Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Church Stories From Poland

On our trip to Krakow and Warsaw Poland we visited several churches.  Most, if not all, were Catholic churches.  In our travels we have been to many many Catholic churches, but none of them had as many people actually praying in them as the ones in Poland!   

The churches we saw were, of course, gorgeous!  Let's stroll through them, shall we?

First up the churches in Krakow.  There are about 120 churches in Krakow!  I am only going to talk about 3 of them.   We saw many more but these three stood out to me.

In Old Town at the Main Market Square stands the Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, more commonly called, St Mary's Basilica. There has been a church in this spot since 1222 AD!  Frankie took the photo below, and I think he captured it perfectly with the birds in flight!

St Marys Church-Krakow

St. Mary's Basilica is most famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss in the late 1400's.  If you are a visitor you have to pay about $3 to go into the church.  I have spend more money than that on ONE coffee, so it was worth the price to see this beautiful work of art!  It is a depiction of the death of the Virgin Mary and it is massive!  It is over 42 feet tall and 36 feet across when opened.  It is opened for 6 hours everyday for public viewing.

Alter piece at St Marys Church-Krakow

Close up of center panel.

Mary in Alter piece in St Marys Church-Krakow

According to Wikipedia (you know, the most reliable source on the internet):
A few weeks prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and the German occupation of Poland, the Poles took the altar apart and stored its main statues in crates dispersed across the country. The crates were located by a Nazi unit called the Sonderkommando Paulsen, plundered and transported to the Third Reich, likely to Berlin. The panels were also found and sent to Germany. They were put in the basement of the Nuremberg Castle. At the castle, Polish prisoners sent messages to members of the Polish resistance that the revered altar was hidden there. The altar survived the war in spite of heavy bombardment of Nuremberg and was returned to Poland in 1946, where it underwent major restoration. It was put back at St. Mary's Basilica in 1957.
And that just makes it even more special.  It reminds me, if you haven't seen "The Monuments Men" movie, then do so!  It is a great retelling of how art was rescued from the Nazi's.   You can also read an article about the Monuments Men on

Another church that we visited in Krakow was the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, it is also in the Old Town district.   Along the fence line are statues of the twelve Apostles,  minus Judas, plus Mary Magdalene.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

We marched our happy selves in and discover that we were in the darkest church ever.  It was dreary and cold outside, but it was dreary, cold, and dark INSIDE the church, too.  There were very few people, if any, in the building with us so we were creeping around (because what else do you do in a dark scary church??) looking at the decor.  We noticed a door in the floor with steep steps leading to who knows where.  Is it a simple basement, a crypt, is someone down there going to kill us??  (Too much TV, I know....)

So what do we do??

We go down the steps!!

Basement at Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

There were all this nooks and crannies where, really, anyone could have been hiding to kill us!! (Again, too much TV!) We would slowly peak around a corner, sometimes there would be nothing, other times there were tombs.

These tombs just sitting there in the silence (thank goodness!), in the darkened room.  We didn't know who the people were, everything was in Polish, plus we have very little knowledge of Polish history. (Stupid Americans!)

Tomb in Basement at Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

One room was having, for lack of a better term, a photo gallery.  With those being the ONLY things in that room.

Pictures in Basement at Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

We decided that we had enough of being slightly on edge down in the basement so we went back up the stairs.  As we came up, another couple was waiting to go down.  We were no longer completely alone in the church. (Were they the killers??)  We looked around some more in the church, and I swear it just kept getting darker and weirder.

I mean, look at this statue.    What in the world is going on here???

Statue at Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

He has a....log??...sticking out of his head and attached to his hand!!   My question is, did the statue break and this was their solution, or, the one I am leaning towards,  since statues usually depict a person this must have been what this poor man actually looked like.  Small log and all.  Seems painful!

Statue Front at Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

We continue our tour around the church and still it is getting darker and weirder in there.  There were these things.  I am calling them griffins, but I am still not sure if that is what they are.  Besides what they are, what are they doing in a church??

Griffin at Church of Saints Peter and Paul- Krakow

Did I mention it was dark and we saw these??  We were a little freaked out by this point.  We had made the full circle around the church and it was time to leave.  We get to the door to go out and it will not open.  NONE of the doors would open to let us out.  I was only kidding when I said we were freaked out by the dark and griffins but now add in the fact that the doors will not open and real panic was starting to work its way in.

The other couple who had gone into the basement after us, came to the doors too at that time and they tried to open them too.  Nothing.  We were going to have to spend the night in that dark, dreary, cold church WITH the griffins!!   I am pretty sure they come to life at night, just a thought.

A few moments later we see a man come jogging up the middle aisle of the church with keys jingling in hand. (He is the killer!!)  Either they thought everyone was out or just trying to close up the church for the night (so the griffins could feed!).

Doors unlock and us all back out in the real world, we gave a little nervous giggled and went once again on our merry way.

Moral of that story....don't watch so much TV!

One last church in Krakow and then we will jump over to Warsaw's churches.

This last church is called St. Francis' Basilica.  It is well known for the stained glass created by Stanisław Wyspiański.  The one that stood out the most is the one depicting God creating the world.

Stained Glass at St Francis Basilica - Krakow

What I found more interesting than the stained glass was the fact that when John Paul II was archbishop, this was the church where he worked and worshiped. They don't flaunt it, or try to draw attention to it.  The only thing that let you know this was a sliver plaque on the pew where he would always go to pray.  Simple.

John Paul II Name Plate at St Francis Basillica-Krakow

Across the street from the basilica is the living quarters of the bishops of the church.  John Paul II lived there until he became Pope.  His picture was in the window. When he passed away this street was packed with people standing vigil for days.

Archbishops Palace-Krakow


John Paul II photo at Archbishops Palace-Krakow

Now it is time for the Warsaw churches!

Before I jump into the churches in Warsaw something needs to be explained.  During World War 2 Hitler had invaded Poland, including Warsaw, as I am sure you know.  The people of Warsaw came together and planned an uprising.  For 63 days they fought the Nazi's.  They were not successful. Hundreds of thousands of people died fighting for liberation.

Hitler did not take this uprising lightly.  H ordered that entire town be leveled by bombs.  The entire city was destroyed.

The entire city.

Once the Nazi's were finally driven out by the Soviets, it was the Soviets who built Warsaw back up and brought in Communism, but that is who different topic for a whole different day.

A memorial to the uprising was made and it is wonderful!  And massive!

Here it is in its whole.

Warsaw Uprising Memorial

One thing I forgot to mention was that it was a surprise attack.  People were pouring out of the sewer system.  That was depicted in the memorial as you can see below.

Coming out of sewers-Warsaw Uprising Memorial

It wasn't just men that fought either.  Men, woman, and children were all involved!

Men Women and Children of the Warsaw Uprising Memorial

They had all kinds of weapons and gear.

Ready to Fight-Warsaw Uprising Memorial

They were fighting for their lives!

Men and Women of the Warsaw Uprising Memorial

Despite their hard fight, they lost everything.  It was so sad to hear their story, but at the same time, it gave me hope that if we work together against evil there is a chance to overcome!

The people wanted to rebuilt the city to how it was before the war.  They used paintings made hundreds of years ago to rebuilt.  They were meticulous in the details!   Around the city they had displays of the paintings used to restore the city.  This one showed the Holy Cross Church.

Canaletto of the Church of the Holy Cross-Warsaw

And here is the Holy Cross Church today.  Amazing!

Church of the Holy Cross-Warsaw

So besides going in to see Pope John Paul II coming out of the wall, what is there to see?

Joh Paul II statue at Church of the Holy Cross-Warsaw

It is a pretty church.  That's for sure.

Interior of Church of the Holy Cross-Warsaw

But there real reason to go in is to see the column that houses Frédéric Chopin's heart.  Yes, you read that right.  His heart!  The rest of him is buried in Paris.

Chopin pillar at Church of the Holy Cross-Warsaw

Again,  it is just his heart here, preserved in Cognac!!  A year ago they extracted it to examine it. You can read that story here from BBC.

Here rests the heart of Chopin at Church of the Holy Cross-Warsaw

One last church story from Poland.  Still in Warsaw, let's go to St. Martin's Church. This church, interestingly, is run by Franciscan nuns.

St Martins Church-Warsaw

I told you the story of the Warsaw uprising so you would understand the importance of what is found in this church.  Amidst all the rubble and debris left from the Nazi's bombing of the city, the only thing that was found even partially intact was the bottom portion of a statue representing Jesus on the cross.

What they did with it, is truly amazing!

Full Crucifix at St Martins Church-Warsaw

I love that they didn't try to recreate the entire statue or even replace it completely.  They took what they had and left it as a reminder of what that church and city had been through.  I find that even more powerful that any other option!

Crucifix at St Martins Church-Warsaw

That ends my stories from the churches that we saw in Poland. Stay tuned for my next post.  Since we were in Poland at Christmas time, I am going to talk about that.  No time like the present, right?

Until then!