Cerkiew w Supraślu
Fot. Sylwpak, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The church in Suprasl was rebuilt for almost 40 years. Today, it is again a great treasure of Podlasie

The Suprasl Monastery is one of five Orthodox male monasteries in Poland. The first construction work began as early as the 14th century, and in the following centuries the complex was expanded. The end of the existence of the magnificent, centrally located Orthodox church came in 1944, when it was blown up by retreating German troops. Reconstruction of the monument began in the 1980s and lasted almost 40 years. The reconstructed church was consecrated in 2021.

Work on the main orthodox church – a defensive temple dedicated to the Annunciation – at the new monastery site began in 1510. The monks maintained extensive contacts with other Orthodox monastic communities in the Ruthenian lands and the Balkans, which made the Suprasl monastery one of the most important Orthodox centres in the First Republic in the 16th century. The monks were also involved in collecting and copying books. The Suprasl Monastery had a special cult for the miracle-working Suprasl Icon of the Mother of God.

Panorama of the monastery. Photo by Andrzej Miecznik, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The monastery passed into the hands of the Uniates in 1635 and was administered by the Basilians for almost 200 years. This order significantly expanded the building complex, inserting new Baroque furnishings and a three-row iconostasis with a finial into the monastery church. This was one of the most outstanding Baroque works of its kind in the entire Podlasie region. The temple was also equipped with four side altars. The Order began publishing activities in Suprasl. The Suprasl printing house produced most of the liturgical books for the needs of the Uniate Church in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; secular works were also printed there from the 18th century onwards.

The church in Suprasl in 1890 and 2019. Source: Василий Грязнов, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons and Lilly M, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1824, after Suprasl came under Russian annexation, the monastery was taken over by the Russian Orthodox Church. The men’s monastery continued to function until 1915, when the monks went on a run, or exile. In the interwar period, the monastery buildings belonged to the Salesians. Between 1939 and 1941, the monastery was devastated by Soviet troops quartered there. A kitchen was set up in the Church of St John the Theologian and a smithy in the main church. The soldiers removed the icons from the building and destroyed the Baroque iconostasis.

Cerkiew w Supraślu
Outline of the ground floor of the demolished church in the courtyard of the monastery in the 1970s Source: Mariusz Brzeziński/photopolska.eu

In 1944, the retreating Germans blew up the main church, while the monks were forced to leave the monastery. The remains of the church were secured as a permanent ruin after the Second World War. In September 1947, the Supreme Directorate of Museums and Collections Protection instructed Stanisław Bukowski to direct the preservation work and to proceed with the full reconstruction of the entire monastery complex. After the war, an agricultural school operated in the monastery facilities, and from the 1980s the buildings were gradually handed over to the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which carried out conservation and repair work. In 2021, the 37-year-long reconstruction of the monastery’s main church was completed.

The church in Suprasl in 1941 and 2007. Photo: Леанід Лаўрэш, Pawet.net, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons and Ireneusz Rek, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is a structure combining defensive and sacred functions. In its design it is reminiscent of the Orthodox churches in Vilnius, Synkowicze and Małomożejkowo, as well as the churches in Pawłów, Zakroczym, Serock, Cegłów, Węgrów and Brochów in Mazovia, with their characteristic round towers in the corners. The church in Suprasl contains features of Byzantine and Gothic styles. The interior contained a set of frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus, images of angels, holy apostles, evangelists, martyrs, monks, prophets and bishops of the first centuries of Christianity. The main dome featured a figure of Christ Pantocrator modelled on an analogous composition from the Council of the Holy Wisdom in Veliky Novgorod. Other elements of the temple furnishings included extremely valuable jewellery.

Cerkiew w Supraślu
Interior of the church in the early 20th century. Photo П. Покрышкин, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The seventeenth-century iconostasis, stretching the entire length of the church (twelve metres), was of particular value. It was reconstructed in 2021, the same year the reconstruction of the 16th-century frescoes adorning the walls of the temple, which had been underway since 2016, was also completed using the original techniques of working on wet plaster. The temple was then solemnly consecrated by the Metropolitan of Warsaw and all of Poland, Sava, accompanied by hierarchs from Poland and abroad. The reconstruction of the central temple, the catholicon, which began in the 1980s, allowed the monastic complex to restore its original historical context and integrity and to recall its importance during the First Republic.

Today, the men’s monastery in Suprasl once again plays a not insignificant role on the religious, scientific and tourist map of Poland and Europe as one of the most important pilgrimage and sacred centres of the Orthodox Church. Eight monks currently reside in the monastery.

Source: monaster-suprasl.pl, zabytek.pl

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