Żagań - Post-Augustinian Monastic Complex, Żagań
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

Żagań - Post-Augustinian Monastic Complex

Żagań

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On the northern peripheries of the Lower Silesian Forests (Bory Dolnośląskie) lies Żagań, a 12th-century sentinel stronghold, which became ducal capital of the Legnica-Głogów Piasts in 1427. In 1628 the Żagań estate was purchased by Duke Albrecht Wallenstein from Ferdinand II, Emperor of Austria. The brilliant astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who formulated laws of planetary motion, came to Żagań at Wallenstein’s invitation, and though the latter was a forceful advocate of Catholicism, he was benevolently disposed towards the learned Evangelical. Successive owners expanded and enhanced the town, and in 1785 the estate came into the possession of Peter von Biron, Duke of Courland, and his heirs. The court of Żagań became widely famed in Europe courtesy of the beautiful Duchess Dorothea Talleyrand-Perigord, who kept the surname of her first husband, nephew of Napoleon’s minister of foreign affairs. Concerts were given here by Franz Liszt (the organ which he played can be seen at the Church of the Assumption) and Giuseppe Verdi, Stendhal and Honoré de Balzac came here for inspiration.

The owners expanded their residence and took care of the imposing Augustinian monastic complex. The friars had come to Żagań in 1284 from Nowogród Bobrzański. For years the friary was a leading centre of religion and scholarship in the fields of theology, as well as canonical and Roman law. Its eminent residents assured Żagań’s widespread fame. Foremost among them were the learned abbots Ludolf and Bernard Fabrich, and in particular Ignaz von Felbiger (1724-1788), educational reformer within the Habsburg Empire, who devised an innovative teaching method and an elementary learning textbook for Polish children entitled Obiecadło. During his time at Żagań, one of the first ever lightning conductors in Europe (believed by some to be the very first) was installed on the church spire in 1769.

The Augustinian friary buildings are among the most highly-rated monuments of ecclesiastical heritage in Silesia. They provide an exceptional example of a complex incorporating Gothic and Baroque styles. The friary constitutes a characteristic landmark of the town’s panorama, and impresses with its scale and architectural features. After a series of severe fires (in particular that of 1730) had ravaged Żagań, the medieval monastic buildings and church were rebuilt in the 18th century in keeping with the prevailing Baroque style. The church retained its Gothic shape with a pseudo-basilica body, stellar and net vaults, as well as its massive tower with a distinctive stepped gable. Inside, notable features include the 15th-century stalls and the Gothic sarcophagus of Henry IV, Duke of Żagań. Baroque treatment of the church primarily affected its interior, which was opulently furnished. The remodelled design was the work of Charles Martin Frantz, building work being overseen by Johann G. Bober of Świdnica, with painted and sculptural decoration being executed by artists from Wrocław: Johann Urbansky, Johann Haberle and Christian Konrad. Work on furnishing the church continued until c. 1750 with the involvement of numerous artists, among them Michael Wilmann, Jeremiah Knechel, and Georg A. Lichtenfels. A highlight is the unique monastic library and its extant fixtures, complemented with polychrome paintings by Georg Wilhelm Neunhertz. By the 15th century it was one of the most outstanding libraries in Silesia, and was renowned for its scriptorium, where the excellent illuminators - Henryk of Gubin and Martin of Raudnitz -worked.

In 1810, with secularisation underway, the friars left Żagań, and their estate was taken over by the state and the famous book collection was transferred to Wrocław’s University Library. Fortunately, the complex avoided any significant damage during or after World War II, and to this day evidences the exceptional status and longevity of seemingly provincial urban centres.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: koniec XIII - XVIII w.
  • Form of protection:
  • Address: Żagań
  • Location: Voivodeship lubuskie, district żagański, commune Żagań (gm. miejska)
  • Copyright owner: National Heritage Board of Poland

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