The pearl of Lubiaz

Witold Dudzinski

The monastic complex in Lubiaz in Lower Silesia is one of the most interesting and at the same time least known Baroque monuments in this part of Europe. It is bigger than the Wawel Castle and the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Such a monument must influence the surroundings.

History, the teacher of life, tells Dorota Golab that she is living in a unique place. That’s why she has created a web page of Lubiaz. ‘Something has begun here. You should show people that it is worth turning aside from the main road to Wroclaw and stopping here for a while’, Dorota says.
Several years ago the pearl of Baroque, located on the bank of the Oder, several dozen kilometres from Wroclaw and Legnica, was shamefully hidden from people. It was hard not to be ashamed of the scandalous devastation that happened during the times of the Polish People’s Republic. At first, a unit of the Soviet Army stationed there and then the monastery had no legal owner for many years. Today the monastic complex, which was forgotten not a long time ago, is influencing its surroundings, especially people who organize open-air events, exhibitions, sports contests and who set up small farming companies. At last, they feel at home here.

Mysterious, non-investigated history

Ten years ago the solemn opening of the magnificent Prince’s Hall in the Abbots’ Palace, with a huge oil plafond presenting the Silesian Prince Boleslaw I the Tall of the Piast Dynasty, grandson of Boleslaw the Wry-mouthed, the founder of the first abbey in Lubiaz in 1163, was a significant event. However, the beginnings of the known history concerning the place go back to the turn of the 10th and the 11th centuries, when a fortification to defend the crossing over the Oder was built on the site of the present-day abbey. The fortification was destroyed in 1108 during the invasion of Silesia by Emperor Henry V. It is presumed that a Benedictine abbey was founded on that site. Soon the Benedictines were replaced by the Cistercians who founded their branches in Mogila near Krakow and in Krzeszow, Henrykow and Kamieniec Zabkowicki. In 1220 Pope Honorius III entrusted the Cistercian convent of Trzebnica to the abbots of Lubiaz. From that time Silesia became one of the centres of the Cistercian Order. When Boleslaw the Tall died in 1201 he was buried in the monastery church in Lubiaz, which became a family mausoleum of the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty.
The abbey was destroyed during the Hussites’ wars and then restored in the 17th and the 18th centuries. The Abbots’ Palace, a brewery, a bakery and outbuildings were erected. Additionally, the magnificent Prince’s Hall as well as a library, the abbot’s dining room, a refectory and ca. 300 other rooms decorated by the works of masters, including Michael Willmann, called the Silesian Rembrandt, were built. But the annexation of Silesia to Prussia in the 18th century ended the splendid history of the abbey, which was secularised. Then several hundreds of paintings were transported to various places.
Yet, the most mysterious and non-investigated history of Lubiaz began in the 1930s. The monastery was changed into a military factory and then into a top-secret research site. Most likely the Germans worked on developing radar systems there. After the war some objects of art, including the paintings by Willmann, were transported to Warsaw museums and churches. The Soviet soldiers destroyed the Nazi facilities and changed the place into a hospital. After the Soviets had left Lubiaz the Central Book Storehouse and even a storehouse of some film company were placed there.

The information about the region can be found at web sites created by the lovers of Lubiaz, including Dorota Golab. Her friend, a specialist in computer sciences, has helped her. ‘He knew ‘how’ and I knew ‘what’, Dorota says. Her web page has been noticed: she has received the Silver Felix Award, which is appreciated by internauts. We want to show people that it is worth coming here. We owe a lot to the Lubiaz Foundation located in Wroclaw. Its founders were the governor of the Voivodship of Wroclaw, various firms and individuals. The Foundation took over the monastery buildings and took out a 99-year lease on the land. For several years the complex was put in order and its restoration plan was prepared. The costs were estimated to be ca. 10 million US dollars. Today, it is known that the initial estimate was too small. But it is hard to find such money. ‘Everyone that comes here can see how many things should be done’, say the people working in the Foundation. Consequently, the restoration is going slowly.
One can admire the restored Prince’s Hall, which used to be a ball and concert hall. Visitors agree that the hall is unique in all Europe. Its interior was designed in the first half of the 18th century. The huge painting of the plafond (300 sq m!), showing the apotheosis of the Catholic faith, is one of the biggest oil paintings in European art. The cycle of 10 oil paintings, placed in stucco frames, present scenes of the life of Ezbieta Krystyna Brunszwicka, married to Emperor Charles I. The statues of the Habsburg emperors as well as the coloured marble imitation of the walls complete the whole artistic project. You cannot miss seeing this hall when you are around. But very few people know about it.

The best from the Cistercians

Lubiaz tries to attract tourists by organizing various events in the vicinity of the monastery. In May a palace flower corso is organised. Fairs and concerts of bands accompany exhibitions of flowers. In July we organise Slot Art Festival, an international youth gathering that lasts several days. Besides exhibitions and concerts there are artistic workshops.
Lubiaz Days, a race along the Cistercian trails, cycling contests, the electronic music festival Tunnel Elektrolity and the Cistercian Picnic with a show of mediaeval costumes and knights’ fights are organized every year. There is also a special event advertised as ‘what is the best from the Cistercians: beer, honey, fish, bread and vegetables’.
During these events tourists also can see the monastic complex. They can see the church and garth, which are not usually accessible. It is worth seeing them although the church is nothing but a shell. It did not resist the Soviets. They took from it all they could. None of its 25 altars survived. The Soviets burnt them in stoves. The pulpit shared the same fate. Looking for treasures the Soviets removed the floor. They dragged the remains of the abbots from their coffins. The church gradually deteriorated within several years after the war.

The object of our dreams

The Foundation is not sure when the monastery will regain its splendour. ‘When – we do not know since the sponsors have been less generous recently. But letting your imagination run away with you, you can see a conference centre, flower shops, a swimming pool, a yard and tennis cords in the former monastic complex… Nowadays we have a model of the complex of our dreams. And it influences our imagination.
‘I wonder what it depends on that the palace in Ksiaz has been revived and the monastery in Lubiaz will be restored in the future’, Dorota Golab says. Whatever the reason is, although you cannot do much without concrete money, people in Lubiaz have pitched up and their initiative is the prime mover.
You can make those who have authority and money realise that there is a pearl on the bank of the Oder near Wroclaw, which needs to be framed.
The important thing is that the movement around the monastery influences the surroundings. Someone has set up an agrotourist farm, another person has opened photo services and someone else has organised a little language school. You can also see a new bar, a shop or a chemist’s. An old stylish barn has been transformed into a restaurant. ‘The Cistercian inn’ serves local dishes in a nice atmosphere. It has become fashionable to organise various events and wedding receptions in the region.

Facing the Oder

Maciej Nejman, the starost of Wolow and an activist of the Lubiaz Foundation, claims that his biggest concern is that the monastery and the town should not be separated but should become an integrated organism.
‘That’s why we have begun creating an ecomuseum, a complex of dispersed buildings, being a vivid collection that is to show the natural and cultural values as well as the heritage of the local inhabitants’, says Maciej Nejman. In the framework of the Cistercian Ecomuseum a trail of nature and a trail of history have been set up. An inventory of worth seeing places is being made. Since Lubiaz is not only the monastery. It is worth noticing the historic buildings of the psychiatric hospital and St Valentine’s Church, located on the hill.
It is worth taking the path of history to the charming Grove of Hedvig of Andechs. In the nearby Trzebnica Jadwiga, with the help of her husband, founded a Cistercian convent in 1202. She spent the last years of her life there. She was known for her piety, mercy and charity works. She took care for the sick, the poor and prisoners. She founded many hospitals and poorhouses.
There is St Hedvig’s well in the grove. A legend says that when Jadwiga walked along the path from Trzebnica to the monastery in Lubiaz she made water gush forth from this place and the water had healing power. The Foundation plans to rebuild the little chapels that stood in the grove. They were erected there in honour of St Hedvig. The Foundation has already made plans of their constructions. The path of nature leads through the beautiful reserve Odrzyska in the bend of the Oder, overlooking its old riverbed. ‘We would like to regain the Oder for the region. We seem to have turned our backs on the river for years’, Maciej Nejman says.
That’s why, there is an idea of setting up a camp for canoeists. This sport is becoming more popular every year. Nejman’s Foundation would like to encourage canoeists to stop there, to visit the monastery and the surroundings. There are many things to see there.

"Niedziela" 29/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: