The Order of Malta in Poland
History: Commandery in Zagość
While Poznan is the site of the longest surviving Commandery in Poland, the earliest references to the Knights of Saint John can be traced to year 1154. Our information again comes from Jan Długosz. Długosz, used older sources to write about the pilgrimage of Prince Henryk (fifth son of Duke Bolesław III Krzywousty) to the Holly Land in 1154 or 1155, where Henryk no doubt learnt of the work of the Order. Długosz described a settlement of Hospitallers in Zagość (a village located between Wiślica and Pinczów). This permanent Hospitaller site was established when Prince Henryk, Duke of Sandomierz and Lublin, made a donation of land for a hospital and church. 1154 puts Zagość as one of the first places where the Knights of Saint John established a presence in Poland. (Note 1)
The national origin of the Knights settled in Zagość is not known. It is thought that the Knights came from the Italian Langue because of the architecture of the church and the Commandery buildings. Prince Henryk’s donation to the Order was typical of that time. The donation of a hospital and church also included the means to support it: the village of Zagość, including all land, peasants, craftsmen and livestock. Moreover, the Prince Henryk’s donation was irrevocable, and was described by him in his Act of Donation as a way to salvation for both himself and his parents.
The donation at Zagość was latter added to and extended by several royal grants documented in surviving Letters Patent of several Piast rulers. For example, Prince Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy [1177-94] (document issued between 1172 and 1176) eased the Commandery’s obligations in respects of the services customary supplied to the Court. Prince Leszek Bialy [1202-27] enlarged the possessions of the Hospitallers. Subsequently Prince Bolesław Wstydliwy in a document issued in 1244, again confirmed all of the estates of the Order listing numerous villages under its patronage.
The Order could not stay totally apolitical. Around 1307, the Commander of Zagość, known from archival sources as Teodoryk, was a witness presenting testimony at the Archbishop of Gniezno’s Court of Justice. This testimony was detrimental to the Bishop of Kraków, who proved to be a political opponent of the aspiring Prince Władysław I Łokietek [1306-1333]. It was this prince who was successful in unifying all Polish Dukedoms under one sovereign’s rule. Ten years later, at the request of the same Commander, Władysław Łokietek (crowned king in 1320) confirmed as legitimate all holdings, lands and privileges of the Commandery in Zagość.
By 1321 however, the political climate had changed dramatically. Relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic Order (also known as the Knights of the Cross) in Prussia had become less than cordial. A war was soon raging in the Polish territories of Prussia. Conflict between the Polish Crown and the Teutonic Order was very significant, as the Knights of the Cross spent more time fighting their Catholic hosts than converting the heathen. Hospitallers in Pomerania were under direct patronage and in a alliance with the Teutonic Order. Indeed the Teutonic Knights, who built their own state in Prussia, proved to be mighty protectors but also possibly a reason for eviction of the Knights of Saint John from their possessions in Pomerania and Prussia.
The eviction order came as a result of the Knights from Lubiszew not paying the customary taxes and dues to the local bishop. The Knights refused to obey the court’s order and responded by further demolishing the property of the local Bishop Gerward. A subsequent court order awarded the bishop all of the property of the Knights under their jurisdiction. These included Zagość and other Houses of the Order in the Pomerania. This time the order was enforced.
With no fault of their own but due to an unidentified administrative allegiance to the Commandery in Pomerania, the Hospitallers were evicted from all possessions of the Zagość Commandery by the middle of the fourteenth century.
by Darius von Guettner-Sporzynski
Note 1. The settlement at Zagość was researched in detail by Kazimierz Tymieniecki in his work published in 1912 - Majetnosc ksiazeca w Zagosci i pierwotne uposazenie klasztoru joannitów na tle osadnictwa dorzecza dolnej Nidy. Studium z dziejów gospodarczych XII wieku. The Dukal Estate in Zagość and the initial establishment of the Hospitaller Commandery in the light of the settlement of the basin of the lower Nida river. Study of economic history in the 12th century.)