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The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec

The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, founded in 1044, is the oldest existing monastery in Poland. Thus, it is a unique witness to the development of monasticism in Europe and to the long and turbulent history of Poland: from the dawn of statehood, through its golden age, the partitions, to its rebirth in the 20th century.

The primary function of the abbey, despite its dissolution and destruction in the 19th century, has not changed. Its location on a rocky limestone hill in the bend of the Vistula River and the surrounding landscape, in which the monastery buildings are integrated, are part of a unique spirit of the Tyniec Abbey – a place of encounter between the beauty of nature, a thousand-year-old history, monuments, and a still vibrant spiritual culture and hospitality.

The oldest preserved parts of the monastery date back to the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1125, the consecration of the Romanesque basilica took place. Subsequent reconstructions and architectural details reflect the changes in Polish art over the centuries – the cloisters and church walls are Gothic, the vaults and polychromes are Renaissance, and the decor with furnishings is Mannerist and Baroque. During archaeological excavations conducted after World War II, the remains of the oldest architecture of the monastery complex were uncovered: the foundations and lower parts of the walls of a Romanesque basilica and refectory, floors, as well as burial sites from the 11th and 12th centuries with valuable grave goods.

The special role of Tyniec Abbey in the consciousness of Poles is evidenced by the period of partitions, during which the monastery was dissolved. Nevertheless, it remained in the collective memory, as evidenced, among others, by Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel ‘The Teutonic Knights’ (the plot of the book begins in Tyniec, with a rich description of the monastery and the legends associated with it) and Saturnin Świerzyński’s painting ‘View of Tyniec’ from 1867, housed in the National Museum in Kraków. It depicts a typical landscape of the period, close to Poles, heartening them during the partitions. Tyniec and its ruins also inspired other writers and artists such as Stefan Żeromski and Teodor Parnicki.

During the reconstruction of the monastery in the post-war period, a set of twin Romanesque capitals dating from around 1100 was discovered. One of them shows a beautiful relief palmette motif, which was reproduced on the current 10 złoty banknote. And thus, the centuries-old Tyniec capital has become an everyday companion of almost every Pole.

Br. Michał Tomasz Gronowski OSB, PhD, DSc