The history of Wąchock is inextricably linked with the Cistercian Order. It was thanks to the Kraków bishop Godeon who funded a Cistercian monastery that Wąchock appeared on medieval maps of Europe. It took place in 1179 and the first monks came there from the Morimond Abbey in Burgundy, France[1.1].

Probably the former seat of the Cistercians was situated in the premises of the present Wielka Wieś, then Kamienna (from the Latin Abbatia de Camina, as the monks called it). The name was also used to refer to the area of today’s Wąchock[1.2]. For the first time the name occurs in the bull of Pope Honorius III issued on 24 May 1218. Officially, the settlement took the new name in the mid-13th century. The initial term was probably Wąchodzie. The word wychód meant a place on a narrow isthmus, passage. The form has evolved to the present Wąchock.

Although the town was situated in a woody, barren, muddy and marshy area, the Cistercians managed to make use of it and strengthen their position in medieval Poland. In the 13th century, the monastery in Wąchock became one of the most affluent in Europe and received a status of an independent abbey. It was possible thanks to the gifts given to the monks by monarchs and knights. Presumably, this fact led to a conflict between the monks and the largest sanctuary in the area – the Sanctuary of the Holy Cross. Its owners, the bishops of Kraków, tried to supress Wąchock’s administrative development and limit the importance of the Cistercians.

In 1315, a customs house was established in the town which operated until the second half of the 15th century. In 1454, Wąchock was located under the Magdeburg law by king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk. Together with the city charter, the town obtained a permission to organize a fair on 24 June – on St John Baptist’s day. Later, king Zygmunt Stary granted Wąchock the right to hold a second fair on St Matthew’s day[1.3]. The Cistercians actively supported industrialization of the Kamienna valley. It was connected with the fact that the prior owned the mineral deposits in the neighbourhood, by the virtue of the monastery’s foundation act which was issued by Bolesław Wstydliwy[1.4]. The monks opened mines, blacksmith’s and metal workshops in Bzin (Skarżysko-Kamienna), Starachowice, Mostki, Parszów, and in Wąchock itself. They were also pioneers in preparing land for cultivating; they cleared forests on a mass scale and introduced modern, as for that time, methods of farming. They played an important role in the development of the Wąchock settlement, which evolved as a result of a slow influx of settlers rather than of planned colonization. The fact that land parcels are uneven and situated in a chaotic way proves this thesis[1.5].      

Both the monastery and the town were pillaged, burnt down and destroyed several times in history - in the years 1260 and 1278 by Tartar raids. By the end of the 1620s, Wąchock was inhabited by 1,400 people living in 140 houses[1.6]. After the Polish-Swedish war and the havoc caused in 1657 by the Prince of Transylvania George II Rákóczi who allied with the Scandinavians, the town’s population dropped to about 475 residents in 80 houses[1.7]. Yet, it quickly began to increase again and in 1788 amounted to 1,138 people. During the partitions of Poland, Wąchock came under Austrian authority. At that time, the monastery was burdened with requisitions and contingents, and some of its estates were annexed. After the Napoleonic wars the monastery was dissolved. In 1819, the monks were ordered to leave the abbey and the buildings were taken over by the state. A year later, in Wąchock lived 888 Christians and 68 Jews[1.8]. In 1860, there were 1,073 inhabitants residing in 160 houses[1.9]. Surrounded by a coherent complex of the Świętokrzyska Forest, the monastery and Wąchock became shelter for fighters for freedom of Poland. During the January Uprising of 1863, gen. Marian Langiewicz stationed in the town and in the neighbouring forests[1.10]. There he was preparing a group of 1,400 insurgents to march on Warsaw and appealed “to the inhabitants of the Kraków province” to support the Uprising[1.11]. Wąchock’s residents dressed the wounds, provided the camp with food and many men joined the insurgent army. On 3 February 1863, a battle with the Russian army took place in the area. For helping the insurgents the town faced repressions from the Russian authorities – it was deprived of town rights and the municipality seat was moved to the nearby Wielka Wieś (although the offices and clerks stayed in their former places in Wąchock). Wąchock regained a city charter only in 1994. As part of the repressions, the inhabitants were deprived of land easement and many of them were transported to Siberia. In 1860, the town was inhabited by 1,073 people: 135 farmers, 3 shoemakers, 3 tailors, 3 blacksmiths and one cooper. After the Uprising crushed, the town’s population decreased to 975 people. At the end on the 1870s, the former monastery buildings, which were used by several institutions, came again under church authority. The monastery became seat of the local parish. In 1907, Wąchock had 180 wooden and 68 brick houses, and was inhabited by 3,015 residents, who dealt with farming, stonemasonry, industry and worked in factories[1.12]. Despite the population growth, the glory days of the settlement had gone by. In the interwar period, the monastery building served as a school – firstly, in 1903 as an elementary school, and later, thanks to priest Edward Chrzanowski, as a four-grade state gymnasium. After World War I, the coeducational gymnasium was turned into priest E. Chrzanowski’s private school which existed until 1927. From 1934, the monastery building held a museum of local history and a shelter for 15 people[1.13]. From 1910 and until the outbreak of World War 2 a Loan-Savings Society operated in the town. In 1928, it was renamed to “Kasa Stefczyka”[1.14]. The pre-war banking tradition is continued by the Cooperative Bank in Wąchock. In 1930, Wąchock had 3,500 inhabitants. The town infrastructure consisted of: 4 mills, 2 sawmills, a brickyard, a ceramic plant, mill machinery factory, quarries, small stalls and shops.

During World War II, Wąchock and its neighbouring forests again sheltered partisans fighting for independence of Poland. Already in 1939, a unit of the Polish Army led by major Henryk Dobrzański “Hubal” took refuge in the nearby Wykus forest area (part of the Siekierzyńskie Forests). In 1940, the first unit of the Union of Armed Struggle, called “inhabitants of Warsaw unit”, was trained in the same area. In 1943, the area saw struggles of “Ponury” Partisan Groupings of the Home Army commanded by lieut. Jan Piwnik “Ponury” (belonged to the Silent Unseen; Polish: Cichociemni) which numbered up to several hundred soldiers [1.15]. Following a confirmed information, the abovementioned partisan unit included at least one Jew. Izaak Czyżyk (Adam Salwowski) nom de guerre “Adam” was a private in the unit of phm. Władysław Wasilewski, nom de guerre “Oset”, which belonged to the 1st Grouping commanded by lieutenant of the Silent Unseen Eugeniusz Kaszyński aka “Nurt”. Already in 1944, he was a corporal and commander of the heavy machineguns unit in the IV platoon 1st companion I battalion 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Home Army Legions. After 1945, he left for Australia[1.16].

In 1957, a shrine was unveiled to commemorate the activity of the already mentioned partisan units in the Wykus area and all fallen soldiers of the Home Army. In 1984, a monument of major “Ponury” was unveiled in the market square in Wąchock (to this rank he was promoted posthumously). Since 1957, Wąchock and the Wykus forest area have become a place of yearly meetings of the war’s veterans. Between 10 and 12 June 1988, the town hosted the funeral ceremony of major Jan Piwnik “Ponury” whose ashes were exhumed in the Byelorussian SRR. It was the largest manifestation of the Home Army environment during the period of the People’s Republic of Poland. As the German army was withdrawing on the night of 16 January 1945, it blew off the train station, railways and the bridge on Kamienna. After the war was over, the inhabitants could not manage to lift Wąchock to a town of a higher status. The main source of income for the residents were car industry plant in Starachowice and metal industry plant in Skarżysko. The Cistercians returned to Wąchock only after World War 2 and opened the monastery in 1951. Ten years later it was raised to an abbey. The abbot is fr. Eugeniusz Ignacy Augustyn. The town regained its city charter on 1 January 1994. The present (2010)  town’s mayor is Mr Jarosław Samela. In 1996, the Wąchock municipality covered the area of 9,823 ha and was inhabited by 8,724 people. The town itself had 1,601 ha and 3,100 residents, including 1,669 women[1.17].

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] The history of the Cistercians began in 1108 when St Robert of Molesne founded an order in Citeaux. The monastery gathered only those Benedictine monks who wished to adhere to unchanged rules of St Benedict and opposed lifting any provisions originally stipulated by their founder. The name of the order comes from the French Citeaux (Latin: Cistercium). K. Winiarczyk, Rys historyczny Wąchocka, „Informator Samorządowy Miasta i gminy Wąchock”, no. 8, 1995, pp. 1-5.
  • [1.2] Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego, F. Sulimierski, B. Chlebowski (eds.), Warszawa (1883), v. 13, p. 157.
  • [1.3] Informator dziejów historycznych Wąchocka i okolicy, J. K. Kubicki, Z. T. Koziński, S. Kowalski (eds.), Wąchock (1988), p. 23.
  • [1.4] R. Mirowski, Świętokrzyski Album, v. IV, Kielce (2003), p. 142.
  • [1.5] Informator dziejów historycznych Wąchocka i okolicy, J. K. Kubicki, Z. T. Koziński, S. Kowalski (eds.), Wąchock (1988), p. 21.
  • [1.6] B. Kułaga, M. Gonciarz, Wąchock. Przewodnik turystyczny, Kielce (1998), p. 23.
  • [1.7] A. Massalski, C. Jastrzębski, “Z przeszłości regionu świętokrzyskiego”, [in:] Mała Ojczyzna. Świętokrzyskie. Dziedzictwo kulturowe, G. Okła (ed.), Kielce (2002), p. 82.
  • [1.8] J. Wiśniewski, Dekanat iłżecki, Radom (1909-1911), b. 344.
  • [1.9] B. Kułaga, M. Gonciarz, Wąchock. Przewodnik turystyczny, Kielce (1998), p. 27.
  • [1.10] A. Wójcik-Łagan, “Wycieczki historyczne”, [in:] Kraina Świętokrzyska i Ponidzie, A. Massalski, R. Garus (eds.), Kielce (1995), p. 60.
  • [1.11] K. Winiarczyk, Ciekawostki historyczne z Wąchocka i okolicy. Zjazd weteranów Powstania Styczniowego w Wąchocku, „Informator samorządowy Miasta i Gminy Wąchock”, 1995, no. 16, p. 8.
  • [1.12] J. Wiśniewski, Dekanat iłżecki, Radom (1909-1911), b. 345.
  • [1.13] Informator dziejów historycznych Wąchocka i okolicy, J. K. Kubicki, Z. T. Koziński, S. Kowalski (eds.), Wąchock (1988), p. 29.
  • [1.14] K. Winiarczyk, Rys historyczny Wąchocka, „Informator Samorządowy Miasta i gminy Wąchock”, 1995, no. 8, p. 4.
  • [1.15] W. Borzobohaty, „Jodła”. Okręg Radomsko-Kielecki ZWZ-AK 1939-1945, Warszawa (1988); C. Chlebowski, Pozdrówcie Góry Świętokrzyskie, Warszawa (1988, 1993), Toruń (2006); M. Jedynak, Kapliczka na Wykusie. Wokół powstania Środowiska Świętokrzyskich Zgrupowań Partyzanckich AK „Ponury”-„Nurt”, Kielce (2009); M. Jedynak, Robotowcy 1943. Monografia II Zgrupowania Zgrupowań Partyzanckich AK „Ponury”, Końskie (2007).
  • [1.16] C. Chlebowski, Pozdrówcie Góry Świętokrzyskie, Warszawa (1988), p. 507; C. Chlebowski, Reportaż z tamtych dni, Warszawa (1986), pp. 437-449, 491.
  • [1.17] B. Kaługa, M. Gonciarz, Wąchock. Przewodnik turystyczny, Kielce (1998), p. 5.