Reconstruction and Restoration of the Architecture and Furnishings of the Monastery of Discalced Carmelites in Poznań in the Years 1945–1990

Benignus Józef Wanat OCD

The Pontifical University of John Paul II in Cracow


The convent and church of the Discalced Carmelites in Poznań is the first and oldest temple in Poland which was dedicated to St Joseph (1618). The church erected in the Baroque style was designed by architects Jerzy Catenaci and Krzysztof Bonadura. The latter prepared the construction plans of the convent building taking into consideration the detailed building regulations of the Order, and they also supervised the construction of the temple. On the basis of the decision of the Prussian king Fredrick Wilhelm of 5 July 1801, the convent went into liquidation and its buildings were handed over to the jurisdiction of the Prussian army. Since 1831, the church fulfilled the function of an Evangelical garrison temple (new furnishings and interior decoration of the interior after the renovation). In the year 1919 the church became a garrison temple of the Polish army. The Carmelites recovered their property in 1945 in a state of complete ruin. The reconstruction and restoration of the monument (which also comprised its interior decoration) lasted many years. It was conducted under the supervision of city conservator in accordance with the plans approved by architect Aleksander Holas (church façade), architect Franciszek Morawski (convent) and architect engineer Józef Dutkiewicz from Cracow (church and refectory interior). The reconstruction and restoration tasks have been discussed in detail in the above article.

Keywords: Aleksander Holas, Franciszek Morawski, Józef Dutkiewicz, Poznań, Poland, convent of Discalced Carmelites, architecture, furnishings, restoration


History of the Poznań Convent up until World War II

The discalced Carmelites arrived in Poznań in the year 1618. After obtaining permission from the city authorities and the bishop of Poznań Andrzej Opaliński, they founded the convent on the Hill of St Adalbert.[1] In a garden purchased from Elżbieta Michanówna, they initially erected a wooden structure of a convent dedicated to St Joseph, which was subsequently consecrated by suffragan bishop Gaspar Hap on 2 July 1618,[2] whereas in the years 1635–1687, within the grounds belonging to the manor which had been bequeathed to them by Barbara Orzelska, they built a stone Baroque monastery and church of St Joseph [Fig. 1].[3] The temple was designed and built by: Jerzy Catenaci and Krzysztof Bonadura the Elder together with his son.[4] In the main altar of the church one could find a painting of St Joseph, patron of the temple, renowned for its numerous graces. After the completion of the construction work and furnishing the church interior, the temple was consecrated on the 13 July 1687 by bishop Hieronim Wierzbowski.[5] In the completed convent building one could also find a theological college for young clerics.

After the loss of Poland’s sovereignty, on the strength of a decision made by the Prussian king Fredrick Wilhelm, issued on 5 July 1801, the convent became dissolved[6] and its buildings were taken over for military purposes. They housed the administration and offices of the Prussian garrison. Initially the former Carmelite temple served as a warehouse and since the year 1831 it was used as an evangelical garrison church [Fig. 2]. It was during this period that the interior of the church became altered. After the removal of the Baroque altars a classicist altar with the painting of St Joseph executed by a Berlin painter August Teodor Karelowski,[7] was erected in its place.

After World War I, since the 24th July 1919, the temple of St Joseph has fulfilled the function of the garrison church of the Polish army which took over the convent buildings abandoned by the Prussians. During this time, the interior of the temple received new furnishings. After the signing of a concordat agreement between the Holy See and the Polish government in the year 1925, the discalced Carmelites initiated an action aimed at repossession of the Poznań convent which had been taken away from them by the Prussian authorities in 1801. Due to the political conditionings which accompanied the end of the First World War, the process of recovery of the Carmelite property took up many years. On the strength of the Treaty of Versailles the Polish government took over the property of the partitioning powers which remained on the territory of the Second Polish Republic. Consequently, on the 27 June 1921, the mortgage of the convent of St Joseph had been transferred to the state treasury. In 1934 the Order of the Discalced Carmelites sued the Attorney General of the Treasury of the Second Polish Republic requesting a correction of the mortgage entry and reinstating the property to the congregation. Yet the actual trial did not take place as the Attorney General of the State strove to dismiss the case and transfer it to the Mixed Commission.[8] At the time of the outbreak of World War II, the trial got stalled in the Supreme Court.

During the occupation the Germans destroyed and then shipped the entire furnishing of the church to Germany, turning the church itself into a warehouse. At the time of the battle for the Poznań citadel in 1945, the temple became seriously damaged and as much as 50% of the convent itself was ruined and razed to the ground.

Shortly after the liberation of the city, on 23 February 1945, on the order of father provincial Józef Prus, brother Cyril of Our Lady (Kowalewski) paid a visit to the ruined convent. In April, father provincial himself came to Poznań and obtained a conditional permission from bishop Walenty Dymek for the monks to take over the convent, provided the army agree to give it back.[9] Through the agency of general dean of the Polish Army, Rev. Stanisław Warchałowski, the provincial turned to marshal Michał Rola Żymierski with the request to return the convent to the Order. After obtaining his permission, on 1 June 1945, Rev. Warchałowski wrote an official letter to the commander of the Military District in Poznań, lieutenant-colonel Adam Nieniewski, requesting him to return the ruins of the convent of St Joseph to its original owners.[10] The ruined convent was ultimately returned to the Carmelites on 1 August 1945.[11] An acceptance protocol was drawn up on 8 August of the same year in the office of the District Council Housing and Building Board in Poznań.[12] Among the property which was returned to the Order at that time were: the church, the convent, the ruins of the buildings (in the garden) and the garden itself [Fig. 3]. The total surface area of the property recovered by the Order was 46 313 m2. In this way, after 144 years the Carmelites recovered the Poznań convent which was in a state of ruin [Fig. 4]. The reconstruction and restoration of the monument required many intensive conservation efforts.

In June 1945 the Poznań convent consisted of four persons. Among them, there were: father Antoni of Infant Jesus (Foszczyński) who was the Superior of the Congregation, father Albin of the Host of Jesus (Dziuba), brother Serafin of St Teresa of Infant Jesus (Chucherko), brother Cyril of Our Lady (Kowalewski).

Translated by Piotr Mizia

[1] The document was issued on 17 May 1618 – Province Archive of Discalced Carmelites in Czerna (hereinafter: APKB), inv. no. AKP 1, Historia conventualis, pp. 4–5.

[2] Ibidem, p. 5; B. J. Wanat, Zakon Karmelitów Bosych w Polsce. Klasztory karmelitów i karmelitanek bosych 1605-1975, Kraków 1979, p. 204.

[3] Historia conventualis (fn. 1), s. 61; Main Old Documents Archive in Warsaw, Metryka Koronna 186, Regestrum secundum privilegiorum et inscriptionum Cancellariae Maioris S.R.M annorum 1639–1641, pp. 138–139.

[4] S. Łoza, Architekci i budowniczowie w Polsce, Warszawa 1954, pp. 33, 44.

[5] Historia conventualis (fn. 1), p. 172 c.

[6] Wanat 1979 (fn. 2), p. 240.

[7] M. Orłowicz, Ilustrowany przewodnik po Poznańskiem, Warszawa 1920, p. 42.

[8] APKB, AKP 7, Akta rewindykacji klasztoru OO. Karmelitów Bosych w Poznaniu, p. 143 i and subsequent.

[9] Archive of the Carmelite Convent in Poznań (hereinafter: AKKBP), Kronika klasztoru św. Józefa OO. Karmelitów Bosych w Poznaniu, vol. I (since 1945), p. 121.

[10] Ibidem.

[11] APKB, AKP 24, Prośba o. Józefa Prusa, prowincjała, do Dowództwa Okręgu Korpusu w Poznaniu o pozwolenie na przepisanie hipoteki klasztoru św. Józefa wraz z przyległym ogrodem na rzecz Zakonu Karmelitów Bosych, p. 27.

[12] Ibidem, p. 28.

[13] Up until the year 1953, the entire restoration work carried out in the convent cost around 10 million zlotys (Kronika klasztoru… (fn. 9), vol. I, p. 173).

[14] APKB, AKP 6, Kartografia.

[15] APKB, AKP 10–20, Akta klasztoru OO. Karmelitów Bosych w Poznaniu.

[16] For this end a poster with the view of the destroyed church and an appeal addressed to the inhabitants of the city of Poznań, requesting their assistance in the restoration of the church of St Joseph had been released.

[17] Every week he commuted from Cracow to Poznań where he stayed for a few days.

[18] It was also at that time that a central heating system was installed in the western and northern wings; the boiler-room was situated underneath the church presbytery. In the southern wing, central heating was installed only in 1969, together with wash basins and running water in the monastic cells (Kronika klasztoru… (fn. 9), vol. I, p. 320).

[19] AKKBP, Liber memorabilium Conventus Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum Posnaniae, t. II, ab Anno Domini 1964, p. 274.

[20] Ibidem, p. 582.

[21] The work continued for five days. As a remuneration for the conservation, gilding and a new, armored tabernacle of the altar, the Franciscans donated 350 thousand zloties to the convent (ibidem, p. 589–590).

[22] Ibidem, p. 589.

[23] Archive of the Discalced Carmelites in Cracow, Acta capituli conventus cracoviensis ab anno 1936 ad annum 1997, vol. II, see the act under the date of 16 September 1979 (unpaged).

[24] A dentist’s surgery was located next to the main door. The staircase leading up to the convent choir as well as the corridors were painted – Liber memorabilium (fn. 19), p. 612.

[25] A new carpentry room was set up for brother Wawrzyniec Mikołaj Radkiewicz, whereas the existing one, located in the outbuildings (in the courtyard), was handed over to hired carpenters working for the convent – ibidem, p. 615.

[26] They set up new flowerbeds and laid out new pathways. In the park section – benches for sitting on were placed. Subsequently, they laid out and executed an alleyway leading from the convent gate to Działowa Street. The alleyway was paved with new concrete tiles – ibidem, p. 627.

[27] Ibidem, p. 662.

[28] For the duration of the renovation work the refectory was transferred to the missionary room (the present-day sacristy). After lifting the fiber-boards and the flooring, it turned out that at the depth of 1 m, there was a layer of rubble lying on the basement vault. A decision was made to remove the rubble and deepen the refectory. During the operation of the removal of the rubble, old concrete elements were discovered which probably constituted the furnishing of the building at the time when it had been used by the army. After cleaning up the basement vault, iron joists and a concrete screed were laid down and subsequently a floor made of light “Morawica” marble was laid – ibidem, p. 635–643.

[29] In the basement underneath the refectory an atmospheric, vaulted room was arranged. The rubble from the room was removed and a dark-brown ceramic tile floor had been laid – ibidem, p. 705.

[30] Inventory and description of the historical paintings: Wanat 1979 (fn. 2), p. 248–251.

[31] It turned out that the sheer weight of the ruble had causes cracks in the vaulting. In order to carry out this task, a scaffolding with a “sleeve” for the rubble, reaching up to the church’s attic, had been erected on the side of the garden. At this stage of the renovation, about 40 tons of rubble was removed. Subsequently, the cracks in the vaulting had been filled with cement slurry and the whole surface of the vaulting had been insulated with glass fiber – Liber memorabilium (fn. 19), p. 630.

[32] The rotten beams in the roof construction were exchanged, copper plate was put on and new gutters and rain water copper pipes were installed. The metal work on the roof was carried out by Mr Pinczak and son from Poznań.

[33]Ibidem, p. 658.

[34] The plastering work on the outside of the church was conducted by Kazimierz Józefiak from Puszczyków and Teodor Spitalniak from Poznań. Inside the temple, a new electrical and sound system installations were put in by Leszek Gaweł from Cracow. The sound system itself was executed by engineer Felicjan Tomaszewski M. Sc. from Kościan – ibidem, p. 653.

[35] Ibidem, p. 655.

[36] Information obtained from father Dr. Mariusz Jaszczyszyn.

[37] Liber memorabilium (fn. 19), p. 658.

[38] Ibidem.

[39] Information obtained from father Dr. Mariusz Jaszczyszyn, convent prior and supervisor of the above-described restoration work in Poznań.

[40] Ibidem. At the same time, a central heating system including all the necessary equipment as well as the heating chamber situated underneath the church presbytery, were being installed. Canals with heat resistant gratings, heating up the interior of the temple were being installed. The company responsible for installing the central heating was called “Gruchot”.

[41] The concrete substrate for the new flooring was prepared by brother clerics and brother Miłosław Osowicki, under the supervision of father Jerzy Gogola, a professional mason who had worked in this occupation before joining the Order.

[42] Cf. B.J. Wanat, Kult św. Józefa Oblubieńca NMP u Karmelitów Bosych w Krakowie, Kraków 1981, p. 88.

[43] These tasks were performed by the Cracow goldsmiths – Liber memorabilium (fn. 19), p. 661.

[44] Ibidem, p. 663.

[45] Ibidem, pp. 175–185. The electrical and lighting installations in the crypt were executed by Józef Szymański from Poznań, whereas the flooring was made from clinker tiles by Tadeusz Olszewski.

[46] Ibidem, p. 726.

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