Bernardine monastery complex, Skępe
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Bernardine monastery complex

Skępe

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The monastery complex in Skępe is one of the largest and most popular pilgrimage sanctuaries in both the Kuyavian-Pomeranian and Mazovian region. The Late Gothic church with extensive Baroque influences resulting from a subsequent redesign represents a type of building that enjoyed a great popularity in the Kuyavia region as such as well as in Dobrzyń land, its most distinctive feature being the presence of a monumental tower. Other churches of this kind have survived, among others, in Służew, Raciążek, Kowal and Nieszawa. The church is also famous for its lavish interior fixtures and fittings as well as for being the final resting place of members of one of the most eminent families in the region’s history.

History

The first, wooden chapel was erected by members of the Kościelecki family in 1495, following the revelations of a man named Jan (John), hailing from the town of Pobiedziska. In addition, they have also funded a Late Gothic sculpture of the Virgin Mary of the type known as the “Handmaid of the Temple”, which was intended as a sign of gratitude after Kościelecki’s daughter has managed to make it through a period of severe illness. In 1498, Mikołaj Kościelecki invited the Bernardine monks to settle in Skępe, hoping that they would be able to cater to the needs of the increasing numbers of pilgrims visiting the area. It was at his initiative that the first brick church was erected here, accompanied by a small monastery. When Kościelecki became the bishop of Chełmno, he made the decision for the monastic complex to be significantly extended, based on the design produced by rev. Bartłomiej Łoy. In the course of construction works which began in 1508, the chancel of the church was extended, as was the nave; the church now also featured a new tower as well as the Kościelecki family crypt beneath the chancel. In the years 1519-24, the chapel was added on the southern side of the nave at the request of the Fraternity of St Anne and was named after their patron saint. Throughout the entire 17th and 18th century, the church and the collection of valuable items within kept on growing thanks to the generous donations of numerous benefactors. In 1616, the funds donated by Michał Działyński, the voivode of the Kuyavia (Kujawy) region, allowed for the chancel to be extended by three additional bays, with a new crypt earmarked for the members of the benefactor’s family being created beneath the chapel of St Anne. During the times of Serafin Gamalski, who held the title of the guardian of the monastery at the time, the church received new fixtures and fittings, with its roofs being replaced and a new vaulted ceiling constructed in the nave. In 1725, at Gamalski’s initiative and with the financial support from Józef Zieliński, the construction of four additional cloister wings began, designed to accommodate the Stations of the Cross as well as confessionals for the pilgrims flocking into the sanctuary. The construction of the cloisters was completed in 1732, with the Stations of the Cross painted by rev. Jacek Uzdowski being subsequently replaced by new paintings, created in 1790 by an anonymous artist. Inside the main gatehouse, there was now a first-floor chapel opening towards the monastery courtyard, designed for open-air church service. The corner shrines inside the cloisters received their new altarpieces in the 1730s. In years 1746-49, a thorough redesign of the church tower and the final bay of the nave took place owing to the generous donations made by Anna Zielińska and Antoni Szembek, with the westernmost bay of the church now serving as a vestibule connecting the church, the monastery and the cloisters. The members of the Zieliński family have also funded the free-standing tomb chapel of Barbara, positioned in the middle of the sanctuary courtyard. Once the redesign of the tower was complete, works on the interior of the church and the chapel of St Anne could begin, with new painted decorations being executed in the years 1750-52. In 1767, Ignacy Zboiński and his wife Salomea Zboińska née Karśnicka donated the funds necessary to extend the chancel by another bay, with the Zboiński family crypt positioned underneath its flooring. In the course of the extension works, the sacristy adjoining the southern side of the chancel was either extended or constructed from scratch.

From 1777 onwards, the Bernardine monks served as the caretakers of the Skępe parish. When the local parish church was demolished in 1820, the monastery church took over its place.

The monastery, consisting of three distinct wings, was erected during the same period as the church, i.e. in the years 1508-10. Towards the end of the 17th century or in the early 18th century, the southern wing was extended eastwards. In the second half of the 18th century, a pair of extensions was added on the axes of the eastern and northern wings. It is also during the same period that the covered walkway adjoining the main body of the church is believed to have been extended upwards through the addition of two upper storeys.

In 1792, a new building designed to serve the needs of an elementary school established back in 1781 was erected on the monastery grounds; this structure, however, has not survived to the present day.

Following the January Uprising, the monastery was dissolved pursuant to the tsar’s decree in 1864. The buildings were taken over by the clerics from the Płock diocese. The granary which accompanied the monastic complex was adapted to serve as a school, with its employees also being allocated a substantial portion of the monastery itself. After Poland regained its independence, the monastery remained under the administration of the Płock curia. A comprehensive redesign of the monastery took place in the years 1919-29 due to the establishment of a teachers’ seminary.

In 1933, the Bernardine monks reclaimed the monastery complex.

Description

The complex consists of the church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the monastery and the cloisters designed for the pilgrims; it is located in the south-western part of the town of Skępe, on the site of the former Wymyślin village which had formed part of the Skępe domain. The monastic buildings are located on the southern side of the former Warsaw-Toruń road, north of the Wielkie lake.

At the heart of the complex lies the church, designed on an elongated, roughly rectangular floor plan tapering slightly towards the east. The five-bay rectangular chancel with a rectangular end section features a vaulted ceiling of the barrel type, with lunettes. A sacristy consisting of two rooms of different sizes adjoins the southern side of the chancel. The nave, as wide as the chancel and slightly taller, is separated by a chancel arch wall with a segmental rood arch. Featuring a five-bay layout, the nave features a western vestibule connecting the church with the adjoining monastery wing and the sanctuary cloisters. The tower, designed on a square floor plan, is positioned on the western side of the vestibule and is partially integrated with the main body of the church. The nave features a double barrel vault supported by dual arches; a similar vaulted ceiling design is also present inside the vestibule and the room positioned directly beneath the tower. The walls of the nave are adorned with pilasters supporting a pronounced, mitred cornice above. A three-bay, rectangular chancel adjoins the northern section of the nave, accessible through a series of three apertures topped with round arches. The chapel bays are of varying width, with the vaulted ceiling rising above being of the double barrel type, its supporting arches resting on profiled cornice bands.

The chancel features exposed red brick façades with a plasterwork crowning cornice. The façades of the chancel are accentuated by a rhythmic arrangement of two-stepped buttresses flanking windows topped with semicircular arches and surrounded by splayed reveals. The eastern façade features an oculus framed with a plaster surround. Above the cornice there is a tall gable flanked with volutes and crowned with a convexo-concave pediment. The gable wall is partitioned with a pair of pilasters flanking the Ogończyk coat of arms and the “IZ SK” initials, which stand for Ignacy Zboiński and his wife, Salomea Zboińska née Karśnicka. The façades of the nave feature a plaster finish and are punctuated with windows set in wide niches and topped with round arches. Both the chancel and the nave are covered with gable roofs. An octagonal steeple with a bulbous cupola and roof lantern is positioned at the junction of the chancel and the nave. The section of the chapel of St Anne facing the courtyard features a decorative roof parapet partitioned with a rhythmic arrangement of pilasters with impost blocks extending into the entablature above. Segment-headed decorative panels occupy the spaces between the pilasters. The roof parapet is topped with a trio of ornamental gablets topped with bell arch-shaped pediments. All three gablets feature rectangular niches incorporating the paintings of St Francis, the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of the Virgin Mary. The chapel is covered with a shed roof.

The five-storey tower features single-axial façades, its corners reinforced with tall buttresses. The ground-floor level of the western façade features a doorway topped with a round arch, with the side façades punctuated with windows topped with semicircular arches. The walls of the first, second and third floor are adorned with blind windows topped with round arches, with the uppermost storey featuring bipartite mullioned windows. A tower clock can be seen beneath the crowning cornice of the northern façade. The tower is topped with an octagonal, bulbous cupola with a roof lantern.

North of the church lies the square sanctuary courtyard surrounded by cloisters. The southern wing of the cloister adjoins the façade of the chapel of St Anne. The northern wing of the cloister features a central gatehouse projecting ahead of the northern wall, with a single main gate flanked by a pair of wicket gates. Two towers designed on a square floor plan and crowned with bulbous cupolas stand at the corners of the northern wing, their walls projecting ahead of the cloister itself. The western wing is extended towards the church, with a passage within connecting it to the church vestibule. All cloisters feature vaulted ceilings of the ribbed barrel type and are separated from the courtyard by arcades consisting of a rhythmic succession of counter-thrusting segmental arches (ten per each wing); each of the cloister wings is covered with a gable roof. The cloister wings are adorned with segment-headed niche, one per each bay. Images of the Stations of the Cross are placed inside the cloister niches. The façades of both the gatehouse and the towers are adorned with pilasters positioned atop a socle, supporting the crowning cornices with plain friezes running between the pilaster capitals. The gatehouse is a two-storey structure. At the first-floor level, the structure features a large window overlooking the courtyard, topped with a semi-circular arch; on the opposite (northern) side, the gatehouse features an arched niche designed to accommodate the statue of the Virgin Mary of Skępe. The arches of the main gate and the accompanying wicket gates on the northern side of the cloister wing are accentuated with broad surrounds, each of them running from the arch impost blocks to the apex thereof. The outer (northern) wall of the cloister is partitioned with pilasters resting on a common socle, reaching all the way to the plain frieze and crowning cornice above.

The gatehouse and the towers are covered with curvilinear cupolas surmounted by octagonal lanterns.

In the middle of the courtyard there is a free-standing chapel designed on an octagonal plan, its western entrance preceded by a flight of steps. The diagonal walls of the chapel are adjoined by square pillars positioned some distance away from the chapel façades and connected to them by short wall sections. The pillars themselves are crowned with impost blocks surmounted by statues of saints. The façades of the chapel are topped with a moulded crowning cornice. Above the rectangular doorway there is a cornice segment surmounted by an inscription plaque. The southern and northern façades are pierced with window openings. The entire structure is topped with a curvilinear roof with a lantern.

The monastery, centred around the three main wings at its core, adjoins the southern side of the nave of the church. Each of the monastery wings follows a one-and-a-half-bay layout, with a narrow hallway running around the garth. The wing of the monastery adjoining the church was originally a single-storey structure, although it has been extended upwards through the addition of a second storey at a later date. Original double barrel vaults with supporting arches can still be admired on the ground-floor level. The western and eastern façades of the monastery wings are reinforced with stepped buttresses. The walls are punctuated with axially positioned windows. Inside the southern wing lies the former refectory, extended towards the east and occupying the width of a single bay and the length of four bays, its most distinctive feature being the original double barrel vault resting on structural arches. The walls of the northern façade are reinforced with a pair of buttresses.

A two-storey building designed on an elongated rectangular floor plan adjoins the extended section of the eastern wing of the monastery. Inside, the building features a three-bay vaulted ceiling of the double barrel type in the northern section of the ground-floor level, supported by structural arches. In a similar fashion, the western side of the southern wing is adjoined by a two-storey building, its outline deviating slightly from the main axis of the monastery. The interior of the annex is divided into a large number of small rooms. All the monastery buildings are covered with gable roofs, some of them of the three-sided variety.

Limited access to the historical monument. Interiors of the church and the courtyard can be explored before and after church service or other religious ceremonies. Inside the walls of the monastery itself, visitors may take advantage of the guest accommodation at the Pilgrim’s House (50 beds in total).

compiled by Piotr Dąbrowski, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Toruń, 14-12-2014.

Bibliography

  • Gąsiorowski P.B., Sanktuarium i klasztor w Skępem jako nekropolia, “Materiały do Dziejów Kultury i Sztuki Bydgoszczy i Regionu” 2003, no. 8, pp. 180-213.
  • Katalog Zabytków Sztuki w Polsce, vol. 11, Województwo bydgoskie, issue 9, Powiat lipnowski, T. Chrzanowski, M. Kornecki (eds.), Warsaw 1969, pp. 48-57.
  • Wyczyński H.E., Sanktuarium Matki Boskiej w Skępem, “Studia Płockie” vol. XIII:1985, pp. 149-161.

General information

  • Type: monastery
  • Chronology: 1495 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Skępe
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district lipnowski, commune Skępe - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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