All the walls and ceilings of the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation used to be decorated with frescoes. Painted in a special technique on still wet plaster, they were later exceptionally resistant to weather conditions. Scenes from the life of Christ, Mary and numerous figures of saints, martyrs, apostles, prophets, archangels and cherubs were arranged in a fixed order set down by the canon of eastern Christianity. They were described as real masterpieces of unspeakably beautiful forms and colours.
The author of the polychromes remains unknown, although certain documents point to the Serb Nektarij Malar and his circle, as the frescoes obviously originate from the Serb school of wall-paintings, being an exceptional example of Byzantine art while the majority of such paintings in Poland reflect the Russian tradition.
Unfortunately, history was not kind to those great polychromes. Over two centuries (1614-1839) of the union of the Orthodox and Roman-Catholic Churches in Poland proved fatal to them. It was then that all the frescoes below the level of the windows were covered with carved panels following the fashion of the time while the rest were whitened with lime. The lime was removed in 1887 and the frescoes underwent conservation in 1910. All in vain. In July 1944, the retreating German troops blew up the monastery, so that only fragments of the lower parts of the frescoes remained. In 1946 many of them were painstakingly transferred to the museum in the Palace of the Archimandrites, where you can see them now. Fragmented and unclear at many places, they are like shadows of the once magnificent paintings, but even in this condition beautiful and admirable.
You can read about them on the monastery's website but, as the text is in Polish and German only, I have decided to translate parts of it for you.
The Museum of Icons is not to be missed if you are visiting Suprasl. The icons here have largely been confiscated by the customs on the Polish - Belarussian border and represent various periods. All are real works of art, colourful and full of metaphor. For a layman, they are hard to understand so a guide is very important here, and indeed you can't wander around the place on your own.
The different rooms of the museum represent different places. The first one is a monk's hermitage where the canon of the icon is explained. The second represents the temple - the House of the Icon, where it becomes the mediator between God and man. Then comes the room of the travel icons, then one of images of Christ, of God's Mother, of the saints and finally comes the room of the frescoes. They are all very interesting and I wish we could have stayed there longer. It is difficult to take pictures though as the lights in the museum are often dim and go out as soon as the group has left a room and often even during the guide's commentary. What is intended to create the spiritual atmosphere of the place, does not necessarily help sightseeing. But all in all, it is a marvellous exposition and I hope to see it again sometime. The tour lasts about an hour. There is a lift to all the floors, very convenient for wheelchair users.
BTW, I was given permission to take photographs for free when I mentioned VT. Many thanks!
Open: daily except Mondays and state or religious holidays
1.05-30.09 - 12.00-19.00, 1.10-30.04 - 10.00-17.00
Admission: 10 PLN; concessions - 5 PLN; family ticket - 5 PLN per person
Thursdays - admission free.
Guide - 20 PLN (could be more if in a foreign language, English and Russian available); Photography - 20 PLN
The baroque monastery gate is lovely, copper-roofed and with beautiful golden frescoes above the entrance. It dates back to 1752 and was modelled on the gate to a palace in Bialystok. The building functions as a belfry as well as a gate. The monastery buildings can be accessed from the back as well, where you will find the entrance to the Museum of Icons in the Archimandrites' Palace.
In addition to the main temple the monastery comprises some other buildings, like the Palace of the Archimandrites with the Museum of Icons or the Orthodox Church of St John the Theologian (1889), which was used as the parish church when the other buildings were taken over by the communist authorities after WWII. In the course of history, the monastery possessed four more churches, which are no longer there. One of them, the 16th century Orthodox Church of the Resurrection had large catacombs where all the then celebrities or just wealthy citizens were buried. The entrance to them is now cemented over as they attracted too many unwelcome visitors. The site of that church is now outside the premises of the monastery.
Looking at the monastery buildings, you may think they are in perfect condition but their outward appearance is misleading. Years of neglect, when they were used as barracks, an agricultural school or were abandoned for a time have left a mark on them, with dry rot creeping on the walls, water getting in through the cellars, which lack insulation and so on and so forth. So the monks are in for a lot of problems and expense before the buildings can pass muster. Hope they have enough money and patience to carry out this task.
The beginnings of the monastery at Suprasl go back to 1500 when the monks of the monastery at nearby Grodek (see my off-the-beaten path tip), distracted in their prayers and meditations by the lay social life of the castle there, set up a monastery here. In 1501 a wooden Orthodox Church of St John the Theologian is built and, a year later, the construction of the fortified Orthodox Church of the Annunciation starts. Its consecration takes place around 1510.
In the 16th century the monastery thrives - the church walls are decorated with invaluable Byzantine frescoes, the library boasts 200 handwritten and printed books. It becomes an important centre of religious thought with contacts extending to some spiritual centres in the Balkans.
Sadly, an enforced union with the Roman Catholic Church in 1614 and the partitions of Poland at the turn of the 18th/19th centuries deprive the monastery of much of its influence and of many of its buildings with, among other possessions, a profit-making printing press, confiscated by the Prussian authorities.
In 1839 the monastery reverts to the Orthodox Church, which brings a revival of religious life, lasting until the outbreak of WWI. In 1918 the Orthodox monks are forced to leave the monastery, which is presented to the Salesian Order. During World War II the monastery is used as barracks and repair works by Soviet troops. Towards the end of the war the retreating Nazi troops blow up the main temple.
After the war only the small church of St John the Theologian remains in the hands of the Orthodox Church, performing the role of the parish church, while the other buildings are taken over by the Treasury. It is only in 1984 that permission is granted to reconstruct the main temple. The monks return to Suprasl in 1989 but it takes another 7 years before they can take over the monastery buildings.
We did not go inside the monastery, but Chris managed to have a look inside the main temple and noticed that it is still quite bare, except for the small iconostasis. It will require a lot of effort and money to bring it back to its pre-war appearance. Perhaps they will even try to recreate the famous frescoes?
Open to visitors: Mon.-Sat. 10.00-14.00 and 16.00-18.00
Please observe monastery silence on the premises between 18.00-10.00 and 14.00-16.00.
Guided tours (between 10.00 and 14.00) by prior arrangement (see the phone number below)
You can get postcards, guidebooks and leaflets from a stall inside the main temple.
This wonderful wooden building dating back to the 18th/19th centuries used to be an inn. Its original, as if broken, roof was characteristic of Polish country manors and is not to be found anywhere else. There are few houses with such roofs remaining in Poland nowadays. The tiny windows must have been changed as they have a modern look. The house is lived in so we can only admire it from the outside. I think it is charming, don't you?