As commissioned by the Foundation for the Culture and Heritage of Polish Armenians, an edited collection entitled Niewiasty z pastorałami: Portrety ksień klasztoru benedyktynek ormiańskich we Lwowie: historia, konteksty, konserwacja [Women with Crosiers: Portraits of Abbesses of the Convent of Armenian Benedictines in Lviv: History, Contexts, Preservation] has been compiled by the Kraków research community in cooperation with colleagues from other institutions. It represents the culmination of restoration work done on the portraits of the abbesses carried out by Jolanta Pollesch of the Museum of the Jagiellonian University. It is edited by Andrzej A. Zięba with an introduction by Maria Ohanowicz-Tarasiuk, the president of the Foundation for the Culture and Heritage of Polish Armenians. It includes the following papers:

Andrzej A. Zięba, Joanna Sławińska – Biogramy założycielki i ksień benedyktynek ormiańskich we Lwowie [Biographical Notes on the Founder and the Armenian Benedictine Abbesses in Lviv]

Joanna Sławińska – Portrety ksień benedyktynek ormiańskich ze Lwowa na tle historii klasztoru [Portraits of the Armenian Benedictine Abbesses of Lviv against the Background of the Convent’s History]

Tomasz Krzyżowski – Ze Lwowa na Śląsk Dolny: wojenne i powojenne losy benedyktynek ormiańskich [From Lviv to Lower Silesia: The Wartime and Postwar Fate of the Armenian Benedictines]

Andrzej A. Zięba – Mniszki św. Rypsymy i benedyktynki ormiańskie – fenomen pobożności etnicznej w społeczeństwie staropolskim [The Nuns of St Hripsime and the Armenian Benedictines: The Phenomenon of Ethnic Piety in Old Polish Society]

Monika Agopsowicz, Tomasz Krzyżowski, Marcin Łukasz Majewski, Marek Stasiowski, Andrzej A. Zięba – Ormiańskie benedyktynki w świetle dokumentów historycznych (wybór) [The Armenian Benedictines in the Light of Historical Documents (a selection)]

Jolanta Pollesch – Stan badań nad techniką, technologią oraz konserwacją portretów ksień benedyktynek ormiańskich ze Lwowa [The State of Research into the Technique, Technology, and Preservation of Portraits of the Armenian Benedictine Abbesses of Lviv]

Of the source materials in the book, the extensive inventory of the convent of the Armenian Benedictine sisters in Lviv from 1845, which has been prepared for publishing by Tomasz Krzyżowski and Marek Stasiowski, is of particular value. The volume includes rich iconographic documentation. Monika Zołoteńka provides the graphic art and design. It is published by Księgarnia Akademicka [Academic Bookshop] of Kraków. The collection appears courtesy of funds provided by the Ministry of Administration and Internal Affairs, by the Mazowieckie Voivodship, and by the Museum of the Jagiellonian University.

Orders can be placed at the address below:

Księgarnia Akademicka Publishing [Academic Bookshop Publishing]


Tel no.: +48 12 43 127 43

Ul. św. Anny 6 (ground floor, in the entrance hall), 31-008 Kraków

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The history of how the likenesses of the Armenian Benedictines came to be made dates back to the eighteenth century. The history of the Armenian convent in Lviv, where they were discovered, is a special case for two reasons. First, the exceptionality of forms of female Armenian monasticism and, second, the traditional role of women in Armenian mores. Among Polish Armenians – in Kamieniec Podolski, in Jazłowiec, in Lviv – the idea of a community organised by women could not easily have been reconciled with the principle of male domination of family life, which applied to immigrant Armenians to an incomparably higher degree than it had in the Armenian society of Old Poland. The first Armenian nuns in Poland were therefore entirely subject to the authority of the gmina elders, who even claimed the right to approve new candidates for the female order.

As the social integration of the immigrants proceeded, and especially following the union of the Armenian Polish Church with the Catholic Church (seventeenth century), a change in mentality began. The new turn of mind led to the establishment in Lviv of a new kind of community of Armenian nuns, who lived in their own convent and observed the rule of St Benedict, who were independent of the Armenian gmina elders, who enjoyed autonomy under the general authority of a bishop, and who were led by a female superior.

In 1701, the community of Armenian nuns selected Marianna Nersesowiczówna, an Armenian, who had earlier been a Benedictine of the Roman Catholic rite in the convent in Jarosław, as abbess. She was the first nun (succeeded by a further ten) to bear the crosier – attribute of bishops, abbots, archimandrites, and protonotaries apostolic – as the symbol of her authority. A woman had received this symbol of pastoral office for the first time in the history of Armenians. Beginning with Nersesowiczówna. portraits were made of the abbesses with crosiers, and their splendid likenesses, painted in oil on canvas, were hung in the choir of the cathedral. Only sisters who sang there during the liturgy and played instruments could enter.

Benefitting from great good fortune, the portraits survived the second world war, but matters were then complicated by a shift in the eastern border of Poland. It was then that the convent of Armenian Benedictines of Lviv departed its original headquarters at the Armenian Cathedral there and settled first at the Benedictine Abbey of Lubiń in Greater Poland – where, in 1954, the last abbess, Elekta Orłowska, passed away – and in 1958 at Wołów in Lower Silesia. It was at Wołów, in 1961, that the convent relinquished the Armenian right and became united as one with a Catholic Benedictine order.

The portraits, and all of the possessions of the Benedictine sisters, were brought to Poland. In 2017, the abbess of Wołów, Sr Maria Danuta Trybała, stated her wish to donate the portraits to the Foundation for the Culture and Heritage of Polish Armenians. The foundation was established by Cardinal Józef Glemp to collect and preserve the historical heritage of the Armenian Catholic Church in Poland and now enjoys the patronage of Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz. The gift of the Wołów sisters is of great value and significance to Polish Armenians. Following their restoration and documentation at the Museum of the Jagiellonian University, the full artistic merit of the portraits can now be appreciated. There is no doubt that they represent an important element of the spiritual heritage both of Armenians and of Old Poland.

Andrzej A. Zięba

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