The secluded Monastery of Camaldolese Monks sits atop Silver Mountain, overlooking the Vistula, in an outlying area west of the Old Town. It's worth visiting to learn more about the lives of reclusive monks and the strict rules they live under. The monastery, including church and crypt, are open to men any day of the year during regular opening hours. Women can only visit on one of 12 feast days, including Easter and Christmas (find a list on the website).
The order is part of the Benedictine family and observes especially strict rules of behaviour dictated by the order's motto, Memento Mori (‘remember you must die’). It was brought to Poland from Italy in 1603 and over the years founded around a dozen monasteries in the country, two of which remain. The strict rules dictate the monks live in seclusion in hermitages and contact each other only during prayers. The monks are vegetarian and take solitary meals in their respective dwellings, with only five common meals a year. The hermits don’t sleep in coffins as rumoured, but they do keep the skulls of their predecessors in the hermitages with them.
The approach to the complex is through a long, walled alley that leads to the main gate, the ceiling of which is covered in frescoes. Once visitors are admitted, they walk to the large limestone facade of the monastery church. A spacious, single-nave interior is covered by a barrel-shaped vault and lined on both sides with ornate baroque chapels.
Below the chancel is a chapel used for prayers and, to the right, the crypt of the hermits. Bodies are placed into niches without coffins and then sealed. Latin inscriptions state the age of the deceased and the period spent in the hermitage. The niches are opened after 80 years and most of the remains moved to a place of permanent rest. It’s then that the hermits take the skulls to keep in their shelters.
In the garden behind the church are 14 surviving hermitages where several monks live (others live in the building next to the church), but the area is off limits to visitors. You may occasionally see hermits in the church, sporting long bushy beards and fine white cassocks.
The hermitage is 7km west of the city centre. Take tram 1, 2 or 6 to the end of the line at Salwator and change for a westbound bus. The bus will let you off at the foot of Srebrna Góra (Silver Mountain). From here, it’s a steep 200m walk up the hill to the church.