The Cistercian Order managed the Pelplin Land for nearly six centuries. The Gray Monks, as the Cistercians were once called, erected a magnificent monastery in this place thanks to the endowment granted by Duke Mściwoj II in 1274 who gave them Pelplin and the land between the rivers of the Wierzyca, the Janka, and the Węgiermuca. The convent, led by Abbot Werner, arrived in Mecklemburg two years later.
According to the legend, the location for the monastery was chosen by a donkey, who was released from the temporary seat of the Cistercians in Pogódek. When it reached Pelplin, it brayed and refused to go any further. The monks, enchanted by the vistas of the beautiful valley of the Wierzycy, decided to stay here. Abbot Werner supposedly said “Bonum est nos hic esse”, i.e. “It is a good place for us to be”.
The friars must have come across earlier buildings in the area – the earliest traces come from the turn of the 14th Century.
When Cistercians were building a monumental church on the Latin Cross plan upon the Wierzyca, the Devil, who anxiously waited for sinful souls, grew greatly exasperated. Seeing the extraordinary beauty of the edifice erected to the glory of the One True God, he felt the desire to destroy it and oppress the Gray Monks. Under cover of darkness, he roamed around Kociewie to find a stone big enough to destroy the cathedral. When his evil plan was nearly complete, dawn took him by surprise. As the rooster crowed, the dark power left him, and the enormous boulder grew so heavy that it fell into the Wierzyca and sank to the bottom, where it remains to this day.
The two centuries of erecting the Pelplin temple saw many more extraordinary events that might have been caused by the Devil’s envy, as reported by the Pelplin Chronicle. Despite all the misfortunes and adversities the edifice was eventually completed with the use of innovative technological solutions – a special lift, wheel and axle, and balance systems – employed to elevate the wooden elements of the roof truss. To this day they are admired by visitors to the cathedral’s attics. The completion date is assumed to be 1557, however, when the last vaults were placed.
South of the church a monastery was built with its wings centred around cloisters surrounding a rectangular garth (inner garden).
Beyond the monastery walls, in the early 14th Century, the “Chapel in front of the gate” was built to serve converts and laymen (today it is the Corpus Christi Chapel).
The 14th Century saw the construction of fine farm buildings, as the Pelplin abbey successively received new land from the Dukes and Kings of Poland: Przemysław, Wacław II, Wacław III, and Władysław I the Elbow-High.
The monastery developed its writing culture, including the local scriptorium. It gradually expanded the collections of the monastery’s library, a large part of which has survived in the Diocesan Library. The abbey was ravaged during the Hussite invasion (1433) and plundered several times during the Thirteen Years’ War (1454-1466) and during the 17th-Century Polish-Swedish wars. However, it was also the time of the abbey’s intensive development, largely thanks to the numerous foundations.
A view of Pelplin Abbey is encountered in the townscape of an unknown painter from 1774. The layout of the monastery complex has remained unchanged.
In 1823 the Prussian King Frederic William II issued a decree to dissolve the abbey. The Cistercian heritage was taken care of by the Chełmno Diocese which chose Pelplin as its Capital (since 1992 the Pelplin Diocese).