In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cistercian Order exerted a great influence on the development of the communities in which it operated, because of its spirituality, as well as economic and cultural activities. It became one of the most important connection lines between Poland and Western Europe in these times.
Cistercian monasteries in Poland proceeded in three stages. The first of them (Łekno - 1143, Jędrzejów - 1140-1149) was founded during the most dynamic development of the Cistercian order in Europe. The stabilization of the political situation in Poland, which was divided into districts, facilitated the second stage of foundations. This took place in the 4th quarter of the 12th century. At that time, 7 monasteries were founded in Pomerania, Silesia and Greater Poland. These Cistercians came from Germany. In Lesser Poland there were also 4 foundations originating from the French Morimond Abbey. The third stage of Cistercian foundations took place in the 13th century. 17 monasteries were established then, including the abbey in Mogiła, founded in 1222 by Iwo Odrowąż, the bishop of Kraków.
All together, in the Middle Ages, 26 Cistercian monasteries and about 14 convents were established in Poland. These were all finished between the 13th and 14th centuries.
The foundations of Cistercian monasteries in Poland were done mainly by magnates. Monks were brought in by secular and clergy dignitaries, mainly for religious reasons. The founders supported the order, which was pursuing the ideal of austere monastic life. What is more, they were assuring themselves and their family members of the spiritual fruits of the monks' prayers. The economic activity of monks also had a significant impact on inviting the Cistercians to new lands. They developed wastelands, or reorganized and improved the existing economy. Cistercians also ran scriptorias and libraries. It is valuable to know that the first written sentence in Polish can be found in the chronicle of the founding and inventory of the Cistercian abbey in Henryków (called The Henryków Book after 1268): Daj, ać ja Pobruszę, a ty poczywaj (translated roughly as: Give, I will work, and you rest).
The last Cistercian foundations in Poland took place in the third quarter of the 17th century (Wistycze) and in the first half of the 18th century (Kimbarówka). The first wave of dissolution of Cistercian monasteries and convents was brought by the Reformation. Most of the dissolution was connected with the repressions of the partitioning powers. These brought the Enlightenment reforms to Poland, which considered the monasteries as socially useless.
Only the ones which had schools and hospitals were left. The second wave of repression and dissolution was related to the suppression of national uprisings, which the Cistercian monks supported, often sheltering insurgents in their monasteries. The scale of the repression is evidenced by the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, only two of the Cistercian monasteries in the former Polish lands were active: Szczyrzyc and Mogiła. Some of the monks from these monasteries took it upon themselves to begin the reconstruction of the abandoned Cistercian monasteries.
Today the Cistercians live in 4 abbeys: Jędrzejów, Wąchock, Mogiła and Szczyrzyc; also 5 priories: Henryków, Kraków - Szklane Domy, Oliwa; as well as a few residences and parishes: incl. Sulejów, Trybsz, Czarna Góra and Jodłownik.