Previously published in PGS-CA Bulletin (Issue #24, April 1994)
Translated from the Słownik Geograficzny (1880-1902)
by Helen Bienick
Leżajsk, a free royal town, 41º5’ east longitude and 50º16’ north latitude from Ferro, lies on the left bank of the river San. It is 220 meters above sea level, situated in the county of Łancut. We find its first historical mention in 1354 during the reign of Kazimierz Wielki (Casimer the Great). The town is very neat and orderly with one-story houses, surrounded by small gardens. Leżajsk is divided into three sections: the central city proper, the lower portion, and the monastery area. The last section, considerably built up is two kilometers from the center of town, and is renowned for its landmark, a splendid monastery of the Bernardine Fathers, dating from 1608 and still functioning. The central part has a spacious city square, from which three main roads or routes emanate. To the north, the road leads to the monastery area, then continues to Ruda and the border of Galicia. To the south, the route leads to Żołynia and Łancut. The third road leads to Sieniawa, before making a sharp turn to the southeast.
According to the last census, there were 4,945 inhabitants, of whom 2,539 were Catholics, 430 were Greek Catholics and 32 were non-Catholics. There was a total of 1,944 Israelites. Leżajsk covered an expanse of 1,641 ha, or over four thousand acres. In 1884 its working capital totaled 4,186 złoty. In 1882 the town’s net income netted 7,797 złoty, Austrian value. Leżajsk has a Roman Catholic parish, as well as a Greek Catholic one. There was a four-classroom school for boys and a three-classroom school for girls.
Other amenities included a notary, a doctor, a pharmacy, and the courthouse for the county of Łancut, which totaled 38,194 people. There were two banks, one with a treasury of 1,710 złoty, the other 2,443 złoty. In 1884 Count Alfred Potocki of Łancut established a foundation of 4,108 złoty (zł.) to aid unfortunate artisans and craftsmen. There was also a special fund of 2,100 zł. that earned 840 zł. yearly. It was established in the 16th century by an anonymous benefactor to maintain a shelter for handicapped people. One of Leżajsk’s oldest industries is wool dyeing and weaving, which produced a strong cloth material called “baize”.
The beautiful brick church was built by Feliks from Skarzyszowa. In former times it was protected by defense walls and towers. The Greek Catholic church was also a brick edifice. The largest and dominant place of worship, however, was and still is the Monastery of Our Lady of Consolation staffed by the Bernardine Fathers. The basilica is the site of pilgrimages from all of Poland during holy days and seasons.
The original Roman Catholic parish was established by King Władyslaw Jagiełło. In 1400 in Biecz, he declared an endowment for the existing church. Prior to this in 1397, he raised the village then known as “Lenżajski”to the status of a city. This historic event occured in a suburb of Leżajsk now known as Stare Miasto (Old Town). He proclaimed that henceforth, the city be known as the “King’s Town”. He sold the title and office of bailiff to Stanisław Jasienski, a townsman from Przeworski, for 4,800 Polish “groszy”.
Wladysław Jagiełło donated to the city one mile of forest land on both sides of the San River, as well as the forests situated between the river Ozana (now the Złota) and the river Kolna. He also donated eight fields to the church. He assigned the Madgeburg style governing and civil laws and designated Thursdays as market days. The settlers were granted a tax-free status. Six years were tax-free for those living on farms, 14 years for those settling in thickets, and 20 years for those living in the dense oak forests. Upon expiration of the specified time, they were assessed a small tax of six “groszy”. One stipulation was that should the King or Queen decide to visit the city, the inhabitants were required to offer them gifts of capons, eggs and other staples.
In 1439 the church and parish were assigned to the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, who administered it until 1839. In 1494 town rights were granted by King Jan Olbracht (John I, Albert). In the document the town was referred to as “Layżaysko”.
Soon disaster struck. The Tatar scourge beset Poland, and Leżajsk was attacked in the years 1498, 1500, 1509 and 1519. In an effort to aid Leżajsk in restoring its economy, Zygmunt Stary (Sigismund I The Elder) initiated fairs and markets in 1519. Five years later in 1524, the Tatar hordes sacked and pillaged the town again. Sigismund rebuilt the town and absolved the inhabitants from paying taxes for 12 years. He also reestablished the markets and trade fairs. To protect the town from more attacks, he instructed the sheriff to build a castle and fortifications, giving them access to the forest timber for the building. He forbade the natives to brew beer and other spirits.
In 1534 he allowed his Italian wife, Queen Bona Sforza, to purchase the town. Her proprietorship was commendable, marked by an era of growth and expansion. In 1596 the Corpus Christi Church was built on the road to Giedlarowa and in 1611, the Mary Magdalene Church was erected in Wierzawice, as well as a third wooden church in the town proper.
The end of the 16th century and the start of the 17th brought more disasters due to religious discord. Between 1604 and 1609 a bitter feud erupted between Stanisław Stadnicki of Łancut and Lukasz Opalinski, the sheriff of Leżajski. The bone of contention was a hunting dog. Stadnicki, who embraced the Reformation, was a mean person and was dubbed “the devil of Łancut” by his neighbors. He gathered an army in Hungary and Wallachia and sacked Leżajsk. Before he was defeated, he succeeded in burning the church and its archives. Count Opalinski survived and in thanksgiving, he funded the construction of the Bernardine Monastery, 1618-1628.
In 1616 Zygmunt III arranged to have the Leżajsk church rebuilt. It was completed in 1619. The Tatars again invaded Leżajsk in 1623, burned the town and took many inhabitants into captivity. In 1656 Leżajsk was invaded by Carl Gustav, King of Sweden. The inhabitants were scattered and the defense castle was burned. In 1657 Leżajsk was invaded by the Cossacks and General Rakoczy of Austria. In 1702-04 Carl II and his Swedish army again invaded Leżajsk. The town was unable to recover quickly and in 1765, the town’s income barely generated 210 złoty. In an attempt to rebuild, the populace was granted free transport over the San River. They were allowed to brew “wisniak” (cherry liqueur) and mead.
During this time and until 1772, Leżajsk was passed to the Austrian empire in the first partition of Poland. Joseph Potocki then moved his offices to Łancut where the Potocki castle is now a museum and a tourist attraction. In 1819 the ownership of Leżajsk transferred to the Mierów family, from whom it was purchased by Count Alfred Potocki, the father of the governor of Galicia. Leżajsk was consumed by fire in 1834 and 1873.
Besides the parish church there was the church of the Holy Trinity in the neighboring town of Stare Miasto, a wooden structure built on the sight of the original church. Other churches included the Corpus Christi Church, a chapel in the castle, and the Bernardine Fathers’ Monastery. By 1890 only the monastery church was functioning.
The present parish and church in Leżajsk belong to the decanate of Leżajsk in the diocese of Przemysł. The parish consists of the following villages: Dębno, Hucisko, Jelna, Judaszówka, Łukowa, Piskorowice, Przychojec, Rzuchów, Siedlanka, Stare Miasto and Wierzawice. All these villages combined total 8,594 Roman Catholics, 1,985 Israelites and 85 others. The Greek Catholic parish consists of Stare Miasto, Siedlanka, Przychojec, Lukowa, Jelna, Hucisko, Ruda-Jande and Wierzawice. It belongs to the decanate of Kanczuga and totals 1,920 parishioners.
The Bernardine Fathers’ Monastery of Our Lady of Consolation is situated about two kilometers from the central part of Leżajsk. Many pilgrimages are taken by Poles during the year. The architect was Antonio Pellaccini of Italy, and the style is renowned as the finest Renaissance building in Galicia. Its sculptures, paintings, frescoes and icons were the work of many famous artisans of the period. The church is divided into three naves. Each nave is served separately by the massive organ, which is the largest in Galicia and Austria. It was built at a cost of 10,000 złoty and commissioned by Stanisław Studzinski of Przeworsk circa 1680. The work was completed in 1693 by Jan Głowinski from Kraków. The monastery and its church are situated on a small elevation surrounded by a forest of trees on three sides. The fourth has a view to the west and the river San with a sandy embankment. It is still enclosed by defense walls.
The Bernardine Fathers were brought from Przeworsk to Leżajsk by Maciej Pstrokoński in 1608; Pstrokoński at this time was the bishop of Przemysł. The Fathers were installed at the wooden church of Our Lady, situated outside the town on a sandy soil. Many miracles brought attention to the painting of Our Lady of Consolation, and the subsequent pilgrim traffic caught the attention of King Zygmunt III. He donated some land to the Fathers on which to build a new convent and church, and gifted them with a pond and a mill. In 1618, Count Lucas Opaliński initiated the construction that lasted ten years. In the interim he granted generous alms and privileges to the Fathers, which King Jan Kazimierz (John Casimer) confirmed in 1653. In 1630, the bishop of Przemysł, Adam Nowodworski, blessed the new church at its dedication ceremonies. Four years later after a canonical review, Bishop Henryk Firlej of Przemysł declared the icon of Our Lady of Consolation as “miraculous”. With the permission of Pope Benedict XIV, Bishop Wacław Sierakowski of Przemysł consecrated and crowned the painting on September 8, 1752.
Market days were held in Leżajsk on January 21, April 23, August 15, September 24, October 4 and December 6. Trade fairs were held every Tuesday and Friday.
Leżajsk’s neighbors are the following towns and villages: Stare Miasto on the south, on the west beyond the large forests lie the villages of Jelna, Maliniska and Brzoza Królewska. On the north lie Gillershof, Giedlarowa and Wierzawice. The river San flows on its west.
Father Francis, Count Pawlowski, was born in Leżajsk in 1807. In 1867 the scientist W. Jablonski did much research on the flora and fauna found in the vicinity of Leżajsk. In 1879 while living in Jasło, Father Maryan Podgorski, a curate of Wallachian birth, wrote the book Ławica Leżajsk (Leżajsk Sand-Bank). It was dedicated to the sacred memory of Wiscisława of Leżajsk, a Franciscan nun who was murdered by the Mongols in Zawichoście in 1260.
Note: Leżajsk is the ancestral home of my maternal grandparents, Jakub Skiba and Marianna Proń. In 1985 while touring Poland, I had the good fortune to visit Leżajsk, Łancut and the Monastery and Basilica. I was impressed by the beautiful altars, paintings, carvings, and particularly the immense baroque organ. Many concerts are held here and attract music students from throughout Poland and Europe. The convent museum houses a collection of outstanding art, hand-written parchments, manuscripts and prayer books of yore. Helen