Wiesław Wydra The Oldest Extant Prose Text in the Polish language. The Phenomenon of the Holy Cross Sermons.

However, recent findings by Marek Derwich6 lead us to definitively reject Semkowicz’s proposal concerning the place where the Holy Cross Sermons were written as well as the way he reconstructed the trajectory of the codex in whose binding they were used. First and foremost, it turns out that on that fatal night of October 1459, not all of the manuscripts of the Holy Cross Monastery were burnt. Only those kept in monastic cells were destroyed, while the library as such survived, as is proven by the fact that not long before World War II, Maria Hornowska and Halina Zdzitowiecka-Jasieńska described codices from Bald Mountain that were surely created before the fire of 1459 (they did not go up in flames until another month of October, in 1944, together with the manuscripts of the National Library of Poland). One of the codices described by the researchers, Lat.I.F.229, written in 1446 and 1447, contained an invaluable colophon where a Benedictine monk from the Holy Cross Monastery, called Piotr of Borzyków, stated that he had completed his writing at the Hermitage of St. Mary Magdalene near Leżajsk.7 Following this trace, Derwich rightly ascertained that codex Lat.I.Q.281, where the strips with the Holy Cross Sermons were found, had not belonged to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Order of Miechów) in Leżajsk, thus the Sermons could not have come to Leżajsk from their monastery in Miechów, and speculations that the Sermons had been written in Miechów were equally unfounded. According to the researcher, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre did not arrive in Leżajsk until approximately 1450–1458. Before, probably from 1423 to ca. 1450, Benedictines from the Holy Cross Monastery owned the hermitage of St. Mary Magdalene in this area.8 Consequently, Derwich claims that codex Lat.I.Q.281 was owned by the Benedictines from Bald Mountain from the very start and created either at the hermitage in the Leżajsk area or at the Holy Cross Abbey, or possibly partly in both places. Then it was probably bound at the Holy Cross Monastery, with the manuscript containing the text of the Sermons being cut into strips and used as part of the binding. Derwich believes the Sermons as such could have been written at the Holy Cross Monastery:

[…] in the early 14th century, and they were certainly copied in this abbey in the mid-14th century. This is also where they were kept and used until approximately the mid-15th century when, as they had become linguistically and artistically obsolete, they were cut into strips by a bookbinder from the Benedictine monastery and recycled to form part of the binding of codex Lat.I.Q.281. We do not know whether they had ever made the journey to the hermitage near Leżajsk, as they might not have been destroyed until after 1445, although probably before 1461.9

Shortly thereafter, Ryszard Skrzyniarz came up with a rather unusual hypothesis on the origin and trajectory of the Sermons, firmly opposing the views of M. Derwich.10 This researcher pointed to Iwo Odrowąż, Bishop of Cracow in the years 1218–1229, as the author of the Sermons, who presumably wrote them down “around 1218, before 1227”, and then donated them to the Norbertines from Ibrahimowice where his sister Gertruda was the abbess, while “between before 1227 and around the end of the 14th century”, the manuscript probably reached the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in the monastery in Miechów, where approximately between 1408 and 1430 the parchment was cut into strips and utilised in the codex binding.11 As this outline of the Sermons’ history lacks reliable grounds, there are no reasons to discuss it further. It is based solely on the fact that Iwo Odrowąż, considered to be an educated personality, is traditionally mentioned among those figures of the Polish Church believed to be the first ones to support preaching in the vernacular language, while Ibrahimowice appears in the manuscript’s itinerary only because the abbess of this convent was his sister.


6 M. Derwich, “‚Kazania świętokrzyskie’ a benedyktyni łysogórscy,” Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis. Historia 76 (1112), Wrocław, 1989, pp. 189-199; Idem, “Działalność benedyktynów łysogórskich w XV wieku” [Activity of the Benedictines from Łysa Góra in the 15th century], Kwartalnik Historyczny 97, 1990, 3-4, pp. 37-57; M. Derwich, Benedyktyński klasztor św. Krzyża na Łysej Górze w średniowieczu, Warszawa, 1992, p. 524.

7 M. Hornowska, H. Zdzitowiecka-Jasieńska, Zbiory rękopiśmienne w Polsce średniowiecznej [Manuscript Collections in Medieval Poland], Warszawa, 1947, p. 332. The above-mentioned colophon reads as follows: “Finis Gloze super Cantica canticorum conscripta est in loco heremi sanctae Marie Magdalene post Lanzensko per fratrem Petrum baccalaureum exulem Monasterii S. C.”. Joachim Lelewel had the same manuscript in his possession, see J. Lelewel, Bibliograficznych ksiąg dwoje [...] Two Bibliographical Books […], Wilno, 1826, vol. 2, p. 88 (The author mentions two copyists of this manuscript, Piotr of Borzyków and Paweł).

8 According to M. Derwich, the Benedictine hermitage in Leżajsk was established in 1421-1424, “most probably in 1423,” and “disappeared shortly after 1447.” See Derwich, “‚Kazania świętokrzyskie’…,” p. 193, and Idem, Materiały do słownika historyczno-geograficznego dóbr i dochodów dziesięcinnych benedyktyńskiego opactwa św. Krzyża na Łysej Górze do 1819 r. [Preparatory materials for a historical and geographic dictionary of goods and revenues subject to the tithe of the Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Cross Monastery on the Bald Mountain until 1819], Wrocław, 2000, p. 109.

9 Derwich, “‚Kazania świętokrzyskie’…,” p. 198. 1461 is the year of the reconsecration of the Bald Mountain Monastery after the fire.

10 In his book, mysteriously entitled Kazania świętokrzyskie. Przepowiadanie w XIII w. [The Holy Cross Sermons. Preaching in the 13th Century], Lublin, 2001, and in the following articles: “Kazania świętokrzyskie a bożogrobcy,” Archiwa, Biblioteki i Muzea Kościelne 64, 1995, pp. 595-600, and “Problem autorstwa Kazań świętokrzyskich,Archiwa, Biblioteki i Muzea Kościelne 72, 1999, pp. 461-466. The researcher also incorporated his views into the entry The Holy Cross Sermons in the Catholic Encyclopaedia [Encyklopedia Katolicka] with a high degree of certitude and disregarding other positions: “Kazania świętokrzyskie,” Encyklopedia Katolicka, v. 8, col. 1260-1263. See also T. Mika, “Jak się Mojżesz palił w krzaku, czyli uwagi na marginesie książki R. Skrzyniarza,” Język Polski 83, 2003, pp. 217-223.

11 Skrzyniarz, Kazania świętokrzyskie…, p. 159; see also R. Skrzyniarz, “’Kazania świętokrzyskie’ a duszpasterstwo benedyktynów łysogórskich w średniowieczu,” in D. Olszewskiego & R. Gryza (eds.), Klasztor na Świętym Krzyżu w polskiej kulturze narodowej, Kielce, 2000, p. 72.