28 March 2019

ABBEY NATIVITATIS B.M.V.

Lubiń | Poland

The Wielkopolska region is the cradle of the Polish state. A monastery stands, with the slender tower of the monastery church visible from a great distance; it is in southern Wielkopolska, on the last hill of the Kalisz Uplands, in the district of Kościan, in Lubiń.

The Benedictines from Liège were settled here by the Polish king, Bolesław the Bold in 1076. In this still wild, non-Christianised country they had only “cross, book and plough” to spread Christianity. The building of the church – the oldest church in this region – was interrupted and the monks departed, for causes unknown from here for 40 years.

The second monastery foundation was made by King Bolesław the Wry Mouthed, with the participation of the wealthy Awdaniec family. Then a Romanesque basilica was built, whose walls and foundations have been revealed during contemporary archaeological investigations. The church dedicated to the Most Holy Virgin Mary was consecrated in 1145.

In the 13th century was built the nearby Romanesque parish church of Saint Leonard, extended in the 16th century, with a renaissance upper storey, said to be one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Poland.

Remains of a paved courtyard, smith’s forge, metal melting furnace, bread oven and for those times a luxuriously finished house for guests, enable one to imagine the rich and industrious life of the monastery. Then there were about 30 monks in the Lubiń monastery, managing great estates. The monastery was so rich that in need it sometimes financially supported the Polish kings.
The monastery was also a source of learning. Since 1150 a scriptorium operated here, and the monks as literate people served the rulers of Poland as secretaries. One of them was Gallus Anonimus, author of the oldest Polish chronicle in the Latin language. The obligation to read books of Holy Scripture was part of the Benedictine rule and therefore libraries grew up in the monasteries. The Benedictine school for children of the nobility and others enjoyed wide renown, and Abbot Kiszewski also established a music school here.

During the rule of Abbot Stefan, in the years 1444-1460, the church underwent a Gothic reconstruction, and in 1530, in the time of Abbot Mikołaj it was heightened, gaining slender Gothic proportions. Between 1730-1738 there were side chapels. The Baroque polychromes originate from this period; the Marian polychromes present the Triumph of Mary and the Secrets of the Rosary on the new vaulting. The beautiful stalls are of the same period, their creators Jan Jerzy Urbański and the wood carver Jan Hampel were inspired by the words of the Psalm “Amongst angels I will sing a hymn to the Lord”, they decorated the stalls with many, full of life, angelic figures. Memorial plaques of abbots of the 16th and 17th centuries are to be seen on the walls and there is also a memorial plaque to the Polish ruler Władysław Spindleshanks, murdered 1231 in Środa Śląska, who perhaps was buried in Lubiń.

There was no war, in which the monastery was not robbed and plundered, and during the Swedish invasion in 1655, it was so looted and destroyed that the monks dispersed for 5 years. During the Northern War the Swedes robbed the monastery library of many priceless books. Despite these destructions the monastery continually revived through the centuries. Yet from 1795 in the Prussian Partition, which included Wielkopolska, the liquidation of the monastic orders began. In 1834 the library was transferred to Berlin and the monastery building was demolished, leaving only the presbytery.

In 1923, 49 years after the death of the last Lubiń monk, two Polish Benedictines together with brothers from the Emaus Abbey in Prague, began the rebuilding of the monastery in Lubiń, which was interrupted by the outbreak of the II World War. The Germans took the fields and the farm buildings from the monks, and in the monastery they organised a transit camp for Catholic priests. After sending them to concentration camps the Germans plundered the church and closed it. The collections of the District Museum also disappeared, which had been organised by Father Jozafat Ostrowski. In the monastery buildings the Germans organised an old peoples home, and later a recreation centre for the Hitler Youth. During the war many monks perished in camps and prisons.
The first Benedictine, Father Jan Jankowski, returned to Lubiń in 1945.

After works undertaken in 1978 for the draining of the monastery, the remains of the former buildings were found. Then extensive, years long, archaeological investigations conducted under the leadership of Professor Zofia Kurnatowska from Poznań enabled the making of many discoveries and the recreation of the monastery history. In 2000-2001 the interior of the church was renewed. Of the great wealth of the monastery and priceless library there remain only a few remnants. The most precious of these is the church itself, today dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The beautiful baroque stalls, main altar and polychromes create an unusual harmony in their entirety and this constitutes its greatest artistic value. It is worth also remembering that the chestnut tree growing in front of the church is the oldest in Poland.

Today the Lubiń Benedictines lead the former monastic life according to the Benedictine rule, Prayer and work and the service of mankind. They conduct catechisms and activities for young people, meditation courses, accept guests seeking spiritual support, run a tree and shrub nursery, and do this according to the motto: “That in everything God should be adored”.

 

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