Szent Kereszt Apátság  

Łysiec or Bald Mountain is the second highest peak of the Holy Cross Mountains with a distinctive geological formation called a stone run. This huge part of the woodless land covered only by large-size stones has always stimulated people’s imagination. The stone run was considered to be the remains of a castle built on the hill by Cyclops or giants. A proud woman who had defeated Alexander the Great was supposed to be have been the owner of the castle. She ordered to be worshiped like a goddess. The gods punished her for her  arrogance and destroyed the castle.

The name Holy Cross has been in existence since the 14th century and is related to the relics of the Holy Cross wood. Previously the hill was called Bald Mountain. Sources confirm the existence of a defensive castle. A stone shaft is its visible remnants. It may have surrounded a pagan sanctuary – this interpretation refers to the modern story about three pagan deities worshipped here or it being a sacred grove of the German tribe of Nahanarwal. The question of the stone shafts is still an open one. Within their limits were located Christian buildings. According to  tradition the first church was founded by Dabrowka in the second half of 10th century. Czech monks served in the first monastery. Another version says that the Hungarian prince Emeric was led to the hill by a deer. Then he persuaded Boleslaw the Brave to found the Benedictine monastery there. After that Emeric, at the suggestion of an angel, left a relic of the wood of the Holy Cross wood to the monastery. The monks were supposed to have come from Monte Cassino, one of the oldest Benedictine abbeys. Neither of these traditions have found confirmation in historical and archaeological sources. The Benedictine abbey including the church of the Holy Trinity was founded by Boleslaw the Wry-mouthed in the 1130s. Monks from Tyniec constituted the oldest part of the community. Only the stone northern wall has been preserved from the first Romanesque church so it is difficult to reconstruct the ground plan. The oldest monastery may have been built of wood. Due to the lie of the land it was connected to the church from the northern side, and not, traditionally, from the south. In winter, at the turn of 1259 and 1260 the monastery was captured and destroyed by a Tatar army.

The receiving of the Holy Cross relics from Ladislaus the Short in 1305 or 1306 was an important factor  contributing to the renewal of the abbey. Then the name of the church was changed and a significant pilgrimage centre was established. From then onwards, rulers took great care of the monastery. Casimir the Great supported the reconstruction of the wooden monastery to one of stone. Wladyslaw Jagiello came to the abbey before his coronation. Mikolaj Drozdek, a Holy Cross abbot, prepared the future king for  baptism and later became his chaplain, confessor and advisor in religious matters. It was Wladyslaw Jagiello who, during frequent visits, introduced the custom of pilgrimages from Nowa Slupia. During his reign the Romanesque church was renovated.

Close relations with rulers resulted in economic development, enhanced by privileges. At the same time the many pilgrims arriving at the abbey  disturbed the monastic lifestyle. Moreover, the increase in properties and difficulties resulting from  their management resulted in a tense situation within the community. Therefore some monks chose the eremite way of life. One of hermitages was founded in Swieta Katarzyna, at the foot of the neighbouring hill. 

In  the mid 15th century the church was enlarged. Previously the Romanesque temple had been the main part of the monastery. A new chancel was connected to it. At the same time the first members of the  Olesnicki family were to be buried in the church (among others cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki, bishop of Cracow). He had supported the abbey and contributed to its restoration after the fire in 1459. Thanks to the foundation of the king Casimir Jagiellon the church was enlarged twice. From its western side the abbot’s   residence and a guest house was built. In the north-eastern corner an infirmary was established. The Gothic cloister, still standing, was jointly founded by the king and Cardinal Olesnicki.

Crisis at the abbey  due to economic difficulties started with the end of the 15th century . Rulers  interfered in the monastery’s  affairs. As a result of the reformation the number of monks decreased, weakening the abbey’s status. Monks from  Tyniec Abbey were  appointed abbots because of the difficult situation within the Holy Cross community. Rulers from the new Vasa dynasty  were less willing to support the monastery. One of legends says that in 1584 a Cistercian monk was nominated abbot and he wanted to incorporate the monastery into his order. These events provoked the intervention of the bishop of Cracow. From then onwards abbots were appointed by the king. In the case of the Holy Cross abbey they were good choices. Michal Maliszewski, secretary to Sigismund III Vasa was the first  abbot appointed. He initiated internal reform and a renovation of the monastery buildings. Under his rule Way of the Cross chapels were built for the first time in Poland. They do not exist today . In the years 1604-1620 the gothic chapter house was transformed into the grave chapel of the Olesnicki family. This was initiated by Mikolaj Olesnicki, the Castellan of Radom, governor of Lublin. At the beginning of 17th century the tradition of relations between the Holy Cross abbey and Monte Cassino was revived. The monastery joined the Monte Cassino congregation in 1652. Next the abbot, Boguslaw Radoszewski, began the baroque reconstruction of the church: new altars, a floor and crypts were built. The works were continued by his successor Stanislaw Sierakowski. Under his rule the monastery building was renovated and a new north-western wing was added. Fragmentarily preserved reamins indicate the artistic inspirations came from  episcopal circles in Kielce.  In the south of the church a new chapel was established, where was placed the painting of Our Lady of Sorrows brought by Sierakowski from Italy. The western elevation of the church was rebuilt too. It may have been inspired by a similar reconstruction in Tyniec. The sculptures that can be seen in the lower part of the façade of the present-day church originate from that elevation. The Swedish Deluge affected the monastery. It was pillaged and destroyed by the Swedes and subsequently by the army of Prince Rakoczy. The monastic buildings were restored by one of the greatest abbots of the Holy Cross abbey, Krystian Mirecki. He was chosen by the monks with his election being approved by the pope. In 1707, on his initiative the Holy Cross Benedictine Congregation was established. The abbey played the main role within this structure. In 1723 the relics of the Holy Cross were transferred from the renewed sacristy to the Olesnicki chapel.

At the end of the 18th century the monastery and the church were destroyed by fires (1777 and 1779). Abbot John Nepomuk Niegolewski initiated the construction of the new church, which is still standing. The name of the architect is unknown. Its décor corresponds to the baroque and neoclassical style. Originally there was a tower with a gallery over the western façade. Franciszek Smuglewicz, a graduate of the Roman Academy of St. Luc, was the author of paintings in the church. The new church was consecrated in 1806. There was a plan to demolish the old monastery buildings and to rebuilt them. The architect who took such a decision was fired and replaced by Dominik Puck, who had earlier worked on the construction of the church.

The monastery was closed in 1819 and its goods were dispersed. A small number of monks stayed in the abbey up to 1853. Following the death of the last monk the monastic buildings were converted into a home for retired priests and those in penance. The Battle of Nowa Slupia between the Russian army and the forces of Marian Langiewicz contributed to the end of the Institute for Priests in 1863. In 1883 the empty monastery buildings were used as a prison by the Russian authorities. Prisoners were placed in the south-western wing of the former monastery. The building itself was surrounded by a high wall to separate it from the church. The prisoners worked in craft workshops. The outbreak of the First World War was to bring the prison to an end. It was moved to Russia. The monastery buildings were destroyed. The church tower was blown up by the Austrian army. After the war, in 1918, the Polish authorities decided to locate a prison in the monastery. In the meantime, in 1920, the Benedictines came back to the abbey for a period of three years. In 1936 the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate took over the monastery. They are the residents of the Holy Cross  to this day. Up until 1939 they shared the monastery grounds with the prison which was evacuated after the outbreak of the war. The abbey was bombed during military actions. A part of its buildings was used by the Germans to organize the camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war (1941-1942). After the war the Oblates gradually undertook the rebuilding of the monastery, renovating the church and restoring its interior. They removed the former prison wall and watchtowers. The former prison wing became a controversial area because the Directorate of Polish Forests was interested in it. As a result  there was established the Museum of Nature as a part of the Holy Cross National Park. In the years 1958-1962  archaeological and architectural research into the monastery was conducted for the very first time. In 1959 a small radio and television transmitter was established on the mount. The monastery was connected to the electricity system thanks to this installation. In 1966 a transmission tower was built. Renovation and reconstruction works are carried out to this day. The church tower is being rebuilt at present. In 2013 the church was granted the status of a minor basilica.