The historical background of the trail
The Cistercian Trail links the most important places connected with the order’s activity. Following this trail will be a great opportunity to learn about the heritage the Cistercian Order has left. Cistercians monks are considered to have been the pioneers of modern agriculture; being faithful to the evangelical principle fill the earth and subdue it and following the rule ora et labora (pray and work), they sanctified manual labour. They took advantage of the wealth of natural resources by establishing ironworks, metallurgical plants, glassworks, coal mines, salt mines, silver mines and gold mines. In the course of time, thanks to their commercial activity and princely donations, the Cistercians became owners of vast estates.
The villages and towns established through the efforts of the Cistercians also owe their economical and cultural development to the friars. In their abbeys the monks developed literature; works of fundamental significance for Polish culture were thus created, including the Book of Henryków among others. The manuscripts, collected through the ages, created large book collections. The Cistercians also dealt with education, ran schools and actively took part in public life as diplomats and scholars. The monks erected plain and unpolished constructions. According to basic principles, a Minster was built on the plan of a cross with a rectangular viridarium (courtyard garden) adjacent from the north or south. This architecture style survived until the Baroque era – then the Cistercians abbeys were either significantly or completely reconstructed, being replaced by monumental buildings.
The outstanding architecture of the churches and abbey monasteries in Lower Silesia is in perfect harmony with their sculptures and sacral paintings; there are magnificent interiors (mostly Baroque) and high class works of art. The churches are decorated with works by Michael Willmann, referred to as the “Silesian Apelles”.
Over the centuries the Cistercians were forced to renew their monastic life due to numerous wars, attacks, lootings or epidemics. The measures they took quickly brought visible results. However, in the second half of the 18th century their activity was gradually limited and in 1810 the abbeys were liquidated. According to the secularization edict issued by Frederick Wilhelm III, king of Prussia, the Cistercian estates were taken over by the state. The precious furnishings of the monasteries and churches were then sold and the library collections were fragmented. This date is considered to have been the end of the era of Cistercian splendour in Prussia.