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The Sieniuta Family

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Krzysztof Sieniuta, his nephew Piotr Sieniuta, and Piotr's son, Aleksander Krzysztof Sieniuta, were Polish noblemen and patrons of the Polish Brethren (Arians) in Wołyń. The Polish Brethren flourished in 17th Century Poland, a period of relative religious toleration between the Reformation and the reassertion of Roman Catholic control. The court battles between the Catholic Church and the Sieniuta family were widely known in their times and later.

(Paweł) Krzysztof Sieniuta (1589-1640) was the youngest son of Fedor Sieniuta (d. after 1595), the Wojski (district security officer) of Krzemieniec. Krzysztof Sieniuta's father, a landlord in southeast Poland (now the Ukraine), had converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to Calvinism. His mother, Katarzyna Firley, was an Arian. Krzysztof and his brother, Abraham, were brought up Calvinists while their sister, Katarzyna, was raised as an Arian. Katarzyna later married the notable Polish Arian, Marcin Czaplic. In 1603 the two brothers traveled to Heidelberg, Germany and Leiden in the Netherlands to further their education. Returning to Poland after two years of study, each brother was given a share of the family estates. Those in the vicinity of Lublin went to Abraham, while Krzysztof got those in Wołyń: Lachowce, Korytnica and Kornica.

Initially a lukewarm Calvinist, Krzysztof Sieniuta tolerated an Arian congregation in Lachowce, perhaps because it was founded by his mother. When he became seriously ill around 1611, he vowed to convert to Roman Catholicism if cured. The next year, as a Catholic, he promised to not tolerate heretics or schismatics on his estates, to confiscate their property, and to donate it to the monks. He closed the Arian church in Lachowce, started a Dominican church and convent, and endowed the Friars with a generous land grant and other privileges. The following year, on a pilgrimage in Rome to strengthen his Catholic faith he was scandalized by the scant respect paid to holy relics there. While in Rome, he also met a mysterious Arian, who converted him to Arianism. He returned to Poland as a sympathizer of the Polish Brethren and was confirmed in his new faith by his brother-in-law Marcin Czaplic, as well as by his marriage to a devout Arian, Katarzyna Niemiryczówna (d.c.1646).

To the horror of the Dominicans, in 1616 he declared himself an Arian, brought a minister to Lachowce, and opened an Arian church and school. Under the patronage of Krzysztof and his wife, Lachowce developed into an Arian center in Wołyń. Naturally, this did not go well with the Dominicans, who were bent on stamping out Arianism. Unable to get rid of the friars, Sieniuta treated them with gestures of ill will, such as mocking them in the castle and forbidding them to chop wood in the forests. The Dominicans accused him of putting a blacksmith's shop next to their church, in the hope that the furnace would ignite it and burn it down. Both parties sought redress in the courts. The subsequent legal battles dragged on for over a century. In 1626 the friars sued the minister, teacher, students, and Sieniuta for destroying a crucifix in Lachowce. In 1628 the Polish Supreme Court (Trybunał Koronny), finding against Sieniuta, ordered him to close down the church, expel all Arians from his properties within six months, and give the Arian property to the Dominicans.

Sieniuta ignored the ruling. Six months later the friars again accused him of protecting the Polish Brethren in Lachowce, Korytnica, and on his other estates. Lachowce had become the third largest Arian center in Wołyń, after Hoszcza and Kisielin—in 1629 having over 355 houses. Three ministers served in Lachowce: Joahim Rupniowski, 1615-25; Piotr Moskorzowski, 1625-28; and Jakub Siedlecki, 1628-40. On his other estates, Korytnica and Kornica, Krzysztof Sieniuta built "big stone churches with three towers high," where the Polish Brethren could worship. According to the Dominicans, Unitarians came and settled there, not only from Poland, but also from abroad. The Dominicans accused Sieniuta and his wife of propagating Arianism, not only among their serfs but also among burghers and fellow nobles. The friars were particularly offended by the mass baptisms of converts to Arianism in the river at Lachowce.

In the 1630s the conflict reached unprecedented levels. The courts were flooded with accusations of beatings, intimidation, mockery, and discrimination by both parties. Sieniuta not only ignored the Dominican claims but pulled some important strings. In 1638 the Polish king Władysław IV wrote to the friars, calling on them to desist from "battering the Lord Sieniuta" and threatening that if they did not heed his wish, he would call on Convent authorities to restrain them. The Bishop of Łuck advised them to stop flooding the courts with lawsuits and to try instead to re-convert Sieniuta by demonstrating Christian humility and love.

Sieniuta, however, proved obdurate and died an Arian, asking in his will to be buried according to Arian customs. As he was childless, his estates were inherited by his nephew Piotr and his widow, Katarzyna. In 1640 she married the Calvinist palatine of Dorpat, Andrzej Leszczyński, with both Calvinist and Arian ministers officiating at the wedding. This led to another lawsuit. The Dominicans of Lachowce complained that, not only had the Arians not been removed from the city, but that Calvinist services were also being held and that Calvinists were moving into town.

Krzysztof's principal heir was his nephew, Piotr Sieniuta (1616-1648). Both of his parents were devout Calvinists. Piotr had been baptized a Calvinist. Following the death of his father, under the influence of his uncle and aunt, he became an Arian. In 1636 he left Poland to study in Leiden for two years. Following this, he visited Oxford and Cambridge in England and met Hugo Grotius in France. Returning to Poland in 1640, he married a Calvinist, Jadwiga Wylamówna (d.1674), for whom he allowed Calvinist services to be held in the Lachowce castle. Jadwiga's father and brother were Calvinist, but her mother, Anna Cikowska, and younger sister, Gryzelda Wylamówna (married to the Arian Stefan Niemirycz), were staunch Arians.

Piotr Sieniuta inherited estates from his parents as well. This included all of the legal disputes with the Dominicans. A chance to settle them, once and for all, came in 1641. Sieniuta, suffering from a serious illness, promised to convert to Catholicism, repay the losses the Dominicans had suffered, and expel all Arians and Calvinists from his estates. When he recovered, however, he changed his mind and refused to renounce Arianism. Finding the presence of Dominicans in Lachowce tiresome, he moved to a nearby estate in Tychoml. Here the Arian congregation grew under the last minister in Raków, Jan Stoiński.

Disappointed by Sieniuta's unfulfilled promise of conversion, in 1643 the Dominicans accused him of deliberately draining a pond in Lachowce in such a way that it almost flooded their convent. He was also fighting court cases with the Roman Catholic Church on his other estates in Wielkopolska (Sieniutowo, Zduny), where he was accused of allowing Lutherans and Calvinists freedom of worship.

Finally, in 1644, the Trybunał Koronny ordered Sieniuta to expel all Arians and Calvinists from his properties in Wołyń and to close down their churches and schools. Bowing to the pressure, he removed all Protestants from his properties, paid the prescribed compensation, and got the Dominican abbot in Lachowce to swear before the court that he had complied with the judgment. His actions, however, were a ruse to buy time and to escape huge fines. Less than two weeks later, the Arians and Calvinists returned, and the congregations resumed their activities. He also appealed to the Wołyń nobility for support. Siding with him, the nobles repeatedly demanded that the Polish Diet (Sejm) cancel all illegal judgments against "the Lord Sieniuta." In 1648, before a new round of legal cases could be completed, Sieniuta died. It was a time of turmoil: the King of Poland died and the Cossack uprising, led by Bohdan Chmielnicki, began.

The Arian congregations on the Sieniuta estates survived until at least 1650, when the Cossacks captured Lachowce and threw the coffins of the Sieniutas into the river. Piotr's widow Jadwiga Wylamówna remarried a Roman Catholic, Krzysztof Lanckoroński, the castellan of Radom. In 1650 her Arian mother, the patroness of the Arian church in Radostów, died. Jadwiga inherited Radostów but her new husband closed the Arian church. True to the Sieniuta heritage, Jadwiga Wylamówna was known for her many court cases against neighbors. Two years before her death she converted to Catholicism and shut down the Polish Calvinist church in Sieniutowo in Wielkopolska. The German Lutheran church in Zduny survived until 1945.

Piotr and Jadwiga's two children were raised as Calvinists. Their daughter, Anna, must have become a Roman Catholic, as she was buried in the Dominican church in Lachowce. Their son, Aleksander Krzysztof Sieniuta (d.1675), regained Lachowce in the 1660s, after the Chmielnicki uprising was put down. Re-establishing the Arian congregation had become impossible, however, because the Jesuit-led counter-reformation forces had, by this time, succeeded in expelling the Arians from Poland. For the rest of his life, Aleksander continued to battle the friars in court—now only on economic issues—and to shield Protestants on his estates. He married Teresa Konstancja Opalińska (1645-1708), but they had no children. When he died, his widow remarried his uncle, the former Arian, Stefan Niemirycz (d.1680), Palatine of Kijów.

The litigation between successive owners of Lachowce and the Dominicans, which ended only in the mid-18th century, lived on in anecdotes, stories, and books well into the 20th Century. Up until the First World War, locals called a tower in Tychoml, "the Arian tower." According to popular legend it was the old Arian church.

Biographical sketches of the Sieniuta family may be found in volume 37 of Polski Słownik Biograficzny (1996). The issue of Arianism in Wołyń and Podole was dealt with in O. Lewickij, "Socynianie na Rusi" in Reformacja w Polsce, vol. 2 (1922); A. Kossowski, Zarys dziejów protestantyzmu na Wołyniu w XVI-XVII wieku (1933); and J. Tazbir, "Antytrynitaryzm na ziemiach ukraińskich w XVII wieku" in Z Polskich Studiów Slawistycznych (1972). An English translation of the article by Lewickij titled "Socinianism in Poland and South-West Rus" may be found in Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S., vol. 3 (1953). A list of Arian churches sponsored by the Sieniuta family may be found in H. Merczyng, Zbory i senatorowie protestanccy w dawnej Polsce (1904). Their patronage of the Reformed churches is discussed in J. Łukaszewicz "Dzieje kosciołów wyznania helweckiego w dawnej Małej Polsce" (1853) and in A. Henschel, "Geschichte der evangelische Geminde in Zduny," Zeitschr. d. hist. Gesellschaft f. d. Provinz Posen, Bd. 4 (1889). The issue of religious affiliation of Sieniuta family members is also touched upon by M. Liedke, "Szlachta ruska Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego a reformacja" in Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne, vol. 18 and 19 (2002). J. Tazbir also described the story of the court battles in his essay "Jak imć pan Sieniuta z dominikanami wojował" to be found in Spotkania z historią by the same author (1986). The original documents dealing with that subject may be found in the Kórnik Library in Poland: manuscripts no. 1855 and 1866.

Article by Kazimierz Bem - posted November 22, 2006

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