The Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Tyniec was founded by the Polish king, Casimir I, the Restorer, in 1044. Benedictine monks look to Benedict of Nursia (b. 480, d. 547?) as their father and founder. He dedicated himself to the ascetical life, becoming a hermit at a young age, but after some time spent in solitude he was asked to become the superior of a monastic community near his hermitage. However, the monks of this monastery didn’t manage to live up to the saint’s high standards: they decided to poison him, but the chalice filled with poisoned wine shattered when Benedict made the sign of the Cross over it. Then the Saint left the company of these malicious monks and eventually went on to found a new monastery on the top of the hill of Monte Cassino. This is where he wrote his famous Rule, which became the law and source of inspiration for many generations of monks. This abbey, ruined several times, still exists and is inhabited by Benedictines.
Over time the Rule, written by St. Benedict, achieved widespread influence: members of existing monastic communities in Europe came to accept this book as their own rule of life. In the succeeding centuries Benedictine life spread to many regions of Europe, including Poland. Currently there are three Benedictine houses in our country: the abbey of Tyniec (suppressed in 1816, restored in 1939), the abbey of Lubiń (suppressed in 1834, restored in 1923) and the priory of Biskupów, founded in 1987. Our abbey has also a dependent house in Northern Poland, in the village of Stary Kraków, established by three monks from our community.
Today many monastic orders live according to the Rule in monasteries situated in the most remote areas of the world: behind the Arctic Circle and in New Zealand; in the lands of the Far East and in tropical Africa. For this reason we call St. Benedict the Patriarch of Monks – he gave life to so many communities through his Rule. All monks from these houses take vows of obedience, conversion and stability, the latter meaning that they usually spend their whole life in one place.
Written ca. 529, the Rule is intended for cenobites, who are monks leading a common life. As Benedictines we are not hermits – we don’t live in single houses, eating our meals separately and working in solitude. Rather, we share our everyday life: we pray together, celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours; we eat together in a common refectory; we meet frequently as a community during our chapters, when we discuss issues related to the organization of our house, and during recreations, which strengthen our fraternal bonds; we work together and rest together, although there is always a significant space for solitude in the life of every monk. Nevertheless, Benedict wanted his monks to order their lives by mutual obedience and love for their brethren, in accordance with the Bible: Let every one of you please his neighbour unto good, to edification (Romans 15:2).
Common liturgy is of primary importance in the eyes of St. Benedict: Let nothing be put before the Work of God (Rule 43:3). This liturgy, which includes the celebration of the sacraments (the Eucharist in the first place) and recitation of the Psalms and other biblical texts, unites the monastic community with the whole Church. It is the special mission of monks: to pray for the universal Church and the whole world. Monks celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours as a community, performing this public worship with great devotion. Each Christian is invited to join the monks at their prayers. Each monk, just like the first monks of the Egyptian desert, should eventually become a man of the Psalter, shaped by the Word of God, which also accompanies him outside the liturgy of the church.
Monks don’t have a defined area of activity, like charity work or education. They take a vow of stability, and this very stability defines their work. Benedictines always affect their environment, not only spiritually, but also through agriculture, craftsmanship and intellectual work. As monks of Tyniec we answer the needs of the local Church: we take care of the adjacent parish, we run a Guesthouse, where retreats and workshops are frequently held, we work in academics and try to promote knowledge about monastic spirituality, the tradition of the Fathers and the liturgy through our publishing house and Internet activity; we teach the history of this place and monasticism at our Museum and through organized classes. As those who live in the oldest inhabited Polish monastery we work not only for our parishioners and the citizens of Kraków, but also for all Polish Christians, who feel inspired by the wisdom of the Rule.
At the same time, a significant part of our efforts is directed inwards: we look after our historical buildings, we pay attention to the formation of junior monks, we take care of sick and elderly members of our community, we tend our garden and do some farming, we develop our skills in certain crafts and always seek to deepen our knowledge. The Belgian monk, Fr. Charles van Oost, who restored monastic life in our Abbey used to say that Benedictine spirituality simply means “a hundred percent of the Gospel”. We do our best to live the Christian life in this place where God has called us.
Our monastery remains a place where many paths cross. Monks live their whole life here and they see hundreds of visitors come and go through the abbey’s courtyard. Among them there are guests from our Guesthouse, pilgrims and tourists and for them Tyniec is a stopover on the journey of life. St. Benedict, quoting the Epistle of St. Peter, shows his monks the goal of monastic life: that in all things God may be honoured (cf. 1 Peter 4:11). The ultimate destination of our journey is God himself. We sincerely hope that all who visit here will experience this goal as a reality in their own lives.