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Students of the Faculty of Architecture of Bialystok University of Technology in the campaign #ratujemykatakumby. Inventory of unique monument in progress

Three women and one man photograph and measure a stone wall in Supraśl catacombs

Students of the Faculty of Architecture of Bialystok University of Technology take part in the rescue of the Supraśl catacombs. It is a joint venture of Bialystok University of Technology, the largest technical university in north-eastern Poland, the University of Bialystok, the Medical University of Bialystok, the Christian Academy of Theology and the Monastery itself. The work was also supported by the Military University of Technology.

Supraśl catacombs are unique on a European scale. After World War II, they were subject to more and more rapid destruction. Therefore, four universities and the Monastery decided to launch an action to save the historical heritage. Specialists from the Military University of Technology (WAT) and the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń joined the campaign.

– We decided to examine the soil around the facility – explains Prof. Jerzy Uścinowicz, head of the Unit for Architecture of Local Cultures at the Faculty of Architecture of Bialystok University of Technology. – We used georadar from WAT because it has very high precision and the ability to identify what is underground. The key point is to check what is the range of the cemetery, what is around the catacombs, how close the earth graves were to the catacombs, so that in the future, when design and later implementation works will be carried out, the peace of this place will be preserved so that God forbid to violate the existing burials.

And in the catacombs, in addition to monks, people who had left their mark on the history of the Republic of Poland were buried.

– This is the burial place of the elite of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – emphasizes Assoc. Prof. Maciej Karczewski, DSc, PhD (UwB Bialystok) from the Faculty of History and International Relations of the University of Bialystok. – Here lie the remains of really eminent figures: the mother of Aleksander Chodkiewicz, Aleksander Chodkiewicz himself, other representatives of the Chodkiewicz family, but we also have next to Chodkiewicz: the families of Czartoryski, Sanguszko, Sapieha. There are the Siemaszko, the Słucki, the Tyszkiewicz, the Massalski, the Olelkowicz, the Wiśniowiecki.

Now students of the Faculty of Architecture of Bialystok University of Technology are dealing with the traces of their burials.

– In the catacombs next to the monastery in Supraśl, with the help of a leveler, we deal with measurements needed for archaeological excavation – says Natalia Maksymiuk, a fifth-year student of the Faculty of Architecture of Bialystok University of Technology.
– We have just started research works that are mainly aimed at identifying this object in the field, embedding it in the field and checking the geometry, and above all the condition of the existing structure – explains Prof. Uścinowicz. – They are primarily used to identify the degree of catacomb destruction and are also to be directly used to create a vision of the conservation of this object. First we need to fix the substance, because it is in very poor condition, and then to undertake projects that will subject the catacombs to conservation, and then to create a vision that will make this object available.

These studies de facto reveal the history of the Supraśl catacombs, about which practically very little is known from historical sources – reminds Prof. Karczewski. – The cooperation of the University of Bialystok, Bialystok University of Technology, the Medical University of Bialystok, the Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw and other universities joining us is aimed at learning about the history of the catacombs, preparing a programme for securing this unique monument of Podlasie, but also Poland – the Gothic catacombs of the Eastern Rite and preparing a programme for securing them and, finally, securing and making this object available to all interested visitors. And there are quite a lot of them, because from time to time, unfortunately, we have to ask people not to come, not to visit because this is not the moment yet – it is still quite dangerous for now.

Therefore, the next stage of work will be to examine the condition of the structure.

– In the near future, works will be carried out to check the properties of the building material – brick and lime-sand mortar, which is in a very severe condition – informs Prof. Uścinowicz. – We hope that this facility can be saved and thanks to this research, as well as geotechnical research, we will have a full recognition of the facility and the environment and we will be able to take corrective action – design and implementation.

Students participating in the work did not expect that such a task could happen to them.

– I did not expect it to be just this holiday, but an unexpected professional training came out, where I can observe gothic bricks with fingerprints of people who formed them centuries ago – says Natalia Maksymiuk, a fifth-year student of the Faculty of Architecture of Bialystok University of Technology. – I happen to study architecture and so I’m fulfilling some of my childhood dreams because when I was little, I wanted to become an archaeologist.

– Students who undergo archaeological and architectural professional training have been introduced to the methodology of conducting research, including conservation research – informs Prof. Uścinowicz. – We hope that this will also serve them in their future professional work. Raising competences, raising their knowledge and experience will certainly be beneficial for them. Today’s attempts to combine architecture with conservation work are becoming more and more common. Students recognize the object, help or participate in the auxiliary works of the inventory of the object, or in the auxiliary archaeological works. I hope that they will be able to learn the latest techniques that we use here.

The result is to save a unique monument and enable partial exploration of the catacombs.

– I think that due to the uniqueness of the object itself, because it is the only object of this type in north-eastern Poland, our action will be very important for the history of Christianity, for the history of architecture, for historical archaeology on a national scale, and I can even risk saying that it is Central European – summarizes Prof. Karczewski.
Supraśl catacombs – history

Several decades after the monks settled in Supraśl, somewhere between 1532 and 1557, south of the monastery buildings, the Church of the Resurrection of Christ was erected from the Prussian wall, and under it large catacombs were built, nearly two hundred burial niches.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, the ruined Church of the Resurrection, was demolished for safety reasons. The catacombs were covered, but in the mid-1980s they were unveiled for archaeological works. Catacombs, exposed and poorly secured – were left to their fate. They easily fell victim to curious, unable to respect the majesty of death, and ordinary vandals.

In recent years, together with brothers from the Monastery, together with volunteers, under archaeological care, we have cleared the catacombs – says Andrzej Borkowski, DSc, PhD, bishop of Supraśl, archimandrite of the Monastery of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Mother of God in Supraśl. – They were secured so that their devastation would not proceed. The next stage belongs to specialists, so we cannot interfere with the historic structure of the catacombs, which are not visible outside. – Proper security and visibility of this facility will also serve great for our entire region.

by jd