Adam Stalony-Dobrzański’s stained glass windows for the Orthodox churches in Wrocław

Anna Siemieniec

Wrocław, University of Wrocław


After World War 2, Wrocław was one of the cities that received the Orthodox population of Poland, forcibly relocated from the eastern territories. Thus, a need arose to create parishes for the new inhabitants, in the existing Roman-Catholic or Protestant churches. In 1963, the old church of St Barbara was transformed into an Orthodox cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God, while in 1970 an Orthodox parish of Sts Cyril and Methodius was created.

The request to adapt the interiors of both churches to the needs of the Orthodox liturgy was directed to Adam Stalony-Dobrzański and Jerzy Nowosielski, Orthodox Catholic artists from Cracow. The results of their collaboration were comprehensive conceptions for the church interiors. Some of the concepts for the polychrome, iconostases or stained glass were never realized. The remaining traces are fragments of designs, sketches, mentions and iconographic descriptions.

Adam Stalony-Dobrzański – a painter, stained-glass artist, graphic artist, art conservator, and lecturer at the Fine Arts Academy in Cracow – realized stained glass projects for church interiors in Poland from the 1950s. Also in Wrocław he committed to preparing stained glass designs for both Orthodox churches; only a few of the designs were actually realized.

In the Orthodox cathedral, there are three stained glass windows by Stalony-Dobrzański: in the side chapel of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross there is a composition with scenes of Crucifixion Exaltation of the Holy Cross (1965); in the entrance door there is a stained glass window showing Mother of God Praying and the Evangelists (1964); and in the central window of the sanctuary, there is stained glass presenting Mother of God of the Sign with scenes from the life of Mary (1991).

In the church of Sts Cyril and Methodius, up to 2011 there was a semi-circular stained glass window showing the Mother of God Eleusa (1958). The window was manufactured during the filming of the documentary Witraże Dobrzańskiego, by Jerzy Łomnicki, and was a replica of a section of a stained glass window produced by Stalony-Dobrzański for the Orthodox church in Gródek Białostocki.

Stalony-Dobrzański’s works, still waiting to be more thoroughly examined and analysed, are original and recognizable, among others, owing to their association with the icon, the Byzantine-Ruthenian tradition and typology.


Key words: Adam Stalony-Dobrzański, Jerzy Nowosielski, sacred art, Orthodox church, Wrocław, stained glass, icon


Wrocław, the capital of Lower Silesia, has been marked by different cultures and religions over the centuries of its history. A sample of the exceptional character of the city is the District of Mutual Respect of Four Denominations,[1] where, within a distance of 300 metres, there stand: an Eastern Orthodox church, a Protestant temple, a Roman Catholic church and a Jewish synagogue. Their stories, seen against the centuries, for each of the denominations analysed at a different point in the city’s history, show the dynamics of the constant development of the city’s social structure. Wratislavia, Breslau, Wrocław – the very name of the capital of Lower Silesia capital reflects the changes in its national identity. The phenomenon is typical of frontier regions; in this case, it is the borderland between the Polish, German and Czech cultures.

While examining the post-war sacred art in Wrocław – the development of which was marked by contributions from the likes of Adam Stalony-Dobrzański (1904–1985)[2] and Jerzy Nowosielski (1923–2011) – we could draw a “Wrocław icon route” on the map of the city, joining the Orthodox churches.[3] Yet, in a city whose architecture is dominated by West-European Gothic, it is futile to look for onion domes, characteristic of the Orthodox or Greek-Catholic temples. This is due to the unusual post-war history of Wrocław, the city of the Recovered Territories. After 1945, its whole population was replaced, which brought West and East together.[4] The result was the meeting of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque with the Byzantine-Ruthenian tradition – a meeting that occurred through the artists of the icon [fig. 1].

Following the post-war resettlements, especially “Operation Vistula”, the terrains of Lower Silesia and Wrocław received Orthodox citizens – forcibly relocated from the eastern regions of Poland.[5] Thus a need arose to create parishes for the Orthodox community, and to adapt the interior of the temples to the Orthodox liturgy. Usually, the newly created parishes were assigned Roman-Catholic or Protestant churches, whose architecture and furnishing differed significantly from the architecture and interior of an Orthodox church.

A request to help adapt the churches to the needs of the Orthodox liturgy was directed to Adam Stalony-Dobrzański and Jerzy Nowosielski, Orthodox artists from Cracow. They were invited by Bishop Bazyli (Doroszkiewicz), the ordinary of the Wrocław-Szczecin diocese since 1961.[6] What they had to offer was their experience of the art of the Christian East – the experience in icon painting. Thanks to those two artists, the icon entered two Orthodox churches of Wrocław: the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God (40, Św. Mikołaja st.), and the church of St Cyril and St Methodius (15, Św. Jadwigi st. on the Piaskowa island).

The artists cooperated to create exhaustive conceptions of the church interiors: polychrome, iconostases, icons, stained glass, mosaics and liturgical paraphernalia. At present, analysing Stalony-Dobrzański’s and Nowosielski’s art in Wrocław, we face many difficulties in the attribution and dating of particular works. The problems result from the fact that work in particular churches were realized in stages, with ever-changing groups of co-workers. This situation was, on one hand, caused by the lack of sufficient financing to complete the commissioned work in the set time, and by prolonged formalities, connected with obtaining from the Wrocław Monuments Conservator the permits necessary to conduct adaptation works in historic churches. On the other hand, there were problems with the reception of the proposed solutions by the congregations; it was based on traditional Byzantine-Ruthenian iconography, yet its language of expression were modern art forms.

For these reasons, among others, some of the projects for the polychrome, iconostases and stained glass were not realized. There are traces left: preserved fragments of designs, sketches, written notes of the planned work, iconographic descriptions in archival documentation, and the still living history, recounted by those who remember both artists’ activity in Wrocław.

Even though Stalony-Dobrzański and Nowosielski collaborated in the same space and time, the division of labour, noticeable e.g. on the example of the Orthodox cathedral in Wrocław, proves that they were mutually aware of their strong and weak points. Nowosielski is more of a painter, operating with colour and colourful spots: in the cathedral, he focused on the polychrome and the iconostas. On the other hand, Stalony-Dobrzański used a strong, clear line, which allowed him to develop a mature artistic vision in stained glass work. Although he did create polychrome for the Wrocław Orthodox churches,[7] with figural scenes intertwined with numerous liturgical texts, it is the stained glass realizations in the Orthodox church space that demonstrate his innovative approach to stained glass work, and his awareness of the function that sacred art is supposed to fulfil in liturgical space.

“I have not encountered any record of stained glass used in Belarussian Orthodox architecture before 1950. Probably the first artist to introduce this type of ornament into an Orthodox church was Adam Stalony-Dobrzański” – says Prof. Aleksander Grygorowicz,[8] who was involved in the works on the Orthodox cathedral in the architectural aspect.

Stalony-Dobrzański turned to stained glass in 1945, when, collaborating with Ludwik Gardowski, he created a stained glass window presenting St Barbara, commissioned by AGH (Academy of Mining and Metalurgy) in Cracow. Yet it was the realization of stained glass for the church in Trzebownisk, in years 1950–1956, commissioned by Izabela Żeleńska, that directed the artist’s attention to stained glass.[9] From that moment until his death, he accepted commissions for stained glass windows for Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant temples.[10]

The introduction of stained glass into Orthodox church space as a continuation of the content and meaning of polychrome suggests that Stalony-Dobrzański treated it like an icon.[11] Rev. Henryk Paprocki writes in an exhibition catalogue from 2011:

It is a peculiar modernity of Adam Stalony-Dobrzański’s art. A firework of colours, with a strong dominant of – depending on the composition – navy blue and red, or green and yellow, organizes a certain vision which quickly becomes understandable. Stalony-Dobrzański’s stained glass is simply an icon. This is its elementary function. Simply because it is an icon, each of his stained glass windows shouts with colours and shapes to everyone who is no longer a viewer but a participant – cause authentic art is an invitation to participate.[12]

The relation between the icon and the stained glass in Stalony-Dobrzański’s art is also indicated by Zbigniew Jaworski, who runs a stained-glass workshop “Pracownia Witrażu” in Wrocław: “His realizations are brilliant icons, written with light; everything combines in them: innovation in art, ingenuity and tradition”.[13]

Eugeniusz Cebulski, a mitered priest, who was then a vicar in the Orthodox cathedral, recalls the moment when Stalony-Dobrzański and Nowosielski arrived in Wrocław: “Their appearance in Wrocław was connected with their activity in Gródek Białostocki and Michałów, near Białystok. Bishop Bazyli (later a metropolite) was the parish priest there at that time. He was building a church in Gródek, which was decorated by Adam Stalony-Dobrzański and Jerzy Nowosielski. That conception was realized mainly by Stalony-Dobrzański. Bazyli was satisfied with their work, and both the artists – Orthodox faithful, after all, immersed in spirituality and in church art – knew what would be expected of them in Wrocław”.[14]

In the early 1960s, the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church started the procedure to take over St Barbara church in Św. Mikołaja street in Wrocław, and to make it an Orthodox cathedral, which happened on the 15th of June 1963.[15] When the building was obtained, works started on the renovation and furnishing of the church, to meet the requirements of liturgy.

“For the Orthodox cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God in Wrocław, Stalony-Dobrzański designed stained glass for all windows” remembers Rev. Eugeniusz Cebulski. “Yet, due to the shortage of finance, the only windows realized were: in the side chapel, in the door between the vestibule and the nave, and in the sanctuary”.[16]

For the chapel of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is annexed to the chancel from the north, Stalony-Dobrzański designed three stained glass works referring to the Passion. They were intended to be set in three chapel windows: two in the north wall and one in the east wall. Only the window in the east wall, behind the iconostas, was realized. It is exceptional among the artist’s works, due to its highly geometrical, abstract background of squares and rectangles, with two, relatively small (considering the size of the window) figural groups [fig. 2].

Translated by Anna Ścibior-Gajewska

[1] [accessed 6 June 2014].

[2] E. Dwornik-Gutowska, Stalony-Dobrzański, in: Polski słownik bibliograficzny, vol. 41, Warszawa–Kraków 2002, pp. 497–499. This bibliographic note marks the most comprehensive source on the life and work of the artist. In subject literature, the title “Professor” is used, yet, despite his long years of educational work, the artist never officially obtained the title.

[3] During the “Wrocław Churches Night” (22 June 2014) a tour “Wrocław Icons Route” was conducted by Krystyna Czerni (Jagiellonian University of Cracow) and Anna Siemieniec (University of Wrocław). The tour started in the Orthodox cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God, then proceeded to the Greek-Catholic cathedral of St James and St Vincent and to the parochial Orthodox church of St Cyril and St Methodius. During the Lower-Silesia Science Festival (24 Sept. 2013) a meeting “Icons and stained glass of Nowosielski – visiting Wrocław Orthodox churches” was conducted by Olga Demczuk (from Stowarzyszenie Edukacyjne Wieża Babel) and Anna Siemieniec. The tour included the Greek-Catholic and the Orthodox cathedrals.

[4] Cf. A. Radziukiewicz Architektura pogranicza, “Przegląd Prawosławny” 2004, no. 1 (223) (the journal’s internet archive at, accessed: 6 June 2014).

[5] Bp. Jeremiasz (Anchimiuk), Na jubileusz 50-lecia parafii katedralnej we Wrocławiu, in: Katedra Narodzenia Przenajświętszej Bogarodzicy we Wrocławiu, ed. I. Rydzanicz, Wrocław 1996, p. 4.

[6] P. Gerent, Prawosławie na Dolnym Śląsku w latach 1945–1989, Toruń 2007, pp. 155–157.

[7] A. Siemieniec, Projekty i realizacje Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego dla cerkwi wrocławskich [in press].

[8] A. Grygorowicz, Witraże w cerkwiach białostocczyzny, in: Sztuka witrażowa w Polsce, eds. J. Budyn-Kamykowska, K. Pawłowska, Kraków 2002, pp. 193–194.

[9] J. Stalony-Dobrzański, Biografia, in: Stworzenie światła. Wystawa witraży Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego, exhibition catalogue, National Museum Sophia of Kiev, 20 Oct. – 30 Nov. 2011, ed. J. Stalony-Dobrzański, p. 117.

[10] The author of this article is working on the complete documentation and analysis of the stained glass designed by the artist. The research is a part of doctoral dissertation written in the University of Wrocław under the supervision of Professor Anna MarkowskaAlso, Stalony-Dobrzański’s work is documented and popularized by his grandson, Jan Pawlicki (in subject literature also known as Jan Stalony-Dobrzański), who runs the internet site of the artist:

[11] For more information on relations between the stained glass and the icon, cf.: A. Siemieniec, Kanon ikony w sztuce witrażu Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego; a paper presented on 11 Oct. 2013 at II International Festival of Frontier Art In Przemyśl (Międzynarodowy Festiwal Sztuki Pogranicza w Przemyślu) – in press.

[12] Ks. H. Paprocki, Światło przemienione, in: Stworzenie światła…, cf. fn. 9, p. 41.

[13] Piękno rodzi się z pracy. Z szefem Pracowni Witraży we Wrocławiu Zbigniewem Jaworskim rozmawia Anna Radziukiewicz, “Przegląd Prawosławny” 2011, no. 11 (317), p. 33.

[14] Recording of a conversation with Rev. E. Cebulski (Wrocław, 5 June 2013), archive of A. Siemieniec. More on the activities of Stalony-Dobrzański in the temple in: Siemieniec (fn. 7).

[15] Gerent 2007 (fn. 6), pp. 214–215.

[16] Recording of a conversation with Rev. E. Cebulski (Wrocław, 5 June 2013), archive of A. Siemieniec.

[17] Personal communication, J. Pawlicki (5 Apr. 2014).

[18] Adam Stalony-Dobrzański’s signature, composed of his intertwined initials, was designed by the artist in reference to the form of Gothic house marks. The letters create the shape of Peter’s boat on the Greek cross. Cf. Stalony-Dobrzański 2011 (fn. 9), p. 118.

[19] Design and iconographic description, A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s archive, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[20] Cf. fn. 19. The inscription in Church Slavonic is written down phonetically, as in Stalony-Dobrzański’s iconographic description. The following English version (as well as the quotation in fn. 21) is based on Polish translation by Rev. Grzegorz Cebulski: “I have idly stained my soul with sins, but You will have mercy upon me, Christ… I shall not betray You with a kiss… I shall not revile you… I shall not hit You, All-Benevolent… nor shall I wash my hands… but I shall gladly bear my cross, oh, my God and my Lord”.

[21] “Most holy Theotokos rescue us… Simeon’s prophecy has come true today… Joseph, who carries in him the image of God, took down from the tree Your body… Do not weep, His Mother… for Your son shall turn Your tears into the joy of resurrection… look upon us, oh Most Immaculate Queen”, cf. fn. 20.

[22] Adam Stalony-Dobrzański’s typescript describing his trip to Neseber, written after 1983, is stored in the artist’s archive; a copy is stored in A. Siemieniec’s archive.

[23] Ibidem.

[24] Information obtained by Rev. M. Oleśniewicz in a conversation with J. Hawryluk (5 Apr. 2014).

[25]A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s letter to Metropolite Bazyli, dated 8th August, 1976, A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s archive, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[26] Ibidem.

[27] The report on the works completed in years 1963–1976, prepared by Stalony-Dobrzański, the archive of A. Stalony-Dobrzańskiego, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[28] Gerent 2007 (fn. 6), pp. 332–337.

[29] For more information on Stalony-Dobrzański’s work in the church see: Siemieniec (fn. 7).

[30]The report on the works conducted in August and September 1976, prepared by Stalony-Dobrzański in Cracow (22 Sept. 1976) for Patriarch Bazyli, the archive of Rev. E. Cebulski, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec. In the letter, written mostly in Polish, there are several fragments in Church Slavonic, in Latin alphabet transcription.This is not visible in translation.

[31] A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s letter to Rev. E. Cebulski from 26th February 1978, archive of Rev. E. Cebulski, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[32] A. Siemieniec, Stworzenie światła. Wystawa witraży Adama Stalony-Dobrzańskiego w Muzeum Narodowym Sofia Kijowska w Kijowie (20. X – 30. XI 2011), “Quart” 2012, no. 2 (24), p. 137.

[33] Personal communication with Rev. E. Cebulski (5 Apr. 2014).

[34],7.html [accessed: 7 Apr. 2014]; Stalony-Dobrzański 2011 (fn. 9), p. 118.

[35] Siemieniec 2012 (fn. 32), p. 137.

[36] Stalony-Dobrzański 2011 (fn. 9).

[37] Personal communication with Rev. E. Cebulski (5 Apr. 2014).

[38] Gerent 2007 (fn. 6), p. 335; http://cerkiew, [accessed: 6 Apr. 2014].

[39] Personal communication with Rev. E. Cebulski (5Apr. 2014).

[40] Cf. A. Radziukiewicz, Gródek nad Supraślą. Z dziejów prawosławnej parafii, Gródek 2011, pp. 98–100.

[41] Personal communication with Rev. E. Cebulski (12 Apr. 2014).

[42] http://cerkiew, [accessed: 6 Apr. 2014].

[43] Michał Bogucki is currently the director of the Museum of Icons in Warsaw; in 2011 he was one of the curators of the exhibition of Stalony-Dobrzański’s stained glass, entitled “Stworzenie Światła” (Creation of Light) in the National Museum Sophia of Kiev, cf. Siemieniec 2012 (fn. 32), p. 134.

[44] Contract dated 10th May, 1953, A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s archive, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[45] Description of the stained glass content, dated 4th April, 1953, A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s archive, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[46]The designs are stored in A. Stalony-Dobrzański’s archive, a copy in the archive of A. Siemieniec.

[47] In this church, Stalony-Dobrzański also created the polychrome in the chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa.

[48]Stalony-Dobrzański 2011 (fn. 9).

[49] In this church, the artist also intended to create the polychrome, but it was never realized.

[50] [accessed: 13 Apr. 2014]. In the church there is also a polychrome realized according to Stalony-Dobrzański’s design.

[51]K. Kuczman, Witrażownictwo, in: Stworzenie światła… 2011 (fn. 9), p. 23.

[52] Recorded conversation with Z. Jaworski (Wrocław, 22 Oct. 2013), archive of A. Siemieniec.

[53]Recorded conversation with M. Bogucki (Wrocław, 22 Oct. 2013), archive of A. Siemieniec.

[54]Siemieniec 2012 (fn. 32), p. 137.

[55] http:/ [accessed: 6 Apr. 2014].

[56] Siemieniec 2012 (fn. 32), pp. 138–139.

[57] Recorded conversation with Z. Jaworski (Wrocław, 22 Oct. 2013), archive of A. Siemieniec.

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