On the trail of the Knights Templar in western Poland
On the trail of the Knights Templar in western PolandFollow @KnightsTempOrg
Famous examples of Knights Templar built structures can be found all over the UK, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Lesser known are the spectacular chapels and fortifications they constructed in western Poland, where the Knights Templar and other crusaders colonized land and set about weaving their own mythology into the idyllic rural landscape.
The road to Chwarszczany, a village lost among fields and forests, is little used by anyone but those who live there. The village itself is a collection of faded houses with fewer than 100 residents who keep chickens and grow tomatoes in the summer.
Farms are laid out in a ruled grid, the houses built in a traditional German style, testament to the geopolitical upheavals that have affected the region over the centuries.
It's here that the Templars established a place of worship.
Constructed of red bricks on a base of granite, the chapel of Saint Stanislaus was built in 1232 on a secluded spot.
The chapel is laid out according to the Rule of the Templars, an intricate codex that the knights obeyed under fear of banishment from the brotherhood. The building's appearance is defensive, its tall walls built to withstand attack, as well as the ravages of time.
It's still in use as a place of worship, although Sunday mornings in Chwarszczany are quiet affairs, typically seeing about 30 parishioners gather inside the chapel in private prayer and Roman Catholic services. On the walls are two restored frescoes.
Discoveries are still being made here that shed new light on the lives and deaths of the knights and their acolytes. Among the finds beneath the chapel's sanctuary are the bodies of some of the knights themselves and a possible clandestine passageway.
Przemysław Kołosowski, an archeologist working to preserve Chwarszczany's medieval heritage, says that during excavations in 2019, researchers discovered more fortifications and a graveyard using ground penetrating radar.
"Our GPR has detected gothic crypts with the remnants of Templar knights beneath the chapel," Kołosowski said. "According to legends and medieval documents, there was a well in the vicinity of the chapel. Rumor has it that the well served as an entrance to a secret tunnel. This still requires an exhaustive archeological investigation".
About 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Chwarszczany, another Romanesque-style building owes its existence to the medieval order.
The Chapel of the Knights Templar in Rurka is a rough stone building that dates from about 1250, built in the architectural style of the German Saxony region.
Sitting in a secluded woodland spot, the Rurka chapel was sold into private hands in 1999 and is closed for renovation.
Heading further northeast, after 25 minutes of driving, travelers will reach Myślibórz, a tight community of narrow streets and surrounded by woods and four lakes.
It's an idyllic spot, but the scene here is stolen by the town's remarkably preserved fortifications, which look today pretty much as they probably did during the Crusades.
Historical documents place the Templars in Myślibórz from about 1238, when the land around the town was granted to them by local aristocrat, Duke Władysław Odonic.
The fortifications around Myślibórz were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. The town has maintained its medieval urban planning, with a square in the middle. Around this marketplace there's an 18th century Rathaus, or town hall, and housing.
Even today, the main entrances to the town are via two medieval portals, the Pyrzycka Gate and the Nowogródzka Gate, were built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. Modern roads allow cars to enter the town through the gates.
Within the fortifications stands a stone brick cylindrical tower topped by crenelated battlements.
Visitors should ask about a secret underground tunnel that runs beneath the town from the large church located in the market square to the Dominican monastery which, according to Karolczak, was initially the location of the Templar Knights castle.
After the Templar Knights were expelled from Myślibórz at the end of 13th century, their legendary treasure disappeared.
Karolczak says that according to local lore, the treasure was sunk by Templars themselves in a nearby lake.
"The legend says that Templars, under cover of darkness, sunk a wooden box with golden coins and the Holy Grail," he says.
"The lake, which used to be located near the village of Świątki -- also owned by the Knights Templars -- has dried out and the treasure has either been stolen or lost forever in the swamp."