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Wigry. Former monastery. They found themselves in the underground, which perhaps remembers the times of King Władysław Jagiełło

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On the occasion of another renovation in the former Camaldolese monastery in Wigry (Podlaskie Voivodeship), cellars and corridors were discovered. They are located under five hermitages, i.e. hermitages, where monks lived centuries ago. It is possible that the underground remembers the times of King Władysław Jagiełło, who, according to sources, came across the hermitage while hunting. The foundation that manages the site commissioned archaeologists to examine the cellars. Although the Camaldolese moved here in 1668, the history of the local settlement dates back many centuries.

General renovations in the historic post-Camaldolese monastery in Wigry have been going on since 2017. Currently, they are conducted in the place where there are hermitages, i.e. hermitages where monks lived centuries ago. There are 17 hermitages in total. Work is underway on five.

– And it was during this work that we made an extraordinary discovery. It turned out that there are cellars and corridors under the buildings, which in the future may become another showcase of this place – says Fr. Jacek Nogowski, parish priest of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God parish in Wigry and president of the Wigry Pro Foundation.

This is what a post-Camaldolese assumption looks like. On the right side we can see 17 hermitagesWigry Pro Foundation

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The underground will be examined by archaeologists

The Foundation was established by the Bishop of Ełk. He manages the former monastery and raises funds for its maintenance.

– We received a subsidy of PLN 1.8 million from the state budget for the protection and renovation of the underground. Archaeological research will also be carried out. We should know the results in the fall. The cellars are about six meters deep. For the time being, it is not known what their purpose was – the priest points out.

Yotvingians settled here

The former monastery is located on a peninsula on Lake Wigry. Centuries ago, however, this area had no connection to the mainland.

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– Due to its defensive location, the island was inhabited by the Yotvingians, who were defeated by the Teutonic Knights in the second half of the 13th century. Much earlier, already in the 9th century, Christian missionaries appeared here. First St. Wojciech, and later St. Bruno of Kerfurt – says Fr. Nogowski.

King John Casimir gave the island to the Camaldolese as a vote of gratitude

He adds that St. Bruno initiated efforts to introduce church administration in this area.

– The project was completed only in 1667, when King John Casimir granted the island of Wigry – who came to Poland in 1603 – to the Camaldolese Order. He wanted the monks to ask God to reverse the constant defeats that Poland was afflicted with. At the forefront of the Swedish Deluge. The monastery was supposed to be a vote of gratitude for saving Jasna Góra from the Swedes – emphasizes our interlocutor.

Passages and cellars were discovered under five hermitages Wigry Pro Foundation

The monks settled here in 1668. As the royal privilege granting them the land uses the phrase “Hermitage of the Wigry Island” it means that there were hermitages, i.e. hermitages, on the island at that time.

King Władysław Jagiełło ended up in a hermitage

– Sources say that it was the hermitage – more than two centuries before the arrival of the Camaldolese monks – that King Władysław Jagiełło came across while hunting here. By the time of King John Casimir, a larger number of hermitages could have been built here. Sources say that various hermits settled in this area. With time, congregations or even convents with papal rights were established – says the priest.

It is assumed that the cellars discovered under the hermitages date back to the times of Władysław Jagiełło.

– If it was 100% confirmed by archaeologists, we would have quite a sensation. Although the hermitages that have survived to our times were erected by the Camaldolese monks, the cellars themselves may come from earlier centuries. They must have been rebuilt, because you can see the redevelopment. There are also traces of the fire, our interlocutor points out.

They built villages and farms. They derived their income from, for example, the glassworks and the tar factory

He adds that it may be related to the fire of 1671, which destroyed the wooden church and monastery buildings that the Camaldolese monks erected immediately after they settled here.

There is a parish church on the site of the former monastery Wigry Pro Foundation

– It was also then that the remains of the royal hunting lodge burnt down, which sources say existed in 1559. After the fire, the monks took up the construction of new monastery buildings. This time brick. By 1745, e.g. hermitage, chancellor’s chapel (the name comes from the fact that an unspecified chancellor prayed in it – editor’s note), outbuildings and a Baroque church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of which I am the parish priest – says Fr. Nogowski.

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The Camaldolese monks cared not only for the expansion of the monastery, but also founded villages and farms, and built roads. In 1715, they founded the city of Suwałki.

– Gained income from numerous beehives, glassworks, tar mills, brickyards or from the sale of wood from the surrounding forests and serfdom. At the end of their stay, about nine thousand people lived in the Camaldolese estates, the priest points out.

They didn’t use sheets, they slept under rough blankets

As we read on the parish website, the rule ordered the monks above all to pray and lead an austere lifestyle. In addition to praying on their own, they gathered together for prayer seven times a day, and at 3:30 a.m. at night.

The Camaldolese moved here in the 17th century Wigry Pro Foundation

“In the Camaldolese room there were very modest furnishings, because the strict rule of the founder of St. Romuald was in force. From the perspective of the Camaldolese mattress stuffed with straw and a rough blanket (it was forbidden to use a sheet, woolen or feather mattresses and pillows, and more than two covers), their richness is best seen spirit,” reads the entry on the parish website.

They had to move near Warsaw

The splendor of the monastery ended right after the third partition of Poland.

– In 1796, the Prussian authorities confiscated the goods of the Camaldolese monks, and in 1799 their seat was occupied by the newly created Wigry diocese. In 1800, the Camaldolese left Wigry and moved to Bielany near Warsaw. The monastery, without its hosts, began to decline. In 1818, the pope abolished the diocese of Wigry and created a diocese in Sejny, which in 1821 was moved to Suwałki. The monastery church, which used to have the status of a cathedral, became a parish church. However, the post-monastery buildings began to fall into ruin even more. The hermitages fell into disrepair, the clock tower collapsed, and the richly decorated stairs leading to the chancellor’s chapel were demolished. Part of the stairs was moved to the church of St. Aleksandra in Suwałki – says Fr. Nogowski.

The monastery was destroyed during World War I and II

The German army also did a lot of damage during World War I. In 1915, as a result of artillery fire, the church, the doorkeeper’s house (a monk who was a doorkeeper – editor’s note) and the refectory (dining room – editor’s note) were seriously damaged. During the Second Polish Republic, the reconstruction of the church began on the basis of a design by architect Oskar Sosnowski.

Father Jacek Nogowski signed an agreement in which the government awarded a subsidy for the renovation and protection of the cellars WUOZ in Bialystok

– The first mass was celebrated here in 1933. Unfortunately, in 1944, during World War II, the temple was destroyed again as a result of shelling by Soviet artillery. After the war, thanks to the generosity of the parishioners, the church was rebuilt. Construction works were completed in the mid-1950s. At that time, the reconstruction of the remaining buildings began. The work was also possible thanks to government grants. Nevertheless, only a small part of the complex was rebuilt by 1973, the priest points out.

There was a House of Creative Work here

The year 1973 is an important date in the history of the monastery, because it was then that the Church leased the complex to the Ministry of Culture and Art.

Today’s peninsula was originally an island Wigry Pro Foundation

– The contract was concluded for 50 years. As government subsidies for the reconstruction of the monastery were quite modest, and there was still a lot to be done, there was a proposal that in exchange for a lease contract, the ministry would rebuild the former monastery. So it happened. Rebuilding began on a large scale. A house of creative work was established here, which was visited by numerous artists. Various meetings and workshops were held. The church, on the other hand, continued to manage the temple, the presbytery building and one of the hermitages – explains our interlocutor.

The contract should end in 2023. However, it was – with the consent of the Minister of Culture – dissolved in 2011. It was related to the end of the functioning of the creative work center and the fact that in 1999 the Pope paid a visit here Pope John Paul II. Since then, pilgrims began to come to the former monastery, and tourist traffic increased.

A place frequently visited by tourists

Today, the former monastery is one of the greatest attractions of the Suwałki Region. You can spend the night in the guest house “royal” and the chancellor’s chapel. Regional dishes are served in the refectory. Various meetings, retreats and international painting plein-airs are also held on the premises of the former monastery. You can also rent a boat or kayak and go swimming on the lake.

– Compared to the time when the Camaldolese stayed here, only two objects are missing. Stables and a building that was an extension of the “royal” house. Who knows, maybe one day we will be able to rebuild these buildings as well, the priest wonders.

Main photo source: Wigry Pro Foundation

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