Excerpts from the history of the Land of the Odra Fens
Foundation and the development of the Cistercian abbey
The Cistercian abbey in Lubiąż is one of the largest architectural baroque enterprises in Middle Europe. One of the oldest and richest monastic foundations in Lower Silesia, the Lubiąż monastery was a mother institution for the majority of Cistercian convents in the region.
Following the custom, the object is situated among fields and forests, away from busy urban centres. According to the extant documentation, the origins of Lubiąż can be traced back to the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries, when a settlement protecting the passage on the Odra River was established. The settlement was destroyed during the 1108 invasion of Silesia by emperor Henry V and replaced by a Benedictine monastery, erected probably in 1050 or 1150. After a dozen years or so, however, the Benedictines were substituted with Cistercian friars, brought to Lubiąż by Prince Bolesław the Tall. Having regained the lands of his father, Władysław II the Exile, Bolesław decided to celebrate this event by calling to life a new monastic foundation in Lubiąż. The Cistercians invited by the Prince were the monks from Pforta on the Saala River in Thuringia, where Władysław II’s family found shelter after their exile from Poland. Thus, Bolesław paid the debt his family owed to the German order. The first group of friars, who were supposed to prepare the settlement, arrived on August 16th, 1163. The other 13 monks and their abbot Florentius, however, came to Lubiąż no sooner than in 1175. On March 21st , of that same year Bolesław the Tall, Prince of Silesia, issued a foundation charter, confirming the properties of the monastery, which comprised 15 villages, numerous lands, 27 horses, oxen and cows as well as tithes collected from local inns, shambles and markets. In 1201, at the behest of Günter II (St Hedwig’s confessor), Innocent III issued a papal bulla, confirming all earlier grants and Prince Henry I the Bearded personally outlined the limits of the monastic possessions, rounding them up significantly. By 1207 the monastery had owned 27 villages and new grants followed shortly after. The most generous benefactors were Władysław Odonicz, the Prince of Kalisz and Great Poland (Wielkopolska) and Mieszko, the Prince of Opole. Rapid development of the abbey facilitated its expansion: the monastery of Lubiąż had its branches in Mogiła near Cracow (since 1222), Henryków (since 1227), Kamieniec Ząbkowicki (since 1249) and Krzeszów (since 1292).In 1220 pope Honorius III extended the protectorate of Lubiąż to the Cistercian nunnery in Trzebnica.
The first monastery church made of brick was erected in 1200 and the founder of the abbey, Prince Bolesław the Tall, was buried within its walls a year later. At the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries Lubiąż could boast three churches: apart from the one belonging to the monastery, there were also the Romanesque St James’ Church (already existing in the Benedictine period) and St John the Evangelist’s Church, enumerated in the foundation charter. In all probability, Lubiąż was an important religious centre at that time.
The Tatar invasion on Silesia in 1241 did not affect the monastic properties directly. The 14th century is considered to have been for the monastery the period of booming economy and culture. One of the factors contributing to a significant increase in the income of the convent at that time was the adoption of the rent-based economy. Many branches of agriculture developed on the monastic lands, to name but horticulture, orcharding, bee-keeping, fishery and vine cultivation. The abbey owned gold mines near Złotoryja, mills, shambles in towns and bread stalls in Legnica and was granted a charter, allowing it to trade in salt and herrings, imported duty-free from the Pomerania (Pomorze) region. Yet another source of income were fees collected at the fords of the Odra River and tolls paid at the bridges of the Widawa River as well as fees from the inns functioning near river crossings. Besides 65 villages and 15 granges in Silesia, the properties of Lubiąż reached as far as Nakło in the region of Great Poland and Oświęcim in Little Poland (Małopolska). The monastic scriptorium produced such treasures of mediaeval literature as: Epythaphium Ducum Silesia, Annales Lubensis, Versus Lubensis, The Catalogues of the Bishops of Wrocław and supposedly Vitae Beatae Hedvigis, as well asmany chronicles and forgeries.
The extant monastic seal, reminding of a triptych, comprises the image of the Holy Virgin, wearing a three-leaved crown and standing under a Gothic arch. Underneath the flaps of her cloak one can see monks, clasping their hands for prayer. There are other figures visible in the aisles, the one on the right is probably the abbot. On the rim of the seal one can read the words MON. DE LVBENS S. CONVENTVS.
The Hussite Wars (1428-1432) and the subsequent burning down of the monastery lead to a slump in monastic economy. The situation was further exacerbated by a dissension between the monks of Polish and German origin, which took place in 1462. The conflict ended in the banishment of both groups by the princes: John of Żagań and Głogów and George Albrecht of Oleśnica and Ziębice, who took over the monastery and turned it into a hunting palace. The economic situation of the abbey was slightly improved after the return of the monks in 1505 but it collapsed again shortly after, with the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. The invading Swedes plundered the monastic treasury and stole the valuable reliquaries. In 1642 the contents of the library and the archives were removed to Szczecin, only to be burnt by the strike of a lightning.
The Thirty Years’ War was followed by more than a century of cultural and economic growth, which accompanied the revival of monastic life in Lubiąż. This period is associated with the rule of the abbots: Arnold Freiberger, John Reich, Dominic Krausenberger, Balthasar Nietsche, Louis Bauch and Constantine Beyer, all of whom were devoted patrons of the arts. It was thanks to them that the most outstanding representatives of Baroque painting and sculpture arrived in Lubiąż. One of these artists was M.L. Willmann, whose school of painting educated among others the renowned P. Brandl or J. Liszka. The sculptor M. Steinl also chose Lubiąż for his abode. Theological studies could be pursued in the enlarged library. In the 17th and early 18th centuries the Cistercians from Lubiąż were renowned for their expertise in the works of Aristotle. In fact, the abbots of the monastery frequently lectured at the University of Wrocław in the 18th century.
The dates 1649-1668 framed the period of an extensive renovation of the monastic complex, in the course of which the monastery church was redecorated and new cells for the friars and a convent school were built. Fountains in two newly established gardens were supplied with water by a plumbing system, constructed in 1649. In the 70’s of the 17th century the edifice of a new monastery was designed. The project assumed the preservation of the old church. The initial stage of the reconstruction encompasses the period between 1672 and 1681. It involved minor changes in the structure of the Gothic church and a new interior decoration. In the second stage (1681-1699) two new wings were added to the Abbot’s Palace, situated north of the church. Finally, the quadrangle of the monastery building was erected in the third phase of the reconstruction, carried out between 1695 and 1715. In 1729 the construction of the new St James’ Church and warehouses was initiated.
Two years earlier, the Way of the Cross was founded in St Hedwig’s Grove. In the following years the new complex acquired an original decor. In 1737 A. F. Scheffler made the polychromy for the summer refectory. In that same year the painter K. F. Kentum finished a three years’ process of decorating the interior of the library. He also painted the plafond on the ceiling of the Prince’s Hall. Sculptures in the dining hall and a series of statues of Negroes and Indians, which are still to be seen in the monastery gardens, were made by F. J. Mangoldt.
The situation of the abbey deteriorated significantly after 1740, when Silesia became a Prussian province. Burdensome war contributions and numerous repressions lead to the downfall of the monastery. Nearly 650 years of its existence ended on November 21st, 1810 when by the decree of the Prussian king Frederick III the abbey was secularised.