Officially known as Kartuz-Bereza, it is a town in the district of Pruzhany, formerly the Brest district, on the river Jasiodla. On January 1, 1878, the town counted 2,507 inhabitants, i.e. 1,121 male, and 1,386 female. Of these, 1,113 were Jews. Bereza features a train station on the Moscow-Brest rail line, between Linieva and Kosov, located 92 verst (*) from Brest. At the time this was one of the postal stations located on the main Moscow-Brest route, between Svadbicze and Zapole.
A magnificent monastery and a Kartuz church of the Holy Cross once stood here. At one time this was the only congregation in all of Lithuania. It was funded by Leon Sapieha, the Lithuanian deputy chancellor, who in 1648 had the first stone laid by Jan de Torres, the papal nuncio in Poland. The Italian builder was brought to the region, to oversee the construction of these imposing walls. The church and monastery were surrounded by a hexagonal rampart, funding for which was provided by the benefactor, who having donated so generously to the parish, had himself taken vows of poverty and solitude.
All properties within a radius of several miles of Bereza, including towns, villages, rivers and forests, were transferred to the kartuzian people. The Congress (Seym) approved the transfer of funds to the Kartuz people in 1653, however it was only several years after the death of the benefactor, that the construction of the church was completed. The inauguration took place on June 6th 1666, the day of the funeral of Kazimierz Leon, and was presided over by Alexander Sapieha, the bishop of Vilnus. In the year 1706 a number of misfortunes befell the district, which also left their lasting mark on Bereza.
First Peter the Great jointly with August II, attempted an invasion of the monastery with their army. Later, on April 28th, Karol XII, the king of Sweden arrived at the head of two infantry battalions. 1,500 Russian dragoons (**) defended the monastery and its access across the dam. The king acknowledged the difficulty of making the crossing, retreated by throwing himself into the water, followed by the grenadiers. Having witnessed their quick retreat, the dragoons also withdrew. The king returned to the village of Alba where he and his men spent the day at the local monastery, taking with them three hostages, for whose release a ransom of 300 zloty was paid.
In 1708 the Kartusian population had another encounter with the Swedish army. The Swedes having entered the monastery, took three priests hostage, demanding payment for their release. To compensate for insufficient ransom, the church silver was offered in lieu of payment. The remaining priests fearing captivity, hid in the surrounding forest, leaving behind only four guards. In later years the monastery encountered further misfortunes, and falling into disrepair was finally demolished in 1831.
Visits to the church at this time, reveal a complete disintegration
amongst the clergy, characterized by immoral and frivolous behaviour, resulting
in enormous losses to the church holdings. The grounds were found in a
state of total disrepair, the ponds overgrown, the library, once housing
a notable collection, left in complete disarray. A memorandum was found,
issued to bishop of Vilnius, Jan Nepomuc Kossakowsky, outlining the means
which if implemented, could have restored order to the
The post-kartusian church in Bereza was until recently the parish church of the Pruzhany district.
* A verst is an old Russian unit of distance, approximately equal to a kilometer (92 versts = 98 kms = 61 miles)
** A dragoon was traditionally a soldier trained to fight on foot, but
transport himself on horseback. In other words, he moved as cavalry but
fought as infantry. The name derives from the dragoon's primary weapon,
a carbine or short musket called the dragon. Sometimes, dragon carbines
are said to have been so-called because they "breathed fire" — a reference
to the smoke they emitted when fired.