IN THE SERVICE OF THE VISITANDINES
The convent which was to become the seat of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, known in Poland as as the Visitandines, was founded by Jan Szembek, Great Chancellor of the Crown and his wife Ewa from Leszczyński family; voivode of the Masovian voivodship Stanisław Chomentowski with his wife Dorota from Tarło family and her brother Jan Tarło, voivode of the Lublin voivodship. The founding act was signed on June 24th, 1723; later that year grounds for the construction were purchased and the construction of wooden building began; the nuns moved to this building in 1725.
The construction of the first brick part, the west wing of the building, began in 1730. Simultaneously, a so-called granary was built – this was a building adjacent to the west wing, connected to it with a one-story corridor, where a chapel was located; it also served as a room were valuables belonging to the convent were stored – this is the only part of the original convent which has survived until the present day. Activities of the first mother superior lead to the opening of a boarding school for girls from aristocratic families where reading, writing, Latin and French languages were taught.
On February 18th, 1732 took place a great fire of the wooden convent killing five nuns and seventeen lay people. The founders of the convent got involved into the reconstruction. The construction of the west wing was completed in 1734; it was a two-storey building with several annexes, a general chamber and 12 cells located on the first floor. This part was consecrated on May 29th by priest Walenty Chlebowski, Lublin’s judicial vicar. Next, a link between the west wing and the granary was constructed. The remaining wings of the convent were built until 1749. The last phase was the construction of the church designed by Karol Bay – it was completed in early ’50s of the 18th century. The temple was consecrated by Eustachy Szembek, bishop of Chełm, on September 24th, 1752.
In 1767 the shrine of the Pensive Christ was completed. It is a Baroque shrine, located in the axis of the entrance to the church, build of brick and plastered, in a shape of four pillars set on a base, forming a sort of a canopy. The construction is topped with a truncated pyramid, completed with an iron cap with an openwork cross. The author of the figure was most probably Paweł Antoni Fontana.
IN THE SERVICE OF THE ARMY
In 1809, during the Napoleonic campaign the army of the Duchy of Warsaw under the command of prince Józef Poniatowski entered Lublin. The convent’s building was taken over and in January 1810 it was converted into a military hospital; the nuns were relocated (to the buildings remaining after the Discalced Carmelites on Świętoduska street). The hospital did not have proper equipment, therefore the army and voivodeship officials have asked for the help from the residents of Lublin who voluntarily supplied beds, mattresses and bed lining.
Over the next 148 years the building was under military rule, successively of the Austrian, Russian, Polish, German, Soviet and again Polish armies. In 1815 the building was adapted for barrack for the stationing troops, the nearby Litewski square was changed into a drill ground. Part of thesurrounding garden was cut down to put stables for the uhlans there.
Between 1836-39 the church was converted into an Orthodox church (according to some sources at the time it was referred to as Greco-Russian) for soldiers based on the project by Feliks Bieczyński and Ferdynand Konotkiewicz. A tower was added on the front of the façade along with five domes, painted sapphire and decorated with stars according to available photos. The Orthodox church survived until 1877 when a representative Orthodox Cathedral was erected on Litewski square.
After regaining independence the domes and the tower were taken down and the whole building was stripped of all detail. In 1921 the former church was divided into two storeys, creating a military casino on one of them; a similar division was introduced in the adjacent chapels. By walling in and dividing some of the corridors the original internal communication system was changed. The building completely lost the sacral character.
During the occupation, the Germans organized a Soldatenheim, that is a home for soldiers, in the convent buildings.
In the interwar period the complex housed a military hospital and the offices of the Polish Army. Between August 1944 and January 1945 the building was the seat of the Polish Army Supreme Command. The complex remained in the hands of the Ministry of National Defence until 1952; during this time flats for military families were located in the substantial part of the building, including the present Black Room. Later the building was transferred under the administration of the Municipal Board of Residential Buildings. Also in the 1950s the larger garth was paved and a concrete stage was built. The one-storey corridor connecting the main building with the granary was used as coal storage, while in the basement there were storages for vegetables.
Part of the complex (the west and south-west wings) until 2003 was rented by Medical Academy – during their residence here, the military authorities delegate part of the building to the Academy – housing Military School, Main Library, lecture rooms, laboratories, morgue and a room for waxing bodies.
IN THE SERVICE OF CULTURE
In the 1960s there were plans to demolish the entire complex, however they were abandoned. In the years 1970-79 the building was renovated according to the project of architects Tadeusz Michalak and Kazimierz Kwiatkowski, giving it the shape known before the latest renovation. During this works the building was adapted for city’s cultural activities; at the same time the cellars under the former church were deepened.
In 1960 students of the Archaeology Department of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University founded a student club named “Hades” which was to be located in the basement of the building, in a room from which archaeological trophies were removed. When in 1963 the Department was closed, the club passed into the hand of a group of enthusiasts who still run their activities there, based on social meetings. It was them who first came across the 18th-century frescos in the cellars which were created for the convent.
Since 1968 the building housed the Municipal House of Culture, which has obtained the entire ground floor of the convent complex as well as a café and theatre room at the first floor for its activities. The first place adapted to run the activities was the fireplace room, where poetry evenings and meetings with authors were held. The House of Culture was responsible for substantial care over district culture houses and clubs, as well as Concert Amphitheatre “The Shell” in Saski Garden where, apart from concerts, it organized the action “Summer in the city”. In its café the House of Culture held a series of meetings on memories from the old Lublin, regional tournaments and, on the small stage, reviews and performances of artistic groups. The House cooperated with Osterwa Theatre and Kurier Lubelski daily in organization of annual “Lublin Nativity Scenes”. From 1971 it was also the venue of the Lublin Meetings of Jazz Singers which hosted outstanding musicians from Poland and abroad. The Festival lived to ten editions.
In 1975 the House of Culture was transformed into Lublin’s House of Culture. Among the activities of its two main departments – Spreading of Culture Department and Artistic Management Department – was the organization of concerts (up to 3 a month) and artistic reviews, running groups of interest and educational classes for children (nowadays this type of classes are run by district culture centres), institutional Christmas meetings and extensive New Year’s Eve parties which took over all storeys of the building. Other activities organized by LHC that enjoyed huge popularity were records and books exchanges as well as discos organized in the basements – at that time a type-3 coffee bar Hades, which was later transformed into Club Hades. In the summer part of the concerts was also held on the large garth but they were soon discontinued due to residents’ complaints concerning the noise which could be heard up to Saski Garden.
Some of the rooms on the second floor (later the director’s office and accounting department) was occupied by the Department of Culture of the City of Lublin.
The Centre for Culture was established in May 1991 on the basis of the City Council’s from the merge of Lublin’s House of Culture and Lublin’s Theatre Studio. Thus created Centre has become the only institution in Lublin with such a large scope of activities. Parts of the building, however, were still occupied by Hieronim Łopaciński Municipal Public Library, the office of “Na przykład” monthly and the director’s office of the Music Theatre.
Due to the fact that several theatre groups functioned in the Centre in 1992 a small ballet room (so-called White Room) was transformed into a theatre stage. And so, after painting the walls black, the Black Room was created. A general renovation of the main performance room took place in 1997; it was named Nova Room. It was opened for activities again in September 1998 with performances by Jan Peszek and Grzegorz Turnau. A new room was created for the 9th edition of International Festival Theatre Confrontations in 2004 (edition devoted to Witold Gombrowicz). It was called A.S.S. (Absolutely Secret Space, in Polish the acronym D.U.P.A had a meaning of well hidden artistic space) – the name was a reference to the works of the author. This room which used to be the bottom part of the former church, was the location of the Festival’s club. Afterwards, it was also a venue for rock music concerts, exhibitions and meetings.
In March 2008 eastern wing was taken by newly-created Centre of Animation of Culture and Incubator of Culture. The two institutions were later transformed into the present-day Workshops of Culture.
THE CONVENT COMPLEX
The whole convent is an interesting example of late Baroque monastic architecture. It was inspired by the order’s mother church of Saint Francis de Sales in Annency, France and had many features analogous to the Visitandines’ church of the same name in Cracow. It was erected on the square plan of dimensions 67 x 67 meters. The building has two storeys and flat façades, the church was located in the centre of the northern façade of the complex, from the side of contemporary Krakowskie Przedmieście street, dividing the façade into two wings with symmetrically positioned entrances to the convent. The temple was composed of an elongated three-span nave on a rectangular plan and a narrower chancel on a square plan. On the eastern and western sides of the chancel there were monastic choirs-chapel which have have separated three garths in the space of the convent. The large garth has a rectangular shape of 18.7 x 33.2 meters (full surface area of 616,71 m2), and two smaller ones are squares measuring 11.6 x 11.6 m, located symmetrically on both sides of the church’s nave. The large garth had an open arcade two-storey gallery from the side of the church, but it the 19th century it was closed by walling in the arcades and creating windows in their place. There was a water drainage system from the garths – it led from the western (smaller) one under the oratory. Due to the lower level of the pavement in the large garth, the channel crossing it diagonally was an open gutter. The drainage led then through a vaulted channel under the building, to the east towards the street the present-day Hempla street, according to the natural slope of the area. The sacristy, library, refectory, chapter house, and all the utility rooms were located on the ground floor. Living cells for nuns (directed both to the outside and the garths), the infirmary (ward), mother superior cell and rooms of the novices were all located on the first floor. The building of the granary, its proportions and style constitute one of the most interesting examples of Baroque architecture in Lublin – it is build on a square plan with characteristic curves; Toscan architectural order with intermittent, reduced entablature was well preserved in this building. All buildings in the complex were covered with gable roofs, inside in many rooms cross vaults or barrel vaults with lunettes were preserved. The entire complex was surrounded with a wall which was erected at the initial phase of the construction works, around 1730-31. Only parts of the northern wall remains until today, partially used for the construction of annexes of adjacent buildings. The main gate to the complex, which was a part of this wall, was located at the end of present-day Kołłątaja street. It was flanked with two towers-pylons covered with Baroque domes.
The Visitandines’ complex included also vast gardens extending to the present-day Chopina and Okopowa streets, divided into a contemplative part (preserved partly until today) and farming garden located on the south side. In 19th century a so-called “Tivoli” gardens were located on the grounds of convent’s garden; in the years 1870 – 1882 a wooden summer theatre functioned there. At the turn of nineteenth and twentieth centuries numerous buildings were erected in the garden, serving military and hospital purposes; some of them survived until the mid-1980s.
After the Second World War the wall surrounding the complex was torn down and part of the area was allocated for construction of new buildings; Hempla street was traced and a roundabouts around the Pensive Christ was build. The garden has undergone significant devastation.
In the interwar period a stadium of the Military Sport Club “Lublinianka” was build in the garden grounds (in the place the DOKP building is located nowadays). The stadium has an English-type wooden tribune covered with a roof, with 1.500 to 3.000 sitting-standing places. Besides the field there were racetracks, throwing circles, athletic take-offs, tennis courts; in the later years an ice rink was also built. The entrance to the stadium was located in a row of trees from Peowiaków street. Games at the stadium were held for sure until 1946, then a new stadium at Aleje Zygmuntowskie was constructed.
NAME OF THE STREET
The street leading from the former Bridgettine church to the Visitandines’ convent and further, into the direction of present-day Krakowskie Przedmieście street was at first named the Visitandines’ street. During the Russian occupation a military hospital was located in the building, therefore in 1880 the street was renamed into Szpitalna (Hospital) street. In 1934 the street was given a name Peowiaków (for the 20th anniversary of Polish Military Organisation), in 1952 changed again into Pstrowskiego street. The pre-war name was restored only in 1992.