Stary Sącz - The Old-Town Complex with the Monastery of Poor Clares, Stary Sącz
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Stary Sącz - The Old-Town Complex with the Monastery of Poor Clares

Stary Sącz

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Stary Sącz, one of the oldest towns in Lesser Poland, is inseparably associated with St Kinga. The town was erected thanks to her efforts, and it was her who founded its most important monument, i.e. the monastery of Poor Clares, the resting place of the saint and her live cult centre.

Saint Kinga, daughter of King Bela IV of Hungary and Byzantine Princess Maria Laskarina, was born on 5 March 1234 in Ostrzyhom. As a five-year-old girl, she was engaged to Bolesław V the Chaste, son of Duke Leszek the White, and arrived at the Krakow court. In 1246, she married Duke Bolesław and became the Duchess of Krakow and Sandomierz. Her rich dowry helped to reconstruct Lesser Poland, ravaged by Mongolian invasions, while the miners brought from Hungary and the mines they built initiated a great history of saltworks at Wieliczka and Bochnia.

Duchess Kinga took care of the development of craft and trade, organised colonisation actions, contributing to the economic growth of Lesser Poland. She endowed monasteries, funded and supported numerous churches (including the Wawel Cathedral), brought new religious orders to the Duchy of Krakow, and actively engaged in the efforts to canonise Saint Stanislaus.

She took special care for the prosperity of the Sącz region, given to her by her husband in 1257. Shortly after taking the land in possession, the duchess chartered a town between the Dunajec and Poprad Rivers, in the vicinity of a castellan stronghold, documented in sources already in 1224. Like the towns in her native Hungary and neighbouring countries, it has an oval spatial layout. The economic growth of Stary Sącz was guaranteed by privileges of its residents. In 1273, Duke Bolesław V the Chaste confirmed by a separate act the exemption from customs and tolls duties in the Duchy of Krakow and Sandomierz granted to Sącz townsmen.

In 1279, Duke Bolesław V the Chaste died, and the duchess decided to leave Krakow. She settled at Stary Sącz where, in 1280, she funded a monastery of the Order of Saint Clare, called the Order of Poor Clares, bestowing it with the town ownership and numerous villages, a monastery of the Order of Friars Minor – Franciscans (not preserved), and the municipal parish church of St Elizabeth. The remaining part of the Sącz land, as a result of a settlement concluded with Duke Leszek the Black, successor of Bolesław V the Chaste on the Krakow throne, was to become a permanent property of the widows of the Lesser Poland dukes.

Shortly after funding the monastery, Kinga gave up secular life and ducal splendour to join the convent of Poor Clares. In 1289, she made her perpetual vows. She died on 24 July 1292 and was buried in a crypt of the monastery chapel, and her cult, live already during her lifetime, has survived for centuries, crossing the borders of Stary Sącz and Lesser Poland. In 1690, thanks to the efforts of King Jan III Sobieski, she was declared Blessed by the Pope; in 1715, she was proclaimed the patron of Poland and Lithuania, and on 16 June 1999, she was canonised by Pope John Paul II during a ceremony on meadows near Stary Sącz.

The town founded by St Kinga developed in the following centuries. Around 1358, King Casimir the Great, at the request of his sister Duchess Konstancja, the abbess of the Poor Clares’ monastery at Stary Sącz, renewed the town’s charter. It was based on the Magdeburg law. Instead of the oval layout, with a large square and a parish church in the centre, the Młynowka canal supplying the mill and bathhouses (a unique example of a medieval, partly preserved hydro-technical facility) and two monastery complexes at the edges, further spatial extension of Stary Sącz was based on a chequered plan with a rectangular town square and major communication routes going out of it, as well as a more geometric network of streets and building quarters. Both historical urban forms and stages of its transformation are still well-visible in its layout. Over the centuries, the medieval urban tissue was filled with buildings, mostly wooden ones, and new suburbs appeared: Podgorze, Podmajerz, and Krakowskie. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a town hall (non-existent) was erected, new churches were built (of St Roch and, non-existent today, of the Holy Cross), fortifications of the Poor Clares’ monastery were modernised, a monastery school for girls and a hospital for the poor were established. Fires, floods, devastations and reconstructions resulting from subsequent wars caused constant transformations of the town and its building substance. At the end of the Commonwealth, Bar Confederates stayed in the town. In 1770, Stary Sącz and all of the Sącz District were occupied by Austrian troops, and after the partition of Poland in 1772, the town became a part of the Habsburg Monarchy.

The period of partitions brought the construction of government and military buildings, a brewery, a railway line, and a slaughterhouse as well as administrative efforts to replace the flammable, wooden building substance with durable brick one. In the early 20th century, a synagogue and a representative seat of the “Falcon” Polish Gymnastics Association were erected at Stary Sącz. But this was also a time of German colonisation (Neudorfel Suburb), dissolution of the Franciscan monastery in 1815, abolition of the monastic dominium and, fortunately unsuccessful, attempt to dissolve the monastery of Poor Clares. The period of the Second Polish Republic was not marked by significant investments in the town, and the times of the Polish People’s Republic brought only minor interference in the preserved, historically shaped, cultural landscape. In a well-preserved landscape environment, the medieval, diversified urban spatial layout with arranged green areas is today filled mostly with 19th century single- and two-storey buildings, small in term of scale and form, with three dominants: the parish Church of St Elisabeth, Poor Clares’ monastery complex and, later built, church of St Roch. Noteworthy also are the 18th-century building of the former inn (today a museum) at the town square and its arcaded structure, relics of the Franciscan monastery, and buildings of the former mikvah, synagogue and “Sokoł”.

History of the town of Stary Sącz is primarily the history of the Poor Clares’ monastery. The monastery complex was located on an escarpment, on the eastern edge of the 13th-century town, by the Młynowka Canal. It is surrounded by a high 17th-century defensive wall with a cylindrical tower (the only one preserved from the old fortification system of the monastery), a monastery wicket with a sgraffitodecorated portico in a single-storey annexe from the north side, and a gate complex with a building and a high tower crowned with a Baroque helmet from the west side. The original wooden monastery, erected after 1280 with St Kinga’s foundation, was replaced with a brick building in the 17th century. Three two-storey wings with cloister and a cloister from the north surround the monastery garth. A stone Church of the Holy Trinity and St Clare, whose construction began in 1285 and the consecration took place in 1332, adjoins the monastery. Single-nave building, with a richly shaped and decorated with sculptures Baroque gable and a turret on the roof, was repeatedly transformed, but retained the features of a Gothic church. In the interior covered with cross-rib vaults, rich furnishings have been preserved. The main altar and side altars in the presbytery are the works by Baldassare Fontana from the 1690s. Other 17th-century altars are located in the nave, just like a monumental pulpit made ca 1671, decorated with depictions of Jesse Tree and genealogy of Our Lady. The decor is complemented by paintings, polychromes, sculptures and metalwork. A 14th-century chapel of St Kinga that houses a 15th-century altar with a statue of the saint and a reliquary containing her remains, adjoins the church.

Next to St Kinga, daughter of her sister, the queen of Poland, wife of Duke Władysław I the Short and mother of Casimir the Great, Jadwiga, who died in 1339, was buried in the monastery church. After her husband’s death, she settled at Stary Sącz and, ca 1337, joined the convent of Poor Clares.

The urban complex of Stary Sącz, being the monument of history, is a rare example of a place where history and its symbolic dimension are so explicitly bound with the material, non-material and natural heritage. The history of the town, the achievements and legend of St Kinga, and the preserved cultural landscape and landscape surroundings co-create an intimate establishment of a great authenticity value, with preserved urban layout and building substance as well as highclass monuments such as the monastery of Poor Clares, today a sanctuary of the saint. All this makes Stary Sącz one of the most interesting sites in Lesser Poland and one of the most valuable monuments of history and art in Poland.

General information

  • Type: urban layout
  • Chronology: 1257 r.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Stary Sącz
  • Location: Voivodeship małopolskie, district nowosądecki, commune Stary Sącz - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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