Wąchock – the Cistercian abbey complex, Wąchock
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Wąchock – the Cistercian abbey complex

Wąchock

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The Cistercian abbey in Wąchock remains one of the most valuable and best-preserved Romanesque monastery complexes in Poland, exhibiting an immense artistic value as well as outstanding importance for historians and researchers alike. The abbey is one of a number of monasteries in the Małopolska region (Wąchock, Jędrzejów, Sulejów, Koprzywnica) which had originally been established towards the end of the 12th century; all of these sites form a perfect example of the coexistence of Late Romanesque architecture with the new ideas of the Gothic period - ideas which were virtually unknown in 13th-century Poland and which were pioneered by the Cistercian order. The architecture of all these monasteries seems to follow the aesthetic views of St Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk who called for the abandonment of luxuriance in favour of simplicity, eschewing decorative arts and placing an emphasis on structural solutions and adequate proportions. Among this group of monasteries - all of which hold an immense artistic and historical value - it is the Wąchock abbey which deserves a particular mention due to the high degree of preservation of its original substance and structural solutions. Notable features of the complex include both the well-preserved Romanesque church which has retained its original appearance throughout the ages, with an interior which features one of the oldest surviving examples of cross-rib vaulting, as well as the authentic major rooms inside the monastery - the chapter house, the refectory and the monastic common room. The historical value of the monastery in Wąchock is further enhanced by the fact that, along with the aforementioned other monasteries in the Małopolska region which originated during the same period, it belongs to the only group of monasteries directly affiliated with the Morimond proto-monastery in France.

History

In 1179, Gedeon (Gedko), the bishop of Cracow, founded the Wąchock abbey (originally located in a village known as Kamienna) and invited the Morimond Cistercians to take up residence there. It is believed that the church was completed as soon as in the second quarter of the 13th century, while the monastery itself was erected by the end of the 13th century. In 1260, many of the monks perished during the Mongol invasion. The invaders have caused extensive damage to both the church and the monastic archives. As centuries wore on, various modernisation works have been performed, including the extension of the monastery as well as the construction of defensive walls, gatehouses etc. The works were interrupted due to the onslaught led by the Hungarian nobleman George II Rákóczi in 1656. In 1764, to celebrate the beatification of Wincenty Kadłubek, a Cistercian monk and bishop, a chapel dedicated to him was added to the northern nave of the church.

The monks residing in the Wąchock abbey have made successive efforts to consolidate the lands around the monastery. Owing to the privileges granted by the Polish monarchs, they were able to develop their own mining business which ensured substantial profits for the order for many years and which would later become the seedbed of the Old-Polish Industrial Region, formed during the 19th century.

In 1819, the dissolution of the abbey took place. The lands owned by the monks were taken over by the state, while the church was handed over to the local diocese. Over the course of more than one hundred years, the monastery buildings were used, among others, as a school, office and manufacturing facilities of various types, a field hospital and a warehouse; due to the lack of proper care, the buildings were slowly falling into disrepair. In fact, only the excessive demolition costs saved them from obliteration. In 1887, the ruined complex was taken over by the diocesan curia, which ordered the commencement of works intended to restore the abbey to its former glory. The conservation works performed back in the 19th century led to the removal of a number of Baroque additions, making it possible for the relics of the Romanesque period to regain prominence. In November 1951, the Cistercian monks returned to Wąchock, having moved from another monastery in Mogiła near Cracow.

Description

The abbey is located in the eastern part of the town of Wąchock, on the left bank of the Kamienna river, between the Błonie, Kościelna and Starachowicka streets. The complex comprises the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Florian, the monastery, the monastic gardens, arable fields and utility buildings. To the west, the monastery is preceded by a courtyard. The complex features two surviving gates: the city gate in the north and the so-called gate of bishop Gedeon in the south; the latter is no longer in the hands of the order, having been converted into a pharmacy during the 19th century. The complex borders with fields and pastures in the east and north which still feature distinctive depressions - the remnants of the ponds that had once existed there; in the west lies an arable field, while in the south - the monastery borders with utility gardens and buildings. The lands owned by the Cistercians, which had once been very extensive, today survive in a greatly diminished form. The church, oriented towards the east, follows a pillared basilica layout designed on a Latin cross floor plan (the so-called Bernardine layout). Both the transept and the chancel terminate with simple, straight walls. The chancel is flanked by side chapels opening up towards the transept. The façade is preceded by a rectangular porch - a 19th-century addition - with a rose window and triangular gable wall above. The façades of the church were constructed using split sandstone arranged in alternating yellowish and red-brown strips. The interior of the building features cross-rib vaulting, with the naves being separated from one another by a series of pointed arches. The interior décor is dominated by 18th-century painted decorations depicting the history of the Cistercians in Wąchock as well as a Late Romanesque sculpture (architectural detail). The fixtures and fittings were designed in the Baroque and Rococo styles. A quadrangular monastery with an enclosed cloister surrounding a garth abuts the church to the south. The oldest, 13th-century eastern wing features a chapter house with original cross-rib vaulting supported by four pillars with sumptuously decorated capitals. The southern wing incorporates the refectory, with its impressive cross-rib vaulting. The façade of the western wing is adorned by arcaded niches on two levels, with a quadrangular tower topped with a squat tented roof. A quadrangular abbot’s house with a garth adjoins the south-eastern corner of the monastery.

compiled by National Heritage Board of Poland, 2017r.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1179 r.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Wąchock
  • Location: Voivodeship świętokrzyskie, district starachowicki, commune Wąchock - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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