Church of Our Lady Help of the Poor

Church of Our Lady Help of the Poor
ul. Jagiełły 8
32-600 Oswiecim
124 m from city centre
Tel.: 033 842-29-19
GPS: 50°02'14"N 19°13'13"E
The history of the Salesian church goes back to the first halfof the 14th century, when Duke Władysław of Oświęcim and his wife Eufrozyna, built, or to be more precise, completed the construction of the Dominican monastery complex in Oświęcim, begun by his father, Mieszko II of Oświęcim. According to Jan Długosz, it was the fourth Dominican monastery in Poland, which stood out from among the others thanks to its size and beautiful location on a hill over the River Soła, “a notable construction built from burnt brick.”
The monastery complex consisted of the oriented Gothic Church of The Holy Cross and the adjacent quadrilateral cloister surrounded on all sides by the monastery buildings.The only surviving parts of the old Dominican monastery are the Gothic chapter house (present-day St. Jack’s Chapel), and fragments of the Church walls, restructured by the Salesians at the turn of the 20th century.
The Gothic Church of the Holy Cross was a single-nave structure with a rectangularly-closed choir. The church was oriented; the entrance for the congregation was located on the northern wall, the entrance for the friars – on the southern wall, i.e. from the cloister. Inside, there was the high altar and three side-altars: the altar of St. Nicholas, St Madeleine and Our Lady of the Rosary - at present the painting from this altar can be seen in the Church of the Assumption in Oświęcim. Under the choir, there is a crypt where, according to Jan Długosz, dukes and castellans of Oświęcim were buried. Since 1782, the Dominican buildings gradually fell into ruin, as upon the decree on the dissolution of religious orders issued by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II, some of the friars had to leave Oświęcim, while all the possessions and lands belonging to the monastery were confiscated. Six friars, who refused to move to other monasteries outside of the Austrian sector, remained in Oświęcim. They were, however, unable to maintain the church, the monastery buildings, or for that matter themselves.In 1845, the church roof, which was in danger of collapsing, was demolished, and the vault over the choir collapsed. The abandoned Dominican buildings often changed hands.Kajetan Russocki, who, in 1819, inherited the monastic property bought by his uncle, Idzi Russocki, the parish priest of Oświęcim,used the ruins as stables for post horses and as warehouses for hay and straw. In 1872, two Jewish tradesmen, Landau and Schonker, bought the ruined buildings and set up storage rooms for their merchandise there. A wooden shack was put up to store kerosene in the church choir. Barrels with kerosene were rolled over a platform made from the medieval gravestone of Mikołaj Myszkowski, torn out from the choir floor.In 1898, the ruins were taken over by the Society of St. Francis de Sales, invited to Oświęcim by Andrzej Knycz, who at that time was the chief priest in the parish of the Assumption. The remains of the residential buildings were demolished. The former Church of the Holy Cross, from now on the Church of Our Lady Help ofChristians, was rebuilt according to the design of Mario Ceradini. A new choir was added on the western side and the church was re-oriented; a new main entrance was made in the former altar wall at ul. Jagiełły. On 19 August 1900, the first mass took place in the reconstructed part of the ruins. In 1906, the work was interrupted because of a restaurateur’s intervention. The reconstruction,the result of which is the present form of the church, was completed only in the years 1975-84. Nothing of the previous furnishings remained in the church. In 1904, the high altar was decorated with a statue of Our Lady Help of Christians, presented by the Salesian Society from Turin,Italy. In 1907, the statue was replaced by a copy of the Turin image of Our Lady, painted by a local artist – Jan Szczęsny Stankiewicz. In 1906, eight side altars were set up. After the war, in 1958,an organ was built, and in the years 1962-64, the high altar was restructured according to the design of a Salesian friar, Jan Kajzer.

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