When visiting Northern Poland, I was really impressed by its awesome castles, but while there don’t forget to include these three monasteries in your Poland itinerary too. Even though one of them, Pelplin, has already lost its monastery status some time ago, the entire building complex has a historic feel of a former monastery. You maybe have heard of the pilgrims’ destination Swieta Lipka monastery with its impressive Baroque architecture. During your visit to Wigry National Park, you also have to see the splendid Pokamedulski Monastery located there. So let’s start to explore them one by one.
Pelplin Cathedral, the former monastery
Former Cistercian Abbey, now a cathedral, is located about 45 km south of Gdansk. The abbey church is of great importance in the development of brick Gothic architecture in the Baltic region. The Cistercian Order has administered the Pelplin land for almost six centuries. The Grey Monks, as they were formerly referred to, came to Pelplin at the end of the 13th century and started to build a temple. It took about 250 years for construction works to be completed. From the south, the monastery was added to the temple. It had wings concentrated around the cloisters surrounding the internal garden. It successively expanded the monastic book collection, a large part of which has been preserved to this day in the Diocese Library.
The 17th century was prosperous for the abbey because of the Counter-Reformation that was underway, which resulted, among other things, in numerous donations from the nobility and burghers returning to Catholicism. During this period, the interior of the temple was thoroughly made baroque, and a priory and a guest house were built. The situation changed completely after the first partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century, when Pelplin became a part of Prussia. Although the former abbey lost its monastery status at that time, it retained its sacred function; the monastery church was raised to the status of a cathedral, and a seminary was situated in the former monastery buildings. Despite substantial reconstruction works, which were done in the 19th century, the monastery retains the typical Cistercian spatial composition.
The cathedral basilica has an exceptional architectural and artistic value. Its large size places it among the most impressive sacred buildings made of brick. The length of the church is 83 meters, the maximum width almost 46 meters, and the height of the nave and transept reach 26 meters. The interior of the church is lavishly decorated. Of particular value is a masterpiece of the 15th century wood carving: a complex of choir stalls consisting of several segments. The six-level main altar is one of the largest and most magnificent in Europe.
The abbey in Pelplin remains a site of crucial importance for both the culture and history of Poland. In 2014, the entire complex of buildings became a Historical Monument. The project work is well underway to get back the basilica to its former glory.
Swieta Lipka Monastery
Swieta Lipka is a tiny village in Northern Poland, and despite its size, it is well known as a religious centre and a pilgrimage site. Swieta Lipka is located about 70 km from Olsztyn. “Lipka” in Polish means “small linden tree”, while “Swieta” means "Holy”. Regarded as one of Poland’s greatest works of Baroque architecture, the famous Marian sanctuary in Swieta Lipka annually attracts huge numbers of tourists and pilgrims. Within the monastery complex stands a magnificent 17th century Baroque church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Legend has it that once upon a time a criminal was waiting for his execution in the dungeon of Ketrzyn Castle. He prayed to the Holy Virgin to save him, and she appeared before him and gave him wood and a chisel so that he could carve her figure. The convict obeyed her words and though he had never carved before he managed to produce a fine statuette of Mary with Child. He presented it to judges the following morning. Believing this to be a sign from God, the judges let him loose. The grateful man placed the statuette on the first linden tree by the road from Ketrzyn to Reszel. A chapel was created in that place in the 15th century. The situation changed in the early 16th century when Protestantism took over and the chapel was destroyed and pilgrims to Swieta Lipka received the death penalty. In the early 17th century, the Catholics regained their religious freedom and the village was turned over to the Jesuits. The superb baroque church in Swieta Lipka was built between the end of the 17th century and the mid-18th century, on the same spot where the Holy Linden once grew.
The entrance to the basilica is via an ornate wrought-iron gate. The church boasts a stunning interior with the works of many remarkable artists. The enormous 18th century organ placed behind the main altar hypnotises with its angelic figurines and bells moving while the melody is played. There is a short recital every day presenting the sound of the splendid instrument. Organ concerts are held there during the summer months.
The complex also includes a monastery and cloisters, with their interiors covered in gold and silver, and many stone and wooden sculptures.
Pokamedulski (Post-Camaldolian) Monastery
The Pokamedulski Monastery is located on a hill above Lake Wigry about 20 kilometres from Suwalki in north-eastern part of Poland. Some time ago it was one of the richest building complexes of this type in Europe. The towers of the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the red roof of the monastery can be seen from a distance. Originally, the monastery was built from wood in the 16th century. After fire in the seventeenth century, new monastery buildings and a late Baroque church were erected according to the project of Italian architect Peter Putini.You can admire the seven altars made in the Rococo style in the temple.
There is a descent to the Camaldolese catacombs before the chancel. On one of the walls you will find the 18th century painting called "Death dance". There are rooms in the cloister dedicated to visit of the Polish Pope: the apartments, the chapel in which John Paul II celebrated the service, the papal reading room. In the area of the monastery, there are signs with QR codes that can be scanned with your smartphone, and they will lead you to the website, where you can start the virtual guide application. It contains audio and text descriptions of individual buildings on the Wigry Hill.
Check the opening hours of these places before you go. Since all the places are sacral, dress modestly. You can stay overnight at Post-Camaldolian Monastery Guest Rooms. Make your inquiry in advance if interested.
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What did you think? Have you been to Poland? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sāne
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