The founding tradition of the Cistercian cloister in Henryków in the light of medieval monastic sources

By Monika Michalska, Jagiellonian University



The Cistercian monastery in Henryków, which was founded officially in 1228 by the  rulers of Silesia, possesses a complex founding tradition which changed over the centuries. There were two traditions about the origins of the monastery, the first created by monks and the second in a lay community.

The problem of founding tradition of the Cistercian monastery in Henryków is part of my doctoral dissertation: “Foundation traditions of  Cistercian Cloisters in Silesia in the Middle Ages and in the Modern Age”, in which I concentrate on the following Silesian monasteries: Lubiąż, Henryków and Krzeszów. In the dissertation I focus on the role played by the transition from the oral transmission of traditions about the founder and about the beginnings of the foundation of the above-mentioned communities to the form of written text. The issue is whether the content of the tradition underwent the process of canonization, becoming the object of faith, or whether the creation of its written version provoked the emergence of successive variations on the foundation and the founder of the monastery. In this contribution, I will focus only on the monastic, medieval tradition up to the fifteenth century.

The written version of founding tradition of the Henryków was established in the second part of the thirteenth century. It was created by Abbot Piotr I, who wrote 40 years after the monaster’s foundation. The result of his work was the “Liber fundationis Sanctae Mariae Virginis in Heinrichau”, also called the “Henryków Book”. The text concerns the history of the monastery and its estates, but includes also the most important events of the history of Silesia. The first part of the book is devoted to the early history of monastery from the foundation until 1259. The second part includes the later history of the monastery until 1310.

The process of foundation was presented especially in the chapter “About the person of the founder and the course of the foundation”, sit in the first part of Henryków Book.

Abbot Piotr presents a quite complicated picture of the foundation. Three persons participate in this act: the notary of Prince Henry the Bearded, Nicholas, defined as the causa efficiens of the foundation. He initiated the foundation and, due to this work as notary to Prince Henry the Bearded, had the means and possibility to found the monastery. According to Abbot Piotr, all of the properties, which Nicholas possessed were granted to him by the duke and had to revert to the ruler after his death. Therefore Nicholas had to ask the Prince for permission for the foundation of a monastery.

The next participan was Duke Henry the Bearded, who gave his consent to the founding of the cloister but on the condition that the title of founder would be ascribed to the rulers of Silesia and Henry the Pious, to whom his father ultimately gave the title of the founder of the abbey.

Finally, Nicholas thus ceded the land rights he held at the hands of the princes, and received the authorization from Henry the Pious to found a Cistercian monastery in Henryków. With the permission of rulers, the notary continued the process of foundation until the arrival of the first group of monks in 1227. The official foundation was conducted by Prince Henry the Pious after the death of Nicholas in 1228.

We can observe that author of Henryków Book is ambiguous about presenting the foundation. On the one hand Abbot Piotr emphasizes all the time, that Henryków is only ducal monastery. On the other hand he ascribes to the notary Nicholas actions, which were reserved to the founder: the notary came up with the idea of founding the monastery, gave his properties to establish the monastery and conducted the process of foundation. If we look at the figure of Nicholas, which was created by Piotr I, we can see that he met all of the features of a real founder.

In the light of monastic sources, a founder should be characterized by exemplary, Christian life, favor of God, noble descent, a high place in the hierarchy of the state and other things.

Accordingly, Abbot Piotr first began the chapter about the person of the founder with a presentation of notary Nicholas. We can read about his family, his career first – like as clergyman in the cathedral church of Saint John in Wrocław, then as the highest notary in office with Henry the Bearded. The figure of Nicholas is characterized by the four cardinal virtues: prudence, because he could foresee the good and the bad in the future; justice for doing works of mercy; temperance as despite his high position in Silesia, he was always very humble, and fortitude, because even though he was sometimes oppressed by misfortunes, he never abandoned his good intentions[1]. Abbot Piotr wrote about Nicholas: “he seemed adorned on the inside in the image of a pearl, gleaming most brightly from four angles”[2], which emphasizes the purity of heart, faith and constancy of Nicholas.

The author of the Henryków Book also mentioned that Nicholas maintained a regime of a great rigor. From his youth, he strove for discipline with unceasing exertion, then as a mature man, he was distinguished for his honesty of habits and his uprightness. According to the author of the Henryków Book, he never did anything to hurt anybody. Several times abbot Piotr emphasized that Nicholas enjoyed the respect of all people in Silesia. We thus see that the figure of the notary Nicholas presents the ideal example of Christian life. Founders were described in a similiar way in other monastic works, for example in Fundatio Monasterii Brauwiralensis or Fundatio Monasterii Sarensis.

Monks generally idolized the figure of their founder. Often, they would portray their founder as a most influential man, who had a very important function in the local community or state. Also, while writing about Nicholas, the Abbot Piotr wanted to emphasize his role in Silesia. He wrote that Nicholas was “the highest notary”[3] and “the ruler of the entire land of Silesia”[4]. This description is accompanied by a comparison to the biblical patriarch Joseph. Nicholas as Joseph arrived in a foreign land and was chosen by God to occupy a high position. According to Abbot Piotr, Nicholas surpassed Joseph thanks to the foundation of the monastery, which offered a way towards salvation for the monks serving there. Yet research shows that Nichola’s position as notary wasn’t as influential as Piotr wrote.

The next important characteristic of the founder was a close relationship with God. Several times, Piotr emphasized that the career of Nicholas was guided by divine providence. At first, the idea of establishing a monastery was planted in Nicholas’ heart by God, who gave him His favor. We can mention the history of the monastery of Žďár, in which the first level of establishing the monastery failed because the author did not posses favor of God. It is also worth noting that Abbot Piotr did not devote much place to describing the official founder, the Prince Henry the Pious. Admittedly, the figure of Henry II appears repeatedly in the Henryków Book, but mainly as ruler of Silesia.

Although it is mentioned several times that the monks should name the duke as the only founder, we can see that the real situation in the convent and among the neighbours was different. Piotr gave himself away when he wrote about the last moments Nicholas’ life. The notary told the first abbot, Henry, that the monks should not name him the founder, which show us that this version was popular within the monks. Also, Piotr mentioned two cases in which other people hoped to establish a position of protection over the monastery and referred to affinity with Nicholas. On the one hand, he presented the knight Albert with Beard, who wanted to be a protector of monastery. On the other hand, Piotr mentioned claims by Sigród’s sons about rights to control of monastery. They concur with Piotr’s repeated exhortations to the monks to consider Henry II as their only founder. It seems that the Abbot Piotr attempted to reserve the founder title only to the rulers of Silesia.

Yet the intention of Piotr was also to reduce the importance of Nicholas as the “founder”. He created a new attribute for the notary, calling Nicholas the “causa efficiens” because he initiated the process of foundation. According to the research of Marek Cetwiński, this was a philosophical motive, taken over from the work of St. Thomas Aquinas which describes, Got as “Causa efficiens” all of things. For us it is important that Abbot Piotr was searching for another designation for Nicholas. As shown, his position was a rather complicated construction. The remaining question is why Abbot Piotr should ascribe the founder title to the rulers of Silesia, mainly to Henry the Pious, although  he presented us the notary Nicholas as the real founder in the first chapter of the Henryków Book.

It is worth mentioning that after the tragic death of Henry the Pious, during the battle of Legnica against the Mongols in defense of Christianity, he was seen as an exemplary Christian and even a saint, especially by the Franciscans. Henry the Pious was thus ideally suited to be the founder of the monastery. It should also be added that Henry the Pious was a perfect patron for the monastery because his sons had taken over rule of Silesia. After his death, Henry the Pious was thus an even more valuable figure. The convent probably hoped to protect itself against the political changes in the future. After the division of Silesia between the princes Henry III, Bolesław Rogatka and Konrad, the monastery was first under the protection of Rogatka, which gave it a village and also defended the monks against local knights. Next, Henryków was in the power of Henry III, who did not show much affection for it. In his time, Abbot Piotr I began to write the Henryków Book. Piotr I probably wanted to give the monks an official vision of the foundation process, in which the good relationship with the dukes was documented. This vision was to shape the future of the abbey associated with the princes. This thesis also explains the probable aim of writing the Book, the protection of monastic estates from enemies.

The official version written by Abbot Piotr was preserved only within the circle of authors, readers and users of the Henryków Book. In the second part of the Book, written in fourteenth century, author probably the abbot Piotr II wrote about the acquisition of the village Muszkowice. He added a few words about the founder: “After the invasion of the Tatars, who killed the founder of this house, the upright prince Duke Henry II, son of Saint Hedwig”[5]. He also mentioned Prince Henry II as founder when he wrote about his son Henry III the White: “Henry III, by the nickname the White, son of the said founder of this monastery”[6]. The description of Muszkowice can be found directly after the introduction to the second part of Henryków Book. The location of this information at the beginning of the younger part tells us that the second author understood the vision of abbot Piotr I about the founder and cultivated this version. Thanks to the fact that the author mentioned the figure of Prince Henry – the relationship of the monastery with princes over the years was emphasized.

It is worth noting that Piotr II, as opposed to his predecessor, marked connection of Henry the Pious with St. Hedwig, who was canonized in the 1267, emphasizing the dignity of the founder even more. Abbot Piotr II wrote in the prologue of the second part of the book that he was a monk in the monastery long after the death of the first monks in Henryków. Also, Peter II was no direct witness of the founding process, but repeated the information, which seems to have been well memorized within the community. It should be added that the Henryków Book was used by the monks in the daily life of the convent. This is also visible in numerous summaries of the Henryków Book, which were created by the later generations of monks.

The first summary, we know of is from fifteenth century. On page 51 of the codex of the Henryków Book, we can find a “Registrum presentis libri”. This text presents the next chapters of Henryków Book both the first part and the second, with short description of its content and page numbers so the monks could find the needed information. But it is noteworthy’s to say that the Henryków Book was used only by those monks who took care of the monastery’s possessions and economy, and were often elders of the monastery. The Henryków Book showed an official vision, which was cultivated mainly by the abbot and his helpers. For my research, the most interesting piece of the Book is the record about the summary of founders: “De obitu domini Nicolai canonici Wrat., qui fuit causa efficiens fundacionis huius monasterii, item de occubitu domini Heinrici ducis Slezie fundatoris nostri, quem pagani occiderunt et de eorum anniversariis perpetuo peragendis”[7]. This fragment confirms the vision of the past, which was created by Piotr I. The creation of summaries shows that the Henryków Book was used continuously by the monks.

New summaries and supplements were added in the seventeenth century, for example in the section „Fundatores et benefactores praecipui huius monasterii Henrichoviensis”[8], where all of early history of foundation was summarized without any modifications. The other record was created in 1615 and slightly  different from the official version of the Book[9]. The author wrote that the Notary Nicholas not only donated, but also established the monastery with the permit of the duke. In this text we not find any information about the Henry the Pious as founder, and the role of Henry the Bearded was reduced. The author also gave new information about Nicholas: he became a monk and died as monk of the monastery, his possessions were the patrimony and he came from a noble family. These elements are contradictory with the Henryków Book. After analysing  and comparing them with other works, I can say that the author useded the work of Polish historian Marcin Kromer.

We can finally look at the record from Henryków Necrology, written in the 1320s according to research by the German historian Heinrich Grüger. Information about the founders can be found under 2 XII: ” Agetur anniversarium fundatorum huius monasterii, scilicet d. ducis Heynrici cum barba et filii eius necnon d. Nicolai”[10]. It is interesting that the record includes both rulers of Silesia, and also the notary Nicholas. All were called founders of monastery, both. The order of their occurrence and the information about each of them are interesting. In the first place, we have Prince Henry the Bearded, mentioned with nickname “Cum Barba”, next is Henry the Pious, though is interestingly, without the name and nickname, mentioned only as the son of Henry the Bearded. It seems that the figure of Henry the Pious was moved into the background. In addition, the last person in this record the notary Nicholas was also mentioned by name but without his position, only as “dominus”. We should take into account that the records in obituaries were short and concise, and it is possible that the author wanted to shorten the name of Prince Henry II, but this procedure didn’t obscure his position as founder. It is noteworthy that this is the only medieval record about founders in the obituary. Furthermore, we do not find records about Henry I, Henry II and Nicholas in the oldest part of this work from the end of the thirteenth century. It seems that the monks mainly used the Henryków Book to pray for the founders. In the Henryków Book, we can read in a number of places: “In this matter, we urge ourselves and our successors that the memory of this pious man, Nicholaus, be forever solemnly celebrated on the anniversaries [of his death] and in other obsequies”[11]. The monks also added the date of death of Nicholas, 30. XI. The other record was devoted to Henry the Pious: “And the memory of Duke Henry, killed by the pagans (…) shall forever be solemnly sustained on the anniversaries and in other prayers and obsequies”[12]. We have also the date of death 9. IV. Henry the Bearded was mentioned as well: “with the most immediate and assiduous prayers, for the souls of this old Duke Henry and of his son”[13], but without the date of death. Probably, the monks did not need special records in the obituary, because they were in the Henryków Book.

We can add that in the younger part of the obituary from the seventeenth century, the monks inscribed separate records for Henry the Bearded, Henry the Pious and Nicholas[14]. There were all called ‘founder of the monastery’: “Fundator huius monasterii” in case of Henry the Bearded, ” Henricus fundator noster” for Henry the Pious  and “fundator huius loci” in the case of Nicholas. I think that the records from the obituary give us separate vision of the past in the monastery, which coexisted with the official version created by Abbot Piotr I, who repeatedly exhorted the monks to call only Prince Henry II. founder. This thesis is confirmed by other sources: in the Henryków calendar from fourteenth century, we find a record concurrent with the obituary: “2 XII Anniversarium fundatoris huius loci”[15]. The data 2 XII agrees with the collective record of the obituary. It seems that the version containing three founders was very popular, and also didn’t collide with the existing official version. From the fourteenth century, we also have an inscription from the monastery church, no longer extant today, which noted that the monastery was established by Henry the Bearded “ex testamentum d. Nicolai”. If we look at the foundation charter, we see that the main figure is Henry the Bearded. Finally, the catalogue of the bishops of Wrocław records that the monastery was established in 1227 under Duke Henry the Bearded.

To sum up, the Cistercian monastery of Henryków possesses two types of foundation tradition. The first, created by Abbot Piotr I, was the official vision of the origins of the monastery, although the author himself mentioned the existence of competing visions within the Book. According to Piotr, the monks should see Henry the Pious as the sole founder of the abbey. Nicholas was reduced to the “efficient cause” of the foundation. Later sources from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries show us that the Henryków community also knew the other visions of the origins of the monastery in which all three  heroes were considered founders, thought Henry the Pious retained an honorary title.



A Local Society in Transition. The Henryków Book and Related Documents, ed. P. Górecki, Toronto 2007.

Liber fundationis claustri Sancte Marie Virginis in Henrichow, ed. G.A. Stenzel, Breslau 1854.

Schlesische Nekrologien. 1. Necrologium des Stifts Heinrichau, ed. W. Wattenbach, „Zeitschrift des Vereins für Geschichte und Altertumskunde Schlesiens”, 4(1862).

Cetwiński M., Bóg, szatan i człowiek w Księdze henrykowskiej, in: Dzieje i kultura umysłowa i duchowość cystersów do XVIII w., „Nasza Przeszłość” 83(1994), p. 85-95.

Cetwiński M., Nowy Izrael. Księga henrykowska i kształtowanie poczucia wspólnoty mnichów z Henrykowa, in: Venerabiles, nobiles et honesti. Studia z dziejów społeczeństwa Polski średniowiecznej. Prace ofiarowane profesorowi Januszowi Bieniakowi w siedemdziesiątą rocznicę urodzin i czterdziestopięciolecie pracy naukowej, ed. A. Radzimiński, Toruń 1997, p. 71-76.

Cetwiński M., Klasztor w oczach sąsiadów. Ze studiów nad „Księgą henrykowską”, in: Cystersi w społeczeństwie Europy Środkowej. Materiały z konferencji naukowej odbytej w klasztorze OO. Cystersów w Krakowie Mogile z okazji 900 rocznicy powstania Zakonu Ojców Cystersów, Poznań – Kraków – Mogiła 5-10 października 1998, ed. A.M. Wyrwa, J. Dobosz, Poznań 2000, p. 696-703.

Dąbrowski H., Uformowanie się wielkiej własności feudalnej cystersów w Henrykowie, „Roczniki Historyczne” 21(1956), p. 109-149.

Górecki P., Pamięć, forma literacka a tworzenie przeszłości: opat Piotr z Henrykowa jako dziejopis i doradca prawny, „Roczniki Dziejów Społecznych i Gospodarczych”, 60(2000), p. 71-110.

Górecki P., An Interpreter of Law and Power in a region of mediewal Poland: Abbot Peter of Henryków and his Book, in: Building legitimacy:political discourses and form of legitimac, ed. I. Alonso, J. Escalona, H. Kennedy, Lyon 2003, p. 263-290.

Górecki P., Local society and legal Knowledge: a case study from the Henryków Region, in: Christianitas et kultura Europae. Księga jubileuszowa profesora Jerzego Kłoczowskiego, ed. H. Gapski, Lublin 1998, p. 573-578.

Grüger H., Heinrichau. Geschichte lines schlesichen Zisterzienserkloster 1227 – 1997, Köln 1978.

Mularczyk J., Jeszcze raz o fundacji klasztoru cystersów w Henrykowie, Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis, Historia, t.33, Wrocław 1980, p. 181-198.

Wiszewski P., Die schlesischen Herzoge, Zisterzienser und Ziterzienserinnen im 12.-14. Jahrhundert, in: Adlige – Stifter – Mönche: Zum Verhältnis zwischen Klöstern und mittelalterlichem Adel (Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte; Studien zur Germania Sacra 30), Göttingen 2007, hrsg. N. Kruppa, s. 225-260.

P. Wiszewski, Życie zakonne w oczach elity intelektualnej Śląska średniowiecznego i nowożytnego. Przemiany pewnego motywu, Acta Univeritatis Wratislaviensis, Historia, t. 63, Wrocław 2003, p. 179 – 198.


[1] A Local Society in Transition. The Henryków Book and Related Documents, ed. P. Górecki, Toronto 2007, p. 93.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] A Local Society in Transition, p. 92.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] A Local Society in Transition, p. 149.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Liber fundationis claustri Sancte Marie Virginis in Henrichow, ed. G.A. Stenzel, Breslau 1854,  p. 138.

[8] Ibidem, p. 142-143.

[9] Ibidem, p. 145-146.

[10] W.Wattenbach, Schlesische Nekrologien, 1. Nekrologium des Stifts Heinrichau, p. 302.

[11] A Local Society in Transition, p. 99.

[12] Ibidem.

[13] Ibidem, p. 105.

[14] W. Wattenbach, Schlesische Nekrologien, p. 286, 287, 302.

[15] F. Wolnik, Liturgia śląskich cystersów, Opole 2002, p. 178


CC-BY-NC-ND: The founding tradition of the Cistercian cloister in Henryków in the light of medieval monastic sources by Monika Michalska is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License


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