A Dutch School in Medieval Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

Migration between Poland and the Netherlands is currently flourishing, but it is not purely a modern phenomenon. In fact, examples reach back as far as the Middle Ages! An interesting, though relatively obscure case of Dutchmen settling in Poland dates from the late fifteenth century. The Municipal Council of Chełmno, a Hanseatic town in the north of Poland, at that time wished to establish a school for higher education. To that end, they invited a group of teachers from the Brethren of the Common Life, who came from Zwolle and arrived in Chełmno in 1473. The Brethren of the Common Life formed a Roman Catholic religious community, that was founded in the fourteenth century by the preacher and educator Geert Grote. The Brethren adhered to the so-called Modern Devotion, a simple and pious lifestyle in service of Christ.

Johann Jakob Vogel, ‘View of Chełmno’ (from Hartknoch’s ‘Alt und Neues Preussen’), 1684.

The school in Chełmno became a successful and respected centre of education, which included a large library. Polish scholars have argued that the Brothers also devoted themselves to book production: it is likely that they brought along all necessary equipment from Zwolle, including a printing press. If this was indeed the case, the settlers were among the earliest book printers in Poland! Meanwhile, the Municipal Council of Chełmno looked after the needs of the Brothers, granting them several buildings in the city and even some villages, which generated income. Unfortunately, due to financial and other problems, the Brothers eventually returned to the Low Countries and the school closed its doors in 1539. Because the Brothers left such a sizeable imprint on Chełmno and its surroundings, however, their activities form an important episode in the history of Dutch-Polish relations. Indeed, some scholars contend that the school was attended by one very famous pupil: Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus).

Antoon Derkinderen, ‘Geert Grote and his followers’, 1885.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 50.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *