Tyniec – the Benedictine abbey complex, Kraków
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Tyniec – the Benedictine abbey complex

Kraków

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The Tyniec abbey is the oldest existing monastery in Poland which continues the Benedictine tradition - a site which figures prominently in the history of Poland from almost the very beginning of Polish statehood. From the first half of the 11th century onwards, the monastery played the role of an important centre for missionary activities as well as for liturgical and cultural life. In addition, it also bore witness to many significant political events and had links with numerous historical figures. The abbey in Tyniec was originally erected in the course of the reconstruction of state and church structures of the Piast monarchy led by Casimir I the Restorer, necessitated by the devastation wrought by Bretislav I, the Duke of Bohemia, as well as by the pagan rebellion which had taken place at the time. The Benedictine monasteries founded at the time were intended to provide support to the resurgent bishoprics, with the monasteries in Tyniec, Mogilno and Lubiń supporting the Cracow, Gniezno and Poznań bishoprics respectively. The monastery in Tyniec was the earliest among the three and enjoyed the greatest significance in both economic and political terms, as evidenced by numerous privileges granted by popes and monarchs alike. Later on, the Tyniec abbey provided its support in the process of establishment of other Benedictine monasteries, e.g. in Ołbin (Wrocław), Łysa Góra, Sieciechów, Orlová (Orłowa) and Senieji Trakai (Stare Troki) in Lithuania. The abbey complex and its spatial layout had taken form approximately 900 years ago; today, they bear testimony to the tangible and intangible heritage of unparallelled importance on a nationwide scale. The abbey in Tyniec also remains a valuable example of the Romanesque architecture of the 11th century and a place to which various works of art and crafts as well as the art of book illumination remain inextricably linked. Insofar as the architecture of the complex is concerned, the Romanesque phase thereof remains the most important one by far. Despite having been preserved only in fragments, it nevertheless constitutes one of the few known surviving examples of ecclesiastical architecture of this period and remains one of the primary illustrations of Romanesque art from the earliest period of the Piast monarchy. The various items used by the inhabitants of the monastery throughout the ages also continue to display signs of remarkable artistry, despite having been dispersed among various locations during the 19th century. Some of the surviving and identified paraments and liturgical books are truly unique examples of their kind and remain one of the oldest and the greatest treasures in Polish collections today; these include a golden traveller’s chalice and a paten obtained from grave no. 8, dating back to the mid-11th century, fragments of ivory pastorals from the 11th century, 15th-century chalices once owned by the abbots Maciej and Andrzej and valuable books from both the medieval and early modern period: The Tyniec Sacramentary from the 11th century, abbot Mścisław’s Gradual dating back to ca. 1390, abbot Mścisław’s Antiphonary (pre-1409), abbot Maciej Skawinka’s Gradual (ca. 1460) as well as Antiquitates Iudaice libri XX and De Bello Iudaico libri VII by Titus Flavius Josephus.

History

The Benedictine monastery in Tyniec was founded on the site with settlement traditions dating back to the prehistoric age. Historians nowadays tend to adopt the view first expressed by the chronicler Jan Długosz that the abbey was founded by King Casimir I the Restorer in 1044, although the theory that it was in fact King Bolesław II the Bold who had been its founder also had many supporters until recently. The surviving documents confirm that the king made substantial donations to the monastery. There is a theory that, after being brought back from Hungary, the mortal remains of the monarch have been buried by the Benedictine monks inside the walls of the original Romanesque basilica in Tyniec as a sign of gratitude. What is known for certain is that, until the very end of the foundation process, i.e. until the monastery church was consecrated by the papal legate somewhere around 1124, the monks also received generous support from Judith of Swabia - the wife of Duke Władysław Herman - as well as from Duke Bolesław the Wrymouth. During the 2nd half of the 11th century, the stone church and monastery complex were erected. Those structures have survived until today in the form of relics incorporated into subsequent structures: the southern wall of the church with its Romanesque portal, the foundations of the monastery, the refectory as well as the set of sculpted capitals. The Romanesque church was a small, three-nave building with a trio of apses in the east; the design of its western section has not survived and remains unknown. In 1259, the monastery was plundered by the Tartars, while in 1306 it was burned down by the armies loyal to the bishop Jan Muskata during the conflict with the King Władysław (Ladislaus) I the Elbow-high, whom the monks of the Tyniec monastery supported. During the 15th century, the entire complex was rebuilt in the Gothic style. The surviving parts from this phase of its existence include, among others, the cloister and the chapter house, the layout of the church, the chancel and fragments of the temple’s main portal. In the 1st half of the 17th century, the church was redesigned in the Baroque style, receiving a new main body. The previously missing tower was also added to its façade during that time. The library building was also erected during the same period. In 1656, the abbey was gutted by fire once again during the Swedish invasion. The final stage of major construction works in the Tyniec abbey were the modifications made during the mid-18th century in the Late Baroque style. The library was extended and received new decorations, while the church received a new interior décor which included black marble altarpieces designed by Francesco Placidi. The monastery sustained serious damage during the times of the Bar Confederation, having served as a confederate stronghold in years 1771-72, allowing the confederate forces to hold back the Russians for a considerable period of time. In the new era of the Partitions of Poland, the Benedictine monks were unable to commence the restoration of the monastery, which continued to fall into disrepair while it funds dwindled, until finally, in 1816, Emperor Franz I ordered the monastery to be dissolved. In 1822, the seat of the bishopric was established in Tyniec (the Tyniec diocese), only to be moved to Tarnów a few years later; many precious paraments and a part of the library collection were also moved to Tarnów at that time. The abbey archives, on the other hand, were relocated to Lviv, where in 1848 they were lost forever during a fire. The final blow for the Tyniec monastery came in 1831, when a blaze consumed the roofs and interiors of the southern section of the complex; the church was spared, however, its interior décor and fixtures surviving intact despite the destruction of the roof structure and the cupolas which crowned the towers. The Austrian authorities rebuilt the church and then handed it over to the local parish; the rest of the former convent, however, was left to wither away. Towards the end of the 19th century, proposals for the restoration of the monastery were made, yet it was only in July 1939 that the Benedictine monks returned to Tyniec, which was largely due to the initiative and involvement of rev. Karol van Oost, a monk from the Belgian abbey of St Andrew in Bruges. When the monks arrived, the monastery was still in a state of ruin, with the onset of World War II preventing any meaningful reconstruction efforts from being made. It was only in 1947 that restoration of the monastery began. The conservation research and works, conducted by eminent experts, took a few decades to complete. The south-eastern section of the complex was rebuilt in years 1947-1952. The reconstruction and refurbishment of the north-eastern, central and western wings took place in the 1980s. The final part of the works was the reconstruction of the southern wing - the former library - which was completed in 2008.

Description

The abbey is situated to the south-west from the centre of Cracow (having been incorporated into the city limits in 1973), standing atop a steep limestone promontory by the Vistula River. The monastery courtyard is surrounded by a complex of stone and brick-and-stone structures, including the church of St Peter and Paul, monastery buildings, defensive walls, the so-called abbot’s house (the gatehouse), utility buildings, the manor farm complex and the gardens. The three-nave church consists of a short, three-bay Baroque main body and an extended, four-bay Gothic chancel with a semi-hexagonal termination. Its façade is accentuated by quadrangular towers topped with squat tented roofs. Fragments of the walls of the original Romanesque church survive in the underground section beneath the chancel. Inside, the church features surviving barrel vaults, the naves of the church being separated by sets of piers and arches. The side naves have been adapted to serve as chapels which open up towards the main nave in a series of arches, with the individual chapels being interconnected by means of narrow passageways, following the so-called Jesuit layout. The numerous distinctive features of the church interior include Baroque altarpieces and balustrades made of black marble from Dębnik, 17th-century choir stalls featuring paintings on their backrests which portray the history of the Benedictine order and a pulpit in the form of the boat of St Peter, dating back to the 18th century. The quadrangular monastery, located to the south of the church, features a garth surrounded by a cloister and a complex of buildings made up of three wings, grouped around a second garth. The main courtyard is surrounded by three different structures - the former library wing in the south, curtain walls in the west and the so-called abbot’s house in the north, the latter being a structure which forms part of the gatehouse complex. The monastery courtyard itself features a hexagonal water well from the early 17th century, covered by a roof dating back to the 19th century. The monastery is accessible by an 18th-century linden-lined alley.

compiled by National Heritage Board of Poland, 2017r.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1044 r.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Kraków
  • Location: Voivodeship małopolskie, district Kraków, commune Kraków
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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