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"Churching" Excursion in Lower Silesia

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The conference excursion took a busload of participants through Lower Silesia to some places the average tourist won‘t visit. The focus was on „churching“ and there was no time planned for anything else, neither for the necessary small breaks nor for taking photos. However, a bunch of grown-up scientists is not as obedient as a group of university students…

We started from our hotel in Wrocław right after an early breakfast and set out in southwestern direction. Our first destination was Dzierzoniów, a small town at the foot of the mountains.

Dzierzoniów

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Dzierzoniów is a typical Silesian small town. Due to its location as gateway to the mountains along the Czech border, which are a popular weekend and holiday regions for the Wroclawians as well as popular with Germans with Silesian background, it has a bit of tourism.
The German name of Dzierzoniów used to be Reichenbach, or more precisely Reichenbach im Eulengebirge (in the Owl Mountains). The German population either fled or was expelled after the end of the war, and replaced with Poles from the lost eastern parts of the country. After the war the town was first named Rychbach, the Polish version of the original name, but then renamed after a regional celebrity, the priest and apiarist Jan Dzierzon.

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A useful house

The schedule of your excursion was tight and we focused on just the two churches Dzierzoniów no time to look left or right. The bus could not enter the town centre, so we had to get off and walk, or rather run after the professor. Luckily our way led us across Rynek, so we got an impression of the town centre. I caught some quick photos on the run. Looks like most streets in the centre have recently been neatly paved. Many houses, though, could do with some care and fresh paint. All in all we spent hardly more than one hour in town.

First we passed, but did not enter, the former Augustine church. Its origins date back to the 14th century. After the reformation the Augustine convent had been closed down and the church was then used for various profane purposes. Since 1713 the catholic cult has been reinstalled. The small church and the adjacent convent building were built from rough stones. Probably the facades were formerly covered in plaster, because these walls do not look too pretty like this. The general appearance tells of various repairs and changes. The gothic structure is still recognizable. The tall pointed arches of the windows have been closed with bricks(?) and smaller windows installed. The little spire looks like a modern addition, and one where the designer has sadly failed.

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The main square, the heart of the town, is named Rynek or Ring. Just like in Wrocław, the town hall occupies the middle of the square. This seems to be typical for Silesian towns. It is surrounded by townhouses with mostly 19th century facades. One half of the square is pedestrianized, the rest is a parking lot. In the side wing of the town hall, that might be useful to know for visitors, you find the tourist information office.

The town hall has medieval origins, but little of them is still visible, actually no more than the gable of the brick-gothic former cloth hall which now hosts the public library. The core of the tower originally dates from the late middle ages. But the old town hall was demolished due to decay in 1872 and replaced by a new building in the following three years. The facades show a simple style that can be described as neo-renaissance, resembling the Rundbogenstil which had been popular around 1850.

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One house in ul. Świdnicka, opposite the (now) Church of Mary Mother of the Church, is particularly useful for visitors: The facade has been painted with a huge map of the town. Practical when you are there! Unfortunately it is too big to carry it along... but the solution is easy: Take a photo of it, so you have the map with you in your digital camera.

The structure of the town centre is easy to grasp. Within the ring roads that formerly were the fortification, there is a grid of four or five streets in each direction, with the rectangular Rynek (main square) in the middle.

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Entertaining detail: In the small square in front of the house they have put up a statue of Pope John Paul. The Pope is depicted walking fast against the wind, and it looks as if he, too, is using the big map to find his way...

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The parish church of St George (kościół parafialny św. Jerzego) is the oldest church in town. This was our first destination. Due to its tall gothic structure and the high spire it is also the most impressive church in town. Its origins date back to the 13th, legends even to the foundation of the town in the 12th century. The building is a basilica with four naves, built from bricks. The reformation turned it into a Lutheran parish church in 1555. Several elements inside, like the galleries, the pulpit (1609) and the main altar (1615) and some epitaphs still give testimony of the protestant era. During the 30 Year War the counter-reformation reinstalled the catholic cult in 1629. Since then the church has been once more Roman-Catholic. Statues of saints and side altars were put up. The main altar was changed and extended in the first half of the 18th century to adapt it to catholic theology. Professor gave lengthy explanations and discussions but since the choice was either listening or walking around and taking photos, many of us chose the latter. Having photos is more important to an art historian…

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The finest religious architecture in town is now known as the Roman-Catholic Parish Church of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church (Parafia Maryi Panni Matki Kościoła). It was designed and built as a protestant church, though. The church dates from the Prussian era in the late 18th century when the Protestants of Silesia finally gained full freedom of religion. It is part of a whole „family“ of similar churches that were built all over Silesia in the 1780s and 1790s. This is one of the later examples, built in 1795 – 1798. The architect in charge of these projects was Silesian-born Carl Gotthard Langhans, the very same who later designed Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Before his move to Berlin Langhans lived and worked in Wrocław.

The outward appearance is still late baroque but inside Langhans used the then modern neoclassical style. The basic design of the church‘s interior is a longitudinal oval formed by the galleries – compare to, for example, the Court Church in Wrocław or the protestant church in Wałbrzych. Three galleries give room to seat a large community. They are carried by columns in the classical, antique sequel of orders.

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The early 20th century installed stained glass windows on the ground floor like the one in the photo: the Last Supper of Christ and the disciples, dated 1911 with the name of the German donator.

Until the 1970s the church was still used by Dzierzoniów‘s protestant parish community. The community became too small to maintain it, though, so it was finally given to a catholic community, refurbished and reconsecrated. The new statue of the Virgin Mary is a sign for the change of denomination.

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This architecture, however, is absolutely unsuitable for catholic mass. The attempts to turn it into a catholic church are a disaster in all respects of design. The new altar in a pseudo-baroque style (in the catholic church the baroque era has never ended to this very day), the oversized inscription on the gallery that invokes the Virgin Mary, do not fit into this neoclassical architecture. The yellowish colour also does not suit it – this architecture calls for white paint.

Niedźwiedzica

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Back on the bus and off we went further into the mountains. It was a foggy autumn day. The leaves were turning colour. The landscape was beautiful. With a little more sunshine it would have been spectacular.

Our next stop was a village in the mountains, a village so small and remote that even the bus driver had trouble finding the one and only road which leads there. The village has a German history just like the whole region, which was part of Deutsches Reich until 1945. Its German name was Bärsdorf. In Polish it is called Niedźwiedzica – niedźwiedź is the bear.

But there is the little village church, and this church is valued high enough to receive a thorough restoration. Through these works, late medieval frescoes have been discovered on the walls. The interior dates from the 16th and 17th century. Even the benches are original. Galleries and ceiling are painted with beautiful renaissance ornaments. The pulpit has inscriptions in German, which indicate that it dates from the post-reformation era.

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The church is not lutheran any more, though. After the expulsion of the German population in 1945, Poles settled in the village and they needed a catholic church. A tabernacle was added to the medieval altarpiece, a modern celebration altar set up in front of it, the bell was attached to the sacresty door and so on. The existing old furnishing remained untouched, though. Poverty is a good monument conservator…

The little church is surrounded by a walled churchyard. Some historical tombstones are still there.

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The current cemetery is located further down the hillside. Outside, the cemetery, there is a medieval stone cross by the road. It was then set up as redemption for a murder that was commited here.

Niedźwiedzica is, judging from its appearance and the general atmosphere, a village at the end of the world. Everything was quiet. I wonder how many people are still living there. We did not see anyone in the streets. In photos this looks all very romantic, but life in such a place is probably not so easy. Without a car one would be totally lost.

Wałbrzych

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Our next destination was more urban: Wałbrzych, in German Waldenburg, an industrial town in the Sudete mountains not far from the Czech border. The town’s economy is based on mining, and since the mining industry has hit rock-bottom, so to speak, Wałbrzych is suffering from severe problems. The city looks rather run-down, many houses are blackened and crumbling. Only the most central squares have been refurbished with new pavement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

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In Wałbrzych we visited another Langhans church, the same type as the one in Dzierzoniów with galleries that form an oval shape. This church is a bit older, the dates are 1785 – 1788. Unlike most churches in Silesia it is still in the hands of a protestant parish community. Hence the furnishing and liturgical pieces are preserved in their original shape. The pulpit remained in its central location above the altar, a very protestant constellation (the sermon is the central part of the service) which a catholic community would have changed in an instant, as we had just seen in Dzierzoniów.
They call themselves „evangelicko-augsburski“, i.e. evangelical according to the Augsburg Confession, which translates to Lutheran. The community is small, though, they have about 150 members. Maintaining the large church building is a gigantic task to them, as the parson told us.

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After several hours of work a break was necessary. The parson kindly opened the parish centre for us so that we were able to use the facilities. A long line formed. Then some discovered the bakery opposite the church – coffe and tasty cakes! The news spread quickly. Another long line formed. I think the little shop made the business of a month on that day! There was but one young lady behind the counter to make coffee and sell cakes, though, so serving everyone took its time. After a while the professor sent one of his students in to tell us to hurry up. However, we said, no we won‘t, this takes as long as it takes. Period.

When I left the bakery I looked into the professor’s face. He did not say anything, but clearly he wasn‘t used to such an amount of ‚civil obedience‘ – his students would never dare. I kept a straight face but inside I laughed so hard…

The cake was, by the way, superb! I forgot its name but I remember something that involved chocolate and cherries. Yum!

But then we had to hurry and get back on the bus because we had one more place on our list, and that was the most spectacular of them all: th Peace Church in Świdnica.

Świdnica

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Swidnica's main attraction is the so-called Church of Peace, one of three wooden churches that the Protestants of Silesia were allowed to build after the Peace Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Two are preserved, this one and another in Jawor, the third one in Glogow is gone. Both Jawor and Swidnica are listed as UNESCO World Heritage.

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The lore of Martin Luther and the Evangelical confession entered Silesia already in the 1520s. In the 16th century a large part of the population was protestant and a protestant preacher was installed in the town parish church. Being under the rule of catholic Habsburg caused problems, though. The 30 Year War brought an enforced recatholization, then several changes of religious denomination depending who currently occupied the town and the area. The war hit the area incredibly hard. With the Westphalia Peace Treaty of 1648 Silesia was confirmed as part of Bohemia and hence under Habsburg rule. The peace treaty also contained the stipulation that religious denominations had to be returned to the state they had been on January 1, 1622 - in other words, freedom of faith for the Protestants. Habsburg's approach to this was restrictive, though. Nevertheless a special article was added to the peace treaty which allowed the Protestants in Glogau, Jauer and Schweidnitz to build one church each, but outside the boundaries of the town.

In 1652 the protestant community of Schweidnitz received permission to build a wooden church outside the town walls, under the condition that the construction works would not take any longer than one year and that the materials were nothing but wood, sand, straw and loam. Master builder Albrecht von Saebisch from Breslau designed a cross-shaped church. Works started in August 1656, and already in June 1657 the new church was inaugurated.

The result is the biggest half-timbered church in the whole of Europe, 44 metres long and 20 metres wide. The ceiling has a height of 15 metres. It accommodates 7,500 people and has 3,000 seats. From the outside it looks plain. The pattern of the timberframe is the only ornament of the facades. There is no steeple, only a tiny turret on top of the roof.

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The interior, however, is ornated with overwhelming splendour. Every bit of surface is covered in paintings or ornaments. Altar and pulpit were renewed in the 18th century from private donations in even more splendour. Just like we were a bit tired at the end of this long excursion day and our attention was not as good any more as it had been in the morning, I am now a bit tired of typing long descriptions. So let the photos speak for themselves…

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Posted by Kathrin_E 03:14 Archived in Poland Tagged churches silesia swidnica walbrzych Comments (0)

Oleśnica: Silesian Small Town with a Skyline

… and a lot of history.

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Oleśnica is a small Silesian town about half an hour northeast of Wrocław. They name it „the town of towers and roses“ – well, in December it is hard to tell about roses. However, the bit about the towers is definitely true. Approaching on the main road one sees the skyline with the six towers: the steeples of three churches, the town hall, the gate tower and the palace.

I was taken to Oleśnica on a private half-day excursion by a colleague from Wrocław (thank you M – I would never have found this place on my own!) Since we are both art historians our focus was on „churching“ – but unfortunately we found all churches in town closed. One, namely St John Apostle and Evangelist, at least allowed peeping in through a glass door. This may be different in warmer seasons with more visitors, or maybe even later in the day as we went in the morning. But this was the only disappointment - which, on the other hand, gave us time for a coffee break in a cosy cafe in Rynek.

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Silesian country road

Originally we had planned to go to Brzeg for the day. However, things did not go the way they were planned. My host has a young son, her husband had to work unexpectedly, the grandparents had no time either, and it was the 5th of December. There was the Mikołajki (St Nicolas) celebration at kindergarten in the afternoon. M solved the problem by choosing a closer destination for us for just half a day, so she’d be back in time to take her son to the kindergarten celebration in the afternoon. I was and am fully understanding. Really. You cannot tell a five year old that he won‘t attend Mikołajki because Mama has to go on tour with some foreign colleague. You simply can’t.

We went by car, which gave us the opportunity to stop on the way and see a cute little village church. I admit that I forgot the name of the village, it is somewhere northeast of Wroclaw on the outskirts of the city. Until World War II this had been a protestant church, now it is obviously Roman catholic like most churches in present Silesia.

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Experts on Silesian history will of course have heard of Oleśnica or, in German, Oels. In former times it had major importance as seat of the Piast dukes and later princes of Oels. The renaissance palace is a testimony of those times, as well as the four impressive churches within the old town and the walls. Unfortunately the town suffered severe destruction in World War II. Also, I do not want to imagine what it looked like some 30 or 40 years ago in the communist era. Due to urgent need for housing, „commie blocks“ have been erected in the former old town as well as in the suburbs. However, a lot has been done in the meantime. The churches and town hall all look well restored. The Rynek has been redesigned and newly paved, just like some streets. The town walls were rebuilt, though not (I think) to their former height. The palace underwent rebuilding already in the 1970s, although since then nothing has happened any more and it could really do with another restoration.

All in all, this small town is well worth a couple of hours. In case you happen to pass on the E67/S8 and spot the towers in the distance, take your time for a stop.

The Skyline

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Oels in the 17th century, engraving by Matthäus Merian

Oleśnica’s „skyline“ with the six towers is a striking feature of the town to this very day, visible from afar, for example when approaching on the main highway. Even in the communist era, when large areas within the boundaries of the old town were rebuilt with condo blocks, these were kept low enough not to disturb the historical silhouette. Matthäus Merian, the famous engraver, depicted the town around 1650, and in fact the skyline still looks almost the same.

The towers are, from left to right:
- the steeple of, now orthodox, Church of St George
- the steeple of Roman-Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity
- the short gate tower of Wroclawian Gate
- the tower of the town hall
- the steeple of Palace Church of St John the Apostle and Evangelist
- the tower of the Princely Palace

Palace of the Princes of Oels

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The main attraction of Oleśnica is certainly the renaissance palace. The palace used to be the residence of Princes from the Piast dynasty, who ruled Poland in the middle ages. Branches of the Piasts continued to rule in the Silesian duchies until the 17th century. Oels became the seat of a separate duchy in 1312. The previous small castle was then extended and fortified. Around 1500 the duchy of Oels became property of the Bohemian dynasty of Podiebrad by exchange of territories. The Podiebrad dukes refurbished the castle and transformed it into a representative renaissance palace. The palace obtained its present shape between 1542 and 1616. Not much has been changed since then.

After the death of the last Podiebrad in 1647, the heir was his son-in-law from a side line of the house of Württemberg. Princes of Württemberg-Oels owned and inhabited the palace until 1792. They refurbished the interior but the renaissance facades and outline remained unchanged. Their successors were the Welf dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Silesia had already been under Prussian rule since 1742. So Oels became part of the newly founded German Empire in 1871.

World War II caused significant damage. In the first decades of communist Poland the palace was used for various purposes and left to decay, until a thorough restoration and reconstruction was executed between 1971 and 1975. Since then, it seems, not much has been done any more. The building could do with another careful restoration.

The palace consists of four wings around a central courtyard, and a tall round tower on the north-eastern corner crowned by a baroque spire. Its outward appearance is still purely renaissance. The curved and stepped gables are a characteristic feature. The plaster on the facades is in bad shape, but its three-dimensional sgraffito ornaments are still visible.

The inner courtyard of the palace can be visited. It helps to know the word wejście (entrance) to find it;-). A small entrance fee of 5 PLN (December 2015) is charged. For this I received a little guidebook on the palace. A 1980s edition in „communist“ quality of paper and print, but better than nothing. It is in Polish but there are summaries in English and German at the end, so it is of use also to visitors who don’t speak Polish.

The renaissance courtyard has not been changed much since the 16th/17th century (an inscription shows the date 1608), except for some restorations after World War II and the addition of half a dozen ugly garbage bins. The southern side has two elegant renaissance galleries while the other sides are plain except for a low open gallery along the first floor. Curved gables ornate the roofs. The tall tower occupies the southeastern corner. The facades are in urgent need of some care and fresh paint, but the original sgraffito ornaments on the plastered surfaces are, despite their bad shape, still recognizable.

The southern side has a finely sculpted renaissance portal with three coats of arms. High up on the northern wall you’ll spot two portraits: Prince Jan Podiebrad and his wife Christina (Krzystyna), who undertook the renaissance remodelling of the palace in the mid 16th century.
In former times there must have been a museum inside the palace and some historical rooms could be seen, but not any more. The interior is occupied by a school and some other institutions and not accessible to visitors.

Conclusion: Seeing the courtyard is worth it if you are, like me, really interested in architecture. If it does not mean that much to you, then skip it.
A walk round the the outside of the palace to the southern side should not be skipped, though. The tower and main gate are on that side. This is the most beautiful facade and view. Moat and ramparts are still visible.

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The main gate of the palace in the corner next to the tower is worth a closer look. It is constructed, due to its role in the palace’s fortification, as a double gate with side walls that form a bailey between the outer and inner gate.

The passage through the main gate is not in use any more and not accessible to visitors. It is closed by wrought-iron gates.

The gate displays elaborate stonemasonry in renaissance style. The outer gate has rustications, i.e. carefully sculpted blocks with a rough, protruding surface, that were meant to symbolize strength and fortification. Two arches, a larger one for carriages and a small one for pedestrians, lead into the bailey. The outer gate is crowned with the coats of arms of the dynasty.

The inner gate has tow more coats of arms and the statue of a knight in full armour (if I understand my Polish guidebook right, it depicts Prince Jan Podiebrad, who ruled Oels in the mid-16th century).

Palace Church of St John the Apostle and Evangelist

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The Palace Church (Bazylika Mniejsza p.w. św. Jana Apostoła), which is also the main parish church of the town, is dedicated to St John the Apostle and Evangelist and has been promoted to the rank of a Basilica minor by Pope John Paul II. Its origins are medieval. In the beginning there were two smaller churches next to each other, which were then united to one big gothic basilica. For more than 400 years, from the introduction of the reformation in 1538 until the expulsion of the German population in 1945, it was a protestant (Lutheran) church. Since then it has been taken over by the Catholics.

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The palace is the church’s next-door neighbour. The Princes of Oels used to visit the services here and donated rich furnishing. In order to adapt the medieval church to protestant service, galleries were installed in the side naves around 1600; their fronts are painted with biblical scenes and images of the apostles according to Lutheran theology. The princely family had their own box on the southwestern gallery. The dynasty of Württemberg-Oels had a burial chapel added to the church in 1698, which contains the tombs of several members of the princely family.

I am taking this information from a textbook. The church was unfortunately, you guessed it, closed. The entrances in the west and north allowed at least entering the vestibule and peeping through a glass door to get an idea of the interior. That’s how I got my photo, and I see a very similar photo of the same view from underneath the gallery on the Wikipedia page, which indicates that other people had the same problem…

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The palace church is connected with the palace by a covered bridge. Its three arches cross the street and the moat around the palace. Inside there must be a long, dimly lit corridor with just a few small windows. Palace, church and bridge form an ensemble which proves that the gothic church of St John was indeed considered the „palace church“ as well as the city’s main parish church, where prince and court regularly attended service.
Such bridges were not uncommon in palace churches, but they are rarely preserved. They allowed the princely family and the court direct access into the church without having to mingle with ‘common folks’. From the palace they could reach their box on the first-floor gallery unseen and without being exposed to the weather.

Memorial „Golgotha of the East“

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Behind the palace church of St John, there is a memorial known as Golgota Wschodu, Golgotha of the East, consists of two parts. The original memorial was erected in 2003 to commemorate the Polish victims of Soviet dictature: war crimes in World War II (Katyn) and deportations. The upright stone has a horizontal cut that the eye automatically completes to the shape of a cross. The crown of thorns also refers to the Golgotha topic. Little blocks of stones in the ground carry plaques with the names of the most important locations.

Recently a second part has been added. It commemorates April 10, 2010, when a Polish state aircraft crashed in dense fog near the military airport of Smolensk and all 96 people on board were killed. They were on the way to a commemoration service in nearby Katyn, the location of the massacre on 4.400 Polish army officers in 1940, committed by the Soviet army.

Among the fatalities in the plane crash were the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński and his wife, many politicians and government representatives as well as high-ranking officers and clergymen and also family members of victims of the Katyn massacre. To Poland this event is a national tragedy. The new part of the monument has the shape of an aircraft’s „tail“, i.e. the vertical stabilizer. It has the same horizontal cut as the stone on the left, and together the gaps form the silhouette of a slightly leaning cross.

Rynek and Town Hall

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Oleśnica has a Rynek, or main square, as is typical for Silesian cities and towns. It is not an open wide square, but rather a ‘ring’ street. The middle of the rectangle is occupied by the town hall and some blocks of houses along tiny lanes.

The neoclassical town hall dates from the early 19th century. It was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1823 which destroyed the 14th century predecessor. The southern wing of the present building is a product of the 1960s, after World War II destruction. Its tower is one of the landmarks in the town’s skyline.

The square and the houses around it are renovated and in good shape. Some little shops and a couple of cafes add to the atmosphere. The only ‘minus’ is the ugly shop building from the communist era that obscures, probably on purpose, the view towards the gothic choir of St John. In the warmer season this square, the heart of the town, will surely be livelier than it was in December.

The Victory Column in front of the town hall is a remnant of the German era. The victory column recalls the German-French war of 1870/71 and the foundation of the German Empire. The statue on top is Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory, holding up a laurel wreath. The monument was erected in 1873. I’m a bit amazed that, while elsewhere all traces of the German era were erased after World War II, this monument has remained.

Town Walls and Gate Tower

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The old town used to be surrounded by a ring of town walls with four gates. One gate tower is preserved. Since it is located on the western side, towards the road to Wroclaw, it is named Brama Wrocławska, the Wroclawian Gate. Its origins date back to the 14th century. Most of the present building looks rather new, though. Large parts have been rebuilt after heavy damage in World War II. Town walls are preserved along about three quarters of the circumference. These are also mostly rebuilt, and probably not to their original height. They consist partly of old bricks, partly of new material. But they give an idea of the town’s pre-war appearance.

Medieval Former Synagogue

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The gothic, 15th century building with the short steeple originally served as synagogue for the, it seems, rather large Jewish community of Oels for the first 100 years of its existence. After the Jews were expelled from the town in the 16th century, it was used as storage until it was transformed into a protestant church. A fire in 1734 required some rebuilding. It suffered damage in World War II which was then repaired in the 1960s. Nowadays it is used by the Pentecostal church.

I would have liked to see the interior, although I do not expect to find too many traces of the Jewish or the protestant era, but unfortunately it was closed. There were no hints of regular opening hours, so I assume it cannot be visited at all.

Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity

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The baroque church (kościół świętej Trójcy) was built for the Roman-Catholic community of the town in 1738 – 1744. For a long time it remained the only catholic church in predominantly protestant Oels. At the end of World War II it suffered significant damage and was then rebuilt in the 1960s. The latest renovation was finished in 2005.

The elegant spire and the baroque facades, all painted in white and pale yellow, make it the prettiest church in town. I read that due to lucky circumstances the interior has mostly been preserved during the war, including the high altar with illusionist painting. Unfortunately the church was closed like all the others, so I could not verify this. Maybe you’ll be luckier?

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Church of St George

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The church in the northernmost end of the old town is known as St George: originally founded as hospital chapel, it later became the church of an Augustine convent and, from the 16th century onwards, a Lutheran parish church. If you arrive by car you will probably enter the old town from this side, via the roundabout, so this one will be the first church you pass. The brick gothic church dates from the late middle ages. The renaissance porch was added in the 16th century. In the 1930 the interior underwent a thorough renovation. I have no information about the spire, but its strange and neither medieval nor baroque shape makes me suspect that it is also a product of this renovation – rebuilt after World War II, of course. Like most buildings in town it suffered severe damage at the end of World War II. in May 1945.

The church used to be protestant until 1945. Since the repair and rebuilding in the 1960s it has been used by the orthodox community, so there cannot be much of the original interior preserved. It was, you guessed it, closed... The triple cross and the two icons on the facade above the entrance indicate the orthodox denomination.

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The baroque house with the mansard roof opposite the church of St George, known as Dom wdów, the House of the Widows, dates from 1683. The construction was financed by Prince Silvius Friedrich of Württemberg, then the owner and resident of the castle. It provided housing for the widows of parsons and school teachers, who had to leave the official residence after their husbands’ death and had nowhere to stay and just a very small widows’ pension.

Nowadays the building hosts the state music school. The flag on the facade indicates that the school were celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2015. A monument to Poland’s most famous composer, Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin, has been put up in the front garden – to be honest, it is so ugly that I doubt Chopin would be too happy with it…

Here are a few more impressions of the town, photos I caught along our walk.

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Cute Cafe in Rynek

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After all this walking and sighseeing we were in need of a rest and some refreshment. We found a small cafe (Kawiarnia i Cukiernia Amaretto) in a corner of the main square. It looked plain from the outside but the interior is really cosy, decorated with crocheted curtains, pillows and table covers and little ornaments everywhere. I liked the atmosphere. The counter offers a wide variety of cakes and pastries both for takeaway and to enjoy within the cafe. Select what you want from the counter, it will then be delivered to your table.

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I had a coffee with milk and a piece of cake with mixed berries, chocolate cream and a dark dough, really tasty. I was hungry, so I took a large coffee and also a large piece of cake, and paid 15 PLN in total. They sell the cake by weight, so if you want to save either calories or money or both, then you can tell them to cut the cake to your liking.

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It was, as I said, December 5, the day before St Nicolas Day. I have no idea what was really going to happen that day, but it looked like the local bikers club had some kind of event. About 15 or 20 men, all dressed up as Santa Clauses, assembled in the square in front of the cafe with their motorbikes, one even on a trike. It didn't look like a parade, though - maybe they set out to visit the schools and kindergartens in town to deliver presents to the children? This reminded us that it was time to leave so M’s son would not be late for St Nicolas…

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:22 Archived in Poland Tagged silesia olesnica Comments (2)

Jelenia Góra: The Town

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Panoramic view from Baszta Zamkowa

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Church of Grace

Jelenia Góra is a small town in the far Southwest of Lower Silesia - in fact not so small, as it has grown to a population of 80,000 including the suburbs. Its name is Hirschberg in German, Jelenia Góra in Polish – an exact translation of the same name, which means “stag mountain”. Hence the stag in the town’s coat of arms.

It is the gateway to the famous Karkonosze (Riesengebirge) mountains. Its surroundings include the Valley of Palaces, where noble and rich people built their summer palaces in the 19th century.

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Glass stag in Rynek

All this must be beautiful to visit. However, I only had a few hours and no car, so I focused on the town itself.

To me, the main attraction was the Church of Grace, one of the seven churches that the Habsburg rulers permitted to be built in Silesia after 1709. It is a fantastic example what Lutheran church architects can do. The interior is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
This church will be granted a separate blog entry to do it justice.

I am squeezing my report into this blog although I did not visit from Wrocław. In fact I came over for the day from the German side for the day, from Görlitz, where I was staying for a couple of days.

In recent years a direct train connection has been re-established, so it is easy to hop over for the day. Direct trains run only every 3-4 hours, though, and connections to Zgorzelec on the Polish side are not too frequent either, so this needs some preplanning.

Practical hint:

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Euro Nisa (Euro-Neiße) ticket is a day pass for all local transport in the triangle where Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic are bordering. It comes in a single and in a small group version.
Map and more details: http://www.zvon.de/en/EURO-NEISSE-tickets/
Prices differ from country to country, which I consider unfair. While in Poland it costs 25 PLN, in Germany it’s 13 €, twice as much. When boarding the train in Görlitz, however, there is no ticket machine in the entire station. Tickets must be bought from the conductor on board the train – and so I was charged the Polish price.
To look up connections, the German website www.bahn.com can be used. For connections in Poland, however, I’d rather use the Polish railways’ route planner in http://www.rozklad-pkp.pl/. (I am sure that there is a Czech one, too.)

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Panorama of Jelenia Góra from the train

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I caught the first direct train at seven something in the morning – luckily I was staying very close to the railway station in Görlitz – and arrived, after happily trying my Polish on the conductor (successfully) and a fellow passenger (with mixed success), in Jelenia Góra already at a quarter past nine. It was a cloudy day and the famous Karkonosze mountains remained invisible, only on the return journey I caught a glimpse of their silhouette in the distance. But it stayed dry for most of the day. The forecast had been much worse than the actual weather. Hence I still consider myself lucky.

The Lutheran Church of Grace is located halfway into town by the main street, so this was my first port of call. The church was to open at 10. There is loads to see around it, though, not only the sculptures and epitaphs on its walls but most of all the former cemetery. Burial chapels of the town’s leading families are lined up along its wall. The time until the church opened was thus well filled.

After seeing the church, I continued walking into the centre. Jelenia Góra is one of those typical small towns in Silesia. The old town has a more or less oval outline. Its centre is the rectangular main square (Rynek) with the town hall and a block of houses in the middle. The main parish church is not in Rynek but in its own square off its corner. Walls and ramparts surrounded the town, of which some leftovers are preserved.

The walk from the train station into town is really easy, all you have to do is follow ul. 1 Maja (First of May Street) straight into the centre. It leads past the Church of Grace, then transforms into a pedestrian zone with many shops.

Through Wojanowska gate it enters the old town. The medieval town gate has been substituted by a baroque one in the 18th century. The round tower next to it is a remain of the medieval fortification, as well as the church of Saint Anna next to it.

The little church has a baroque interior – as people were gathering to pray the rosary, I could not take photos inside, though.

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Church of St Anna, Tower and gate - and a visitor with Australian origins

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One block before reaching Rynek I came across an interesting bit of modern architecture: a rhythmic row of post-war townhouses, inserted into the grid of the medieval ground plan and adapted to its structure. They’re not one big block but rather small cubic entities that match the size of the historical houses.

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Rynek

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Rynek, the main square, is just a short walk ahead. The square is surrounded by the gables of the wealthy citizens’ townhouses. Facades date from the late 17th and 18th century – reconstructed after damage in World War II, though. They all have arcades along the ground floor, so there is a covered passage round the whole square (and plenty of photo options). Shops and restaurants are hidden underneath. Benches and flower beds give it an inviting look. A pleasant spot to hang out.

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The middle of the square is occupied by the town hall, a baroque building from the 1740s. It substituted an older predecessor which had collapsed. Inscriptions in Latin refer to the legendary foundation of the town in the year 1108 by a certain duke named Bolesław, nicknamed Krzywousty (Wrymouth) – poor fellow. The adjacent so-called “Seven Houses” (they’re really seven) have been occupied by the municipal administration about 100 years ago.

An old tram in the square, now hosting a souvenir shop, is a reminder of those times when trams rattled through the narrow streets of the old town.

The tourist information office is located in the southwestern corner of the square. A map of the town and a leaflet with a self-guided walking tour and detailed explanations of the sights can be obtained there for free.

Jelenia Góra is prepared for tourists. There are restaurants with outdoor seating, souvenir shops, stalls selling pottery from Bolesławiec, boards with explanations of the sights in four languages. However, on this October day it was rather calm. Cafes and restaurants were almost empty. I heard a lot of German in the streets, though. The town gets is share of day visitors from across the borders. In summer as well as during winter ski season it will certainly be much busier.

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Billy Joe the little wombat explores the town

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Baszta Zamkowa

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Baszta Grodzka

The western end of the old town has two historical towers, once part of the 15th century town fortifications. While Baszta Grodzka has been turned into a residential house and can be seen from the outside only, Baszta Zamkowa, the “Castle Tower”, is open to visitors.

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The tower is open from 10 a.m. to late afternoon, the hour of closure depends on the season. Entry is free. There are neither guards nor tickets, you simply walk in and climb the stairs. The stairs are newly built from very solid and trustworthy looking timber. I was hesitant at first because I suffer from fear of heights, but despite being semi-transparent due to lack of risers, they were easily doable for me. Inside the tower, each stair is just half a round to cover one storey, then there is a solid platform before the next stair begins. Thus no scary depths underneath.
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View from the first platform
The tower has two viewing platforms, or rather galleries. The first one is no higher than the roofs of the surrounding houses and the view is limited. The upper gallery rises above the rooftops and offers a nice view over the old town and the suburbs, over the surrounding hills and, in theory also to the Karkonosze mountains, as I guess from the signs that explain the panorama. Low clouds deprived me of the mountain view, so I can only assume that they are there...

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Returning into town, I arrived just in time for a quick look into the main catholic church, the large Basilica of Saint Erasmus and Pankratius (Bazylika świętego Erazma i świętego Pankracego). They close at midday for one hour between 1 and 2 p.m. and I arrived just in time for a quick look inside.

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A convent is attached to the church, and one of the nuns is there to keep guard and explain the church to visitors. There was too little time left, though. I had considered to return in the afternoon and test my language skills (ha, ha), but in the end I opted for the museum instead – more below.

The church is a gothic basilica from the 14th century with a tall steeple that dominates the town’s skyline together with the tower of the city hall. Its interior has been refurbished in the 18th century and equipped with new altarpieces, pulpit and organ. The Lutheran Church of Grace was already finished, and the Jesuits, who were in charge of the catholic parish church, clearly had some ambition to compete with them. The main altar in particular has been designed and ornated with all possible splendour. Some interesting epitaphs and tombstones are attached to the outside of the walls.

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Since I was alone and all restaurants looked rather deserted, I did not go for lunch but had a break on a bench in Rynek, eating and drinking from the supplies in my rucksack.

In the meantime the clouds had lifted and a bit of sunshine appeared.

The wombats and I took some more photos in Rynek and enjoyed observing a gang of sparrows roaming the square.

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Jeleniogórskie wróbly na Rynku - the sparrow gang
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As the next train back to Görlitz was only due some three hours later, the afternoon had to be filled. Studying the map of the town and the distances, I chose Muzeum Karkonoskie, a museum about the history and culture of the town and surrounding area. It is outside the centre, about 15 or 20 minutes walk from Rynek.

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Art nouveau theatre

The walk leads along the ring road that surrounds the old town first, then through residential streets. These parts of the town have come through the war remarkably well. The streets are lined with villas and townhouses from the late 19th and early 20th century.

There is a remarkable amount of art nouveau architecture in Jelenia Góra (the museum just had an exhibition on this, in fact), including the theatre.

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Muzeum Karkonoskie is based on the collection of the pre-war Riesengebirgsverein, whose aims were promoting tourism as well as wildlife conservation and the protection of cultural heritage. One of their treasures is a large collection of decorative glass from ancient to contemporary. The ground floor shows local culture in former centuries. A wooden peasant cottage from the mountains has been transferred and set up in the foyer. The exhibition on the town’s history shows, which was of particular interest to me, the original model of the Church of Grace by the architect Martin Frantz from 1709.

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Part of the exhibition presents the new, difficult beginning of Jelenia Góra as a Polish city after World War II, the origins of the Polish settlers who moved in, and the communist era. However, I could not help but notice that history is presented in a rather one-sided way. There is no mentioning that the Poles from the lost territory in the East did not move out of their own free will.

There is further no mentioning of the expulsion of the previous, German, population at the end of the war. The German Silesians are reduced to folklore and folk art, and a bit of industry. Then, in 1945, they suddenly and magically disappear into thin air – poof. Gone they are.

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Injustice remains injustice, violence remains violence, no matter who does it to whom and under what kind of excuses. It should be named as what it is.

I’d appreciate a fairer, more open-minded and more balanced approach to the different sides of history – like, for example, in the City Museum in Wrocław which I cannot recommend too much.

There are some more “howevers” to this museum. The first storey has a glass floor across the entrance hall. Impossible to cross for people with fear of heights. I wonder who designed this.

And I am no fan of overzealous museum guards who run after you and talk your ears off, inviting you to go here and there and see this and that. At some point I decided to leave earlier than I had planned because this lady was too much for me to bear.

Practical hints:

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9.00 – 17.00
Entrance fee: adults 10 PLN, children 5 PLN
On Wednesdays it’s free (and lucky me happened to visit on a Wednesday)!!!

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Exhibition of decorative glass

Posted by Kathrin_E 05:45 Archived in Poland Tagged silesia jelenia_gora Comments (2)

Ultimate Lutheran Baroque: Church of Grace in Jelenia Góra

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Protestant churches are all bland and simple? Come on! No, they’re not… One of the most remarkable examples of Lutheran baroque church architecture and art can be found in Jelenia Góra.

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After the 30 Year War and the Westphalian Peace Treaty, the Protestants of Silesia had been allowed to build a total of 3 (three) churches by the Catholic Habsburg rulers. These were the so-called Peace Churches in Świdnica (Schweidnitz), Jawor (Jauer) and Głogów (Glogau). The ones in Świdnica and Jawor are still standing. I have visited both and intend to present them in this blog at some point.

However, it is not difficult to imagine that three churches are not very many for a whole country, to put it mildly. Some 60 years later the Emperor was forced to make more concessions. The Altranstädt Convention in 1707, a treaty with the Swedish King that ended the Nordic War, granted the Silesian Lutherans the building of six more churches. These still had to be built outside the towns, but the previous restrictions (perishable materials like wood and clay, no steeples, no representative architecture on the outside, etc.) were lifted. These new churches became known as Churches of Grace. The “grace” was expensive, though, as high sums had to be paid in return to the Emperor as well as the Swedish king.

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Katarina kyrka in Stockholm

The citizens of Hirschberg acted quickly. They employed the architect Martin Frantz from Legnica (Liegnitz) to design a church after the model of Katarina kyrka in Stockholm: a building in the shape of a Greek cross with a dome and lantern in the middle. Works began in 1709. After nine years the new church was inaugurated in 1718.

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The architect’s original model is preserved in Museum Karkonoskie.

After World War II and the expulsion of the German population, hardly any Lutherans were left. The Church of Grace became the Catholic Parish Church of the Elevation of the Cross and Garrison Church. The Catholics did not change much, though. The Lutheran iconography with its biblical images was perfectly suitable. A tabernacle and the eternal light were added to the main altar. Side chapels were equipped with additional altars, reliquaries, a couple of new paintings and stained-glass windows themed on catholic saints. Pope John Paul, of course. The “Jezu ufam Tobie” image, and the church even owns a relic of Saint Sr Faustina, the one who had the vision (see my blog entry on The Divine Mercy Image: https://wroclaw-kathrin-e.travellerspoint.com/76/). But otherwise, the church remained as it was. It had survived the war more or less unharmed, so what you see is indeed original!

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The altar and the organ are combined into one magnificent front in the choir of the church.

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Details of altar and organ: the allegory impersonating Silesia, and putti playing drums - these are real drums and they are able to sound.

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Nave and galleries. The church has 4,000 seats and standing room for 6,000 more.

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The pulpit

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The central fresco in the vaulted ceiling

Practical hints:

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Opening hours: April 1 – October 31
Monday – Thursday and Saturday 10:00 – 16:00
Friday 12:00 – 16:00

Entrance: through Punkt pielgrzymkowy, the information desk for pilgrims and visitors, in the western wing

Entrance fee: 4 PLN or 1 €

Photography without flash permitted, no extra fee.

Churchyard, park and cemetery are accessible all day for free.

More on the website of the parish: http://www.kosciolgarnizonowy.pl/ (in Polish)

Frescoes on the ceiling

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Fake architecture. the perspective works correctly only from one single spot - but the perfect photo cannot be taken because the chandelier gets in the way.

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Jacob's Dream: angels climbing up and down the ladder into the sky

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Ascension of Christ

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Adoration of the Holy Trinity. This fresco is placed in the choir above the altar.

Posted by Kathrin_E 10:17 Archived in Poland Tagged silesia jelenia_gora Comments (1)

Jelenia Góra: The Cemetery Around Church of Grace

Where Hirschberg’s "Upper 10,000" were buried

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The cemetery around the formerly Lutheran church is not active any more. The grounds have been transformed into a public park, accessible for free all day. A walk round the park should not be missed because of the baroque mausoleums.

Burial chapels of rich families are lined up along the wall that surrounds the cemetery. Some were noble, but most of them were wealthy citizens of the town. A monumental gravesite must have been a symbol of status. They were designed and decorated with all splendour, as this anecdote tells:

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When the austere Prussian King Friedrich II (Frederick the Great) visited Hirschberg after his conquering of Silesia, he was very astonished to see all those little “palaces” around the church. He believed that these were little palaces where the citizens of the town spent their leisure time. First thing he did was forbidding such “unnecessary luxury”.

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Hirschberg owed its wealth to the production and trade of cloth and veils. Cloth merchants had their tombstones decorated with stone-carved textiles, as if a veil or a curtain was hanging over the stone. Elaborate works of stone-masonry they are.

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A closer look at the details is recommended. A couple of chapels are decorated in a rather macabre way.

Stone-carved skeletons, skulls and bones are part of the ornaments on the facades.

Skulls are inserted into the capitals of the columns together with the heads of little angels.

Dancing skeletons rise from stone pillars.

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After long years of neglect, a recent project has taken to the restoration of the burial chapels and the preserved tombstones. The works were finished in 2013.

In addition to the chapels, tombstones and grave monuments not only from Jelenia Góra but also from the surroundings are on exhibit along the stretches of wall in between.

Explanations are provided in four languages (Polish, German, English and Czech).

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A tombstone on the wall of the church tells us about the dramatic death of a preacher in the year 1745. Pastor Gottlob Adolph was standing on the pulpit holding the Sunday afternoon sermon when lightning struck the church. The heavy sounding board above the pulpit fell off and killed him. (Can’t help but wonder if this was a divine judgement? Were his sermons too long? Too boring? Too hard to understand?)

The tombstone is located on the southern wall of the choir, the one on the right in the photo.

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:59 Archived in Poland Tagged cemetery silesia jelenia_gora Comments (0)

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