Millions of pilgrims from all around the world visit Poland every year not only to pray there but also to admire the pearls of Polish architecture. Ten centuries of Polish Catholic history gave us many worth to see churches, sanctuaries and many wonders which attracted pilgrims in the past and attract them now.
Czestochowa – Jasna Gora
Czestochowa, inseparable from Jasna Gora, is the sacral capital of Poland where the lovely image of Our Lady with the characteristics of a Hodegetria icon is kept and which thought to be a guide that points the way. There is a beautiful legend that the painting was the work of St. Luke the Evangelist that was painted on wood taken from the table of the Holy Family. Research, however, has determined that the painting originated from the 13th century and also that before Czestochowa picture was in a Balkan iconostasis. This does not change the fact that the Black Madonna of Czestochowa is a national place of worship for future generations of Poles. In the 17th and 18thcenturies, the image in Czestochowa was ranked as one of the most important and most venerated relics of Christianity, next only to images of Christ "that was not created by human hands”. Even the scar on the face of Madonna, left after its first known restoration, financed by King Wladyslaw Jagiello, bears the marks of wonder. The damage occurred in 1430, during a break-in by robbers into the Czestochowa shrine. The renovation, by royal intervention, is the oldest documented restoration of a painting in Poland.
Church of St Stanislaw Kostka in Warsaw
A modernist church at Zoliborz, burial place of Blessed Fr. Popieluszko the pastor of the Solidarity movement and a national hero renowned for his courageous sermons and defense of Polish Liberty during the communist era and was murdered at the hands of the communist service agents. His burial place is located on the church cemetery.
The Monastery was established by St. Maksymilian Kolbe in 1927. He gave his life in exchange for the life of another man in Auschwitz concentration camp. Today the Monastery is visited by thousands of pilgrims as its Statue of the Holy Mary is considered to have miraculous powers and will hear the prayers of those who put their trust in Mary. The Monastery was proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II on 30th IV 1980. On the right there is the museum to Maksymilian Kolbe. There are also two special presentations: The Millennium Panorama (moving figures round Jesus as a child recounting the history of Polish Christianity) and the Crucifixion (showing the death of the Son of God) to be viewed for its religious content and the special folkloric style of presentation. If you have no one to translate for you it might be a little difficult to follow but have a look anyway
Lichen, today known for its biggest temple in Poland, has been a place for the Virgin Mary cult, connected with the miraculous painting of the Virgin Mary, for many years. The history of the painting goes back to the times of Napoleon. In 1813, during the battle of Leipzig, Virgin Mary appeared to one of the Polish soldiers named Tomasz Klosowski, saving him from death and asking him to find a picture of her that would resemble her appearance. Klosowski eventually found the picture and brought it to a chaple in the forest near Lichen. According to the legend, Virgin Mary has appeared to a shepherd Mikolaj Sikatka, who was praying at the chapel in 1850. On 29th of September, the painting was moved to the church in Lichen.
Lagiewniki “Divine Mercy Shrine”
The Sanctuary is situated in buildings of monastery of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, which was founded in 1891 as A. Lubomirski's Foundation for girls and women in need of moral renewal. In period between world wars in this Monastery lived and died Saint M. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), through Saint Faustina Lord Christ gave the message of the Divine Mercy to the Church and to the whole world. It sheds light on the mystery of the Divine Mercy, calls to put trust in God and have merciful attitude towards neighbors and also to proclaim and pray for Divine Mercy for whole world through practicing new forms of worship of the Divine Mercy (the Divine Mercy Image, the Divine Mercy Sunday, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Hour of Mercy). In 1943 Father J. Andrasz SI the Cracow confessor of Faustina blessed the first Divine Mercy Image painted by A. Hyła, offered as ex-voto, thanksgiving to God for saving his family during war, and initiated solemn masses honoring the Divine Mercy. The image quickly became well-know for many graces, the number of pilgrims has grown each year, considering also the pilgrims visiting the Sister Faustina's tomb. Very dynamic expansion of worship of the Divine Mercy was launched by the beatification of Sister's Faustina (18th of April 1993) and her canonisation (30th of April 2000), and also thanks to pilgrimages of John Paul II to Łagiewniki (1997 and 2002). It caused the extension of the Sanctuary i.a. building a new church - basilica, that was consecrated on 17th of August 2002 by Pope John Paul II in 2002. In this place Pope solemnly entrusted the world to the Divine Mercy.
Krakow - In the Footsteps of Pope John Paul II
The greatest Krakowian resided in Vatican from 1978 to 2005. Before having taken over the Holy See as Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla had lived in Krakow for four decades– practically through his entire adult life until his assumption of the papacy. Here he spent his formative years as a student and then as a young priest, a theologian and a philosopher, a playwright and a poet. And here he made most of the breathtaking ascent from the position of a humble curate at Krakow’s church of St. Florian’s to university professor to Krakow bishop to cardinal to the Vicar of Christ.
Places connected with the life of the man who shepherded the Church into its third millennium. Debniki, Krakow’s residential district vis-a-vis the Wawel Hill across the Vistula River. Born in the town of Wadowice some 30 miles southwest of Krakow, 18- year-old student Karol Wojtyla moved in to a Debniki basement room at 10 Tyniecka street in 1938. Next September Nazi Germany invaded Poland and under their five-yearlong occupation he was forced to work in the nearby Zakrzowek quarry while concurrently studying at an underground theological seminary. First thing every morning he heard Mass and went to Communion at the large, modern Debniki parish church of St. Stanislaw Kostka’s where also young Father Wojtyla would say the second Mass in his life on November 3, 1946. He said his first Mass a day earlier in the 12th-century Crypt of St. Leonard’s under the Wawel Cathedral where Polish kings and national heroes are laid to rest.
Could the newly ordained priest expect that barely seventeen years would elapse and he would take the Wawel Cathedral over as the Krakow Archbishop? Twelve of these seventeen he was to live at the foot of the cathedral, at the splendid Kanonicza street. Father Wojtyla resided at 19 Kanonicza street from 1951 till 1958, when he became bishop; and at the adjacent no 21 till 1963, when he became the Krakow archbishop. Now both those houses are turned into the Archdiocese Museum which exhibits the church art. Yet Father Wojtyla’s old room looks as if he only recently walked out, complete with the furniture he once used. Added are such John Paul II’s memorabilia as coins and medals minted in his honor and robes he wore as university professor, bishop, cardinal and, finally, the Pope.
A five minutes’ stroll down the most charming Kanonicza Street and then through the Planty gardens will bring you to the gate of the stately Bishops’ Palace at 3 Franciszkanska street whose ample first-floor rooms were home to His Eminence Cardinal Karol Wojtyla since 1963 to 1978. Previously he had lived in the palace as a seminaries throughout 1945 and was ordained in its chapel on the All Saints Day AD 1946. In October 1978 Cardinal Wojtyla left for Rome to participate in the conclave which elected him the Pope. In the ensuing year he visited his native Krakow for the first time as John Paul II, staying again briefly in the Bishops’ Palace. In the palatial courtyard one can see his statue commemorating the most famous master of the place.
The church, monastery and the pilgrimage park of the Bernadine Order complex in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Baroque church, built in the 17th century, houses the revered painting of Our Lady of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. The Calvary, or the Way of the Cross, is lined with shrines, chapels and small churches which are picturesquely set among hills and valleys. The sanctuary is visited by approximately one million pilgrims each year and is renowned for its passion plays. The most important processions are held during Holy Week (Easter) and on the Ascension Day.
Wadowice, the Birthplace of Pope John Paul II
Wadowice, small city of about 20,000 some 30 miles southwest of Krakow, has got international recognition as the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. Born in 1920 as Karol Wojtyla, the future Pontiff lived in Wadowice till 1938 when he moved to Krakow to study at its ancient Jagiellonian University. Yet to his last days the late Holy Father remembered fondly his Wadowice youth and places associated with it, the schoolmates, his teachers, and other local folks he had used to know. Also, he tried to include the town, when possible, in his visits to Poland.
First obvious choice of pilgrims is the newly opened museum with multimedia exhibitions showing life and work of John Paul II. Possibly even more important is the nearby church itself as the future John Paul II grew up in its shadow, was baptized a Catholic and later confirmed in it, served as an altar boy and prayed daily here before its miraculous picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The church’s Gothic chancel dates from the 15th century while the late-Baroque nave and aisles were built in the 1790s. The left aisle contains a baptismal font where the baby Karol Wojtyla was baptized.
This famous Marian sanctuary has been attracting pilgrims not only from Prussia and Warmia but also from far away regions of Poland Since the Middle Ages. Swieta Lipka – this is also historic monument of outstanding value listed as one of the most magnificent objects of late Baroque in Poland. The architectural complex consisting of a church, cloisters and a monastery has preserved rich and varied ornamentation in an almost unchanged state. The ornamentation consist of stone and wooden sculptures, wall and canvas paintings, goldsmiths’ and wood-carvers’ objects together with artistic blacksmith work and ironwork masterpieces in such abundance that can seldom be encountered anywhere. The picture is completed with the complex’s picturesque location at the bottom of valley surrounded by forests.
Our Lady of Ludzmierz, Patroness of Podhale
Sanctuary of Ludzmierz with its magnificent icon of the Virgin, the Queen of Podhale, is the best known in the south part of Poland. In 1963 during the crowning ceremony, as the feretory bearing the figure was being carried, the scepter fell from its hands. It was caught in mid-air by then the Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, who years later went on to become the late Pope John Paul II.
St. Fatima Church in Zakopane
Sanctuary in Krzeptowki, a place of the Virgin Mary's cult, is closely related to John Paul II. Sanctuary was created in gratitude for saving Karol Wojtyla's life in the unsuccessful assasination attempt on 13th of May 1981. On 21st of October 1987, pope John Paul II crowned the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The church of Our Lady of Fatima is situated next to the chapel. The building was erected between the year 1987 and 1992. The temple was consecrated by John Paul II on 7th of June 1997 during his 6th pilgrimage to Poland. Sanctuary grounds are also home to two monuments of John Paul II and the altar, on which John Paul II conducted the mass in Zakopane in 1997.
Wambierzyce – the Parish Church of Birth of Blessed Virgin Mary with chapels and a Calvary (landscaped Way of the Cross)
Wambierzyce is an important centre for the Marian cult and a destination of numerous pilgrimages. Legend has it, that in the late 12th century the Virgin Mary appeared to Jan of Ratno, on this spot. In the early 16th century, the numbers of pilgrims arriving here was so large that in 1512, Ludwig von Pannewitz built a late Gothic church in place of the old wooden one mentioned in 1418, and destroyed during the Hussite Wars. J. Socha became the parish priest of the Wambierzyce in 1647. Thanks to him the pilgrimage tradition was restored. He carried out his pastoral activities in Polish, thus drawing numerous group of Polish people from Silesia. Wambierzyce was bought by Daniel von Osterberg in 1667. He decided to raise a Jerusalem in miniature on his estate. He hired Italian, D. Rossi, who remodelled the church between 1695 and 1711. Due to excessive frugality the walls of the church cracked and the next owner of the village, Count Antoni von Götzen, ordered demolition of the building (in 1714). Only the façade was left of the structure. The central part of the church was thoroughly rebuilt between 1715 and 1725; the reconstruction was modelled on the Temple of Jerusalem, with monumental stairs leading to the entrance (52 steps symbolically refers to the 33 years of the life of Christ, the 15 years of Mary at the moment of conception, and the 4 Apostles). The oval nave is surrounded by 11 chapels and the cloisters. The interior of the church is maintained in the Baroque style. The richly decorated pulpit, by the sculptor Karl Sebastian Flacker, and the main altar, with a miraculous statue from the 14th century (around 1380) of the Virgin Mary, both draw particular attention. The statue is only 28 cm high. It depicts Mary holding the Child in her right hand and a pomegranate fruit in her left. The fruit symbolises eternal life. Jesus gives a blessing with his right hand and holds a bird with his left. The coronation of this miraculous statue of the Holy Mother from Wambierzyce took place in August 17, 1980. Some votive paintings from the 18th century hang in the side altars. In 1936, after a thorough refurbishment, the church was given the title of a minor basilica by Pius XI. Wambierzyce was entitled the Archidiecezjalne Sanktuarium Królowej Rodzin (Archdiocese Sanctuary of the Queen of Families).