Trzebnica - Former Cistercian Female Monastery Complex, Trzebnica
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Trzebnica - Former Cistercian Female Monastery Complex

Trzebnica

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The small town of Trzebnica, located north of the city of Wrocław, was granted municipal rights in 1250. Today, it takes pride in a historic monastery complex of an exceptional architectural, artistic and historical value. The first female Cistercian convent in Poland was founded in 1202-1203 by duke Henry the Bearded and his wife St Hedwig of Silesia. The papal protection for the newly established convent, conferred by pope Innocent III, added to the prestige of this initiative.

The first nuns who came to live in the monastery were brought from Bamberg. Gertruda, the daughter of the duke, also joined the convent and went on to become a prioress many years later. The large amount of funds that was available to the convent has made it possible to establish a number of branches, including one in Ołobok and another in Chełmno. The duke was one of the most eminent rulers of the period of feudal fragmentation of Poland; his contribution to the economic and cultural development of Silesia was immense. Hedwig from Andechs, a practitioner of asceticism, carried out a wide range of charitable activities, founding hospitals and reducing levies for peasants, taking care of the sick and so forth. Considered a saintly figure at the time of her death, she was canonised shortly after, in 1267. On this occasion, in 1268 the chapel of St Hedwig was erected in Trzebnica, becoming the first building on the erstwhile Polish territories that fully conformed to the principles of the Gothic style. The chapel contains a Baroque tomb of St Hedwig, erected in 1680 to replace an earlier, Gothic tomb.

The first monastery church (the church of St Bartholomew the Apostle and St Hedwig), in accordance with Cistercian principles, was built in a basilica layout and featured a transept, but no tower. It was constructed in 1203-1219. It was subsequently redesigned on a number of occasions, especially during the Baroque period, when a tower was added in the western part of the church, resulting in the destruction of a magnificent portal, of which only fragments have survived, including a tympanum adorned with the reliefs of King David and Bathsheba. Above the aisles, cross-rib vaults were erected, with a hexapartite vault used for the nave.

Trzebnica was also regarded as a “monument of authority” and an ancestral mausoleum, becoming one of the few surviving mausoleums of the Silesian Piast dynasty. The duke and his wife, the founders of the church, were buried here (in the presbytery, there is a marble tomb of Henry the Bearded, dating back to 1680); other eminent figures interred in the temple include duke Konrad the Curly, duke Konrad Oleśnicki and Caroline, duchess of Legnica and Brześć - the last of the Piast dynasty, who died in 1707 in Trzebnica. The immense artistic value of the church in Trzebnica manifests itself in the diversity and harmonious coexistence of its myriad decorative features that came into being over the course of many centuries - the Late Romanesque and Early Gothic sculptural and architectural detailing hewn from solid stone as well as the tympanums adorned with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, the Baroque interior decor as well as the Baroque and Rococo fittings, with particular emphasis on the cycle of paintings from workshop of Michael Willmann, depicting the Legend of St Hedwig. In addition, the interior is decorated with paintings by a number of artists, including Michael Willmann, Phillipp Christian Bentum, with sculptures by Franz Joseph Mangoldt as well as by many other works by various plasterers, woodcarvers, gilders, goldsmiths, cabinetmakers, stonemasons etc. An Art Nouveau pipe organ casing from 1903, designed by H. Poelzig, constitutes an interesting addition.

The impressive monastery building comprising five two-storied wings with two cloisters, built in 1697-1726, adjoins the church from the south. The complex also includes auxiliary buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries, their existence linked, among other things, with the function of a hospital which the monastery once performed. In the churchyard in front of the main entrance to the church and monastery, there is the 18th-century monument of St John of Nepomuk.

The Cistercian convent in Trzebnica was damaged by fire on several occasions. It was also forced to weather wars and invasions, including, first and formemost, the attack of the Hussites in 1432 and the Swedish invasion in the 17th century. The monastery was secularised in 1810. The valuable book collection and numerous interior fittings were transferred to Wrocław. Today, the monastery serves as the seat of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of St Borromeo, whereas the temple performs the functions of a parish church.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: pocz. XIII w. - XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Jana Pawła II 3, Trzebnica
  • Location: Voivodeship dolnośląskie, district trzebnicki, commune Trzebnica - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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