacious sacristy was built, as evidences by the date places in the lintel of the entrance thereto. A confessional for penitents with hearing problems was placed in the sacristy. A choir (gallery) was constructed above the sacristy, with a view of the pine tree and the main altarpiece; it could be accessed by the stairs outside the church.

The church was renovated in 1696 and then in 1873, which is when the interior was painted green and the main altarpiece was remodelled. In 1880, works were carried out around the church; at that time, 14 small neo-Gothic chapels with Stations of the Cross and a chapel funded by Baron von Reiswitz of Wędrynia were constructed. Under the letter of 6 May 1968, the sanctuary of St Anne at Olesno was granted a special indulgence privilege by the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary.

The interior and furnishings of the church make it possible to observe integration of artistic styles imported from Italy and Flanders. The exceptional richness of intangible content, especially the legends earned over the centuries, constitutes an additional value of the church.

The Pilgrimage Church of St Anne is a hallmark of Olesno, its image is featured in word marks of many campaigns promoting the town and the region. Everyday care for the monument by the local community is of particular significance. It shows that the community appreciates its value, as well as feels responsible for its future.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1518 r.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Olesno
  • Location: Voivodeship opolskie, district oleski, commune Olesno - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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