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Rytwany, Golden Forest Hermitage post-Camaldolese monastery complex - Zabytek.pl


woj. świętokrzyskie, pow. staszowski, gm. Rytwiany

Pustelnia Złotego Lasu (Golden Forest Hermitage) post-Camaldolese complex in Rytwiany, the second seat of this order in the Polish land after Bielany near Cracow, is counted as one of Poland’s most important monastic complexes from the 1st half of the 17th century.

The letter of Camaldolese construction regulations from the years 1607-1610 and the spirit of the architectural tradition of this order was strictly followed during the construction of that complex. In line with these regulations, the complex is located on a small hill, far away from other settlements, in a clearing surrounded by a thick forest. Such location resulted from an eremitical nature of Camaldolese spirituality. The arrangement of the convent in Rytwiany was divided into two zones: the first one included a church and a monastery, the other - hermitages for monks and a house for novitiates. Owing to the modern reconstruction of the wall, this intention is still clear, despite missing an immensely important element: the hermitages. The monastery buildings include particularly valuable rooms in the northern (“Tęczyński’s Hermitage”) and southern wing (former lay brothers’ house from the 2nd half of the 17th century).

The church, standing out for its unique degree of authenticity, is an immensely valuable object on the map of Polish ecclesiastical architecture of the first half of the 17th century. Its floor plan has been strictly subjugated to the Camaldolese construction regulations, therefore it distinguishes itself from other Polish buildings occupied by this order. The arrangement of the temple’s façade plays an important role for the native architecture of that period. In line with the order’s regulations, side façades, available only to monks, are scarcely decorated, devoid of accentuations, nearly secular in their appearance. The two-storey west façade has a completely different face. It is much more lavishly decorated, features pilastered accentuations, large windows, a sumptuous gable surrounded by Mannerist volutes and obelisks, as well as a stone portal.

The church’s immensely lavish décor, fixtures and fittings are unique on the national scale. Its aesthetic expression is a result of a direct request formulated by Jan Magnus Tęczyński, a benefactor, despite objections raised by the order’s authorities who prohibited any manifestations of sumptuousness in their temples. Stucco decorations cover nearly all most important interiors of the church. Their surfaces feature valuable polychrome by father Venanto da Subiaco with his aides, supplemented by Charles de Prevot. These painters also authored nearly all paintings in the church. According to the researchers, it was in Rytwiany, at the initiative of father Venanto da Subiaco, the Camaldolese iconographic canon was crystallised. The entirety is complemented by the works of early-Baroque woodcarving of Cracow, as well as stonework and marblework in the form of three stoups and lavabo, an epitaph plaque and tomb chests of Stanisław Opaliński, as well as marble floors - one of the largest and best preserved in Poland.


In 1617 Gabriel and Jan Magnus Tęczyński (Voivodes of Lublin and Cracow) obtained a permit from the general chapter of the Camaldolese order to found this order’s monastery on the land belonging to them (Bielany near Cracow). Following the death of Gabriel Tęczyński, the entire cost of foundation was taken upon by Jan Magnus Tęczyński. A ceremonial laying of a cornerstone took place in 1624. AT first, the construction of the convent was managed by father Hiacynt under the supervision of father Silvano Boselli (the first prior of Rytwiany), probably according to plans acquired from Italy. The temple was completed already in 1627. In the years that followed a lavish décor of stuccowork and paintings was introduced. The ceremonial consecration of the church took place on 27 September 1637 by the suffragan of Cracow, bishop Tomasz Oborski.

Most probably at that time a large number of planned hermitages were already completed in the temple’s neighbourhood, as well as parts of the monastery and utility buildings. In 1655 the Sieniawski couple declared the renovation of the hermitage, monastery and cloister as well as decorating the church’s façade and covering it with a copper roof cladding. The vast part of works were completed most probably until 1660. An access alley was also delineated and the second gate was erected. In the years 1685-1696 major renovation of the monastery took place with the support of the starost of Nowy Korczyn, Stanisław Opaliński. After Opaliński’s death in 1704, his remnants were buried in the Chapel of St Romuald in the Camaldolese temple, which was ensured by his niece and heiress to the Rytwiany property. It was at her initiative that in 1705 a marble sarcophagus, an epitaph plaque, an altar of Saint Stanislaus Kostka and an antependium were ordered at Michał Roman - a stonemason from Dębnik near Cracow (the works are credited to Jacek Zielawski). These donations were supplemented by marble balustrades leading to the crypt, a portal and a floor in the Chapel of St Romuald - completed in the years 1708-1709. Simultaneously, a painter Charles de Prevot renovated some most damaged paintings and polychrome in the church.

Subsequent renovation and construction works in the temple were carried out in the years 1717-1719. They were conducted by the Sieniawski family’s architect - Giovanni Spazzio and his numerous aides, including Charles de Prevot. These activities consisted in securing the Opaliński family’s crypt, church foundations and vaults, as well as repairing the polychrome and floors. Information about subsequent renovation works in Rytwiany appeared - with minor interruptions - in the years 1724-1733 (they were conducted by Franciszek Mayer). Renovations of the Camaldolese buildings that followed were a result of fires in 1737 (parts of the monastery were destroyed) and 1741 (the library over the sacristy and, probably, the tower and the eastern gable of the church burnt down).

In 1819 the monastery was closed down and the benefactors’ heirs commenced judicial proceedings to regain land rights granted by their ancestors to the Camaldolese order. In 1825 the last Camaldolese monks left Rytwiany. The next two decades saw gradual degradation of the convent buildings. A symbol of those times is a decision issued in the 1840s to demolish several hermitages or to transform some residential buildings within the monastery into barns, stables, etc. Only the church was renovated, as irregular masses were offered to the local population there. In 1860 Katarzyna nee Branicka and Adam Potocki - the then owners of Rytwiany - tried to change that status via handing over the former Camaldolese hermitage to the Reformers of Sandomierz. Their main task was to perform pastoral duties among the local residents, therefore in the years 1861-1864 they renovated the temple and purchased movables (including a pulpit and an organ) previously not present at the church. In that period ad hoc renovations of monastery buildings and hermitages were also conducted. In 1864 the authorities dissolved the Reformers’ order in Rytwiany due to the assistance offered to insurgents and the church became a filial church of the parish in Staszów. It was then that the area of the former convent was divided in two parts: a secular one (covering the northern and western wings with adjacent field and gardens where the local population resided) and an ecclesiastical one (including the church with a part of the southern wing and an adjacent land where a priest, his servants and an organist resided).

The buildings were renovated only on an ad hoc basis for the next half of a century. Most probably before 1922 the former Camaldolese complex was entered into the list of monuments, which is attested by a piece of information on the vetting of the facility performed by the Provincial Monuments Preservation Officer in Kielce from that year. On that occasion the design by Łukasz Wolski, concerning the redevelopment of the Chapel of the Holy Cross was agreed, due to placing a tomb of Maciej Radziwiłł - the then owner of the estate - there. The works were completed in 1923.

In the late 1950s conservation and restoration works focusing on the church’s fixtures and fittings began and lasted a couple of years. In that period the last tenants residing in former monastery buildings left. In the years 1966-1976 the Tęczyński Hermitage was renovated. In the years 1985-1999 conservation works of fixtures and fittings and décor of the temple took place (choir stalls, chapels of the Holy Cross and St Romuald). In 2001, for the purpose of saving the entire complex, the “Źródło” Diocesan Culture and Education Centre was established there. Adaptation works to host the Centre were far-reaching and covered, among others, renovation, adaptation and conservation works in the “Tęczyński Hermitage” building, restoration and adaptation of the western building (gatehouse) and the southern building (former utility building) as well as rebuilding the former corner building connecting both wings of the monastery. Moreover, two walls separating the church area from the cloister were restored - in line with the preserved iconography - and two previously demolished hermitages were rebuilt (the archaeological surveys carried out in the years 2014-2015 demonstrated that their number amounted to 10 instead of 12, as previously considered). Numerous renovation and conservation works were also carried out in the church, both focusing on a roof and façades and on the interior (including the décor and fixtures and fittings).

Currently, a tourist and pilgrimage centre (Pustelnia Złotego Lasu) functions within the former monastery complex.


The former Camaldolese hermitage - Pustelnia Złotego Lasu (Golden Forest Hermitage) is situated 3 km from the centre of Rytwiany. It occupies a vast clearing surrounded by a thick forest. A small fragment of that clearing, located along the axis of the eastern façade, is occupied by a contemporary graveyard. Currently, the complex consists of (starting from the western, entrance, side): an entrance neck with two gates, a reconstructed coach house (currently hosting garages), a three-wing, one-storey monastery, an Early Baroque church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preceded by a wall separating a cloister, and a hermitage with two reconstructed buildings. The complex is supplemented by a contemporary geometrical garden, located on the southern side of the southern wing of the monastery.

A pseudo-basilica temple has a floor plan of an elongated rectangle; its centre hosts a tall rectangular nave with a two-bay choir separated by an altar. The nave is flanked on the sides by two bays of rooms, two storeys each, divided along the axis by transverse vestibules. On the ground floor, in line with the Camaldolese construction regulations, the western part hosts a chapter house in the south (currently a chapel with the Radziwiłł family tomb), while in the north there is a two-bay sacristy with two rooms hosting a lavabo and a chapel of St Mary Magdalene adjacent to it from the east. The eastern part of the temple consists of two three-bay, rectangular chapels (the southern of St John the Baptist, the northern of St Romuald with a crypt of the Opaliński family). On the first floor, from the north, there is a string of rooms of a former library and archive. Side façades of the church are modest, partitioned by symmetrically arranged portal and windows in two rows. The southern façade, along the axis, contains a three-storey clock tower with a dome and a lantern. The western and eastern façades are two-storey, three-bay ones, terminating in extended gables and surrounded by scroll-like volutes and pinnacles on the sides, with Diocletian windows on the second storey.

The main and side entrances are accentuated with stone, Baroque portals from around 1627. The temple’s interiors are covered with barrel vaults with lunettes and (in vestibules and rooms at the sacristy) cross-barrel vaults. They are covered with uniquely lavish Mannerist stuccowork. On the walls, vaults of the body and choir gallery, over the backboards, there are fanciful herm pilasters with entablature segmented above them. In the spaces between the pilasters, in eared, ornamented frames and on vaults there are diverse medallions in stucco, cartouche-like window surrounds. Similarly lavish Mannerist stuccowork can be spotted in side rooms; the ones from the chapels of St Romuald and St John the Baptist exhibit a particularly high class. All these decorations were made by Italian craftsmen working in Bielany near Cracow. In the stucco window surrounds in all rooms there are wall paintings that were created in their essential, Mannerist part by father Venanto da Subiaco in the years 1629-1632, while the Late Baroque additions were painted by court artists of Elżbieta Sieniawska, including Charles de Prevot, in the first quarter of the 18th century. Topics of the frescos are consistent with the Camaldolese spirituality, therefore they include Marian and Christological themes that closely correspond with the representation of saints worshipped by the Benedictines, the Camaldoleses and hermits.

The fixtures and fittings of the temple are immensely sumptuous and include, among others, magnificent examples of early modern woodwork and woodcarving such as the Early Baroque main altar from around 1630 by Georg Zimermann, with Late Baroque tabernacle and reliquaries from 1730 by Antoni Frąckiewicz (?) or Early Baroque monastic choir stalls from the second quarter of the 17th century. As regards this category of artistic works, it is worth paying attention to wooden wardrobes and doors in the sacristy from the 17th and 18th century. An equally unique complex of works comprises of altar paintings from the years 1625-1632, associated with father Venanto da Subiaco (Madonna with St Benedict and St Romuald, Adoration of the Holy Mother by St Benedictines and Camaldolese, Baptism of Christ, Crucifixion, Annunciation) or paintings on choir stalls presenting Benedictine and Camaldolese saints from ca. 1729, currently attributed to Charles de Prevot. A complex of marble and brick floors from the 17th century - first third of the 18th century, practically unchanged from the beginning, is a unique example of such works in the Polish territory. Among other examples of stonework, we need to point out a unique character of the marble lavabo from ca. 1637 (unidentified sculptor from Chęciny or Sebastiano Venosta) or a complex of works by stonemasons from Dębnik near Cracow in the form of marble epitaph plaque of Stanisław Opaliński, its stone tomb chest, as well as the altar of St Stanislaus Kostka and the antependium made in 1705 by Michał Poman. A similarly unique character has a wax bust of Anna Dziurlanka from the late 17th century.

A three-wing, one-storey monastery on a U-shaped floor plan, surrounds a square with a statue of St Barbara and St Agatha from 1748 (an unidentified sculptor from Pińczów?). The northern wing of the monastery is the oldest. This one-storey building covered with a gable roof still exhibits a clear spatial layout. The most valuable part is the Tęczyński’s Hermitage. Initially, it consisted of a building for guests and a hermitage of the benefactor, out of which a guest hermitage, where it is still possible to admire Mannerist stuccowork on the vaults and a similar fireplace from the fourth quarter of the 17th century, has survived. In the north-eastern corner of the hermitage there is a small chapel with a stucco altar of counts Opaliński, coat of arms Łodzia (fourth quarter of the 17th century). Outside, there is a garden circumscribed with a brick fencing.

A one-storey, front western wing was erected on a floor plan of a strongly elongated rectangle, divided along the main axis by a drive-through gate with open arcades. The interior layout is to a great degree an original one, usually consisting of a single bay. Currently, it hosts rooms with modern finish, serving administrative, reception and residential purposes.

The one-storey southern wing has a floor plan of an elongated rectangle, divided along the axis by a drive-through vestibule. The internal rooms have a usually two-bay layout. The western part of the building (former pharmacy and kitchen) is mainly contemporary, erected on old foundations. In the eastern part (the former lay brothers’ house), dating back to the 17th century, there are rooms with double barrel vaults and cross vaults; in the largest room traces of 18th-century polychrome have been discovered. Currently, the rooms are used mainly by the Camaldolese Gallery and the museum.

In front of the gate leading to the front wing there is a small courtyard surrounded with a wall, to which contemporary garages have been added on foundations and in the shape of the former coach house. There is a Baroque entrance gate along its axis from the second half of the 17th century, terminating in a semi-circle, arcaded, surrounded with double pilasters and crowned with an interrupted pediment, under which there is a cartouche with a coat of arms of the Camaldolese order. The access leads along a long alley enclosed by a stone wall and terminated in a gate in the form of rectangular pillars framed with pilasters and crowned with gables with a segmental arch.

compiled by The National Institute of Cultural Heritage

Category: ecclesiastical complex

Protection: Historical Monument

Inspire id: PL.1.9.ZIPOZ.NID_N_26_PH.15488