Polish calvaries

Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual tradition known to almost all people from all times. It has also been practiced in Christianity since its followers stopped being persecuted and were able to worship in public.

The greatest dream of pilgrims has always been to travel to the Holy Land and visit places associated with the earthly mission of Jesus, especially his passion, death and resurrection. However, only a few could afford it. The journey to Palestine was extremely expensive, and in some periods very dangerous. During the wars with the Turks, it was impossible to travel to the Middle East. Thus, in seventeenth-century Poland, calvaries were established. These were religious complexes that imitated biblical places connected to the story of Salvation. Thanks to these, pilgrims – without having to take the arduous and dangerous journey to a distant country – could have the feeling of closer communion with the events described in the Gospels. There are many testimonies that claim that the faithful experienced the paschal mystery more deeply and more consciously in such places.

Sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Kalwaria Zebrzydowska

The oldest architectural complex of this type in Poland is Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, founded in 1602 by the Voivode of Krakow Mikołaj Zebrzydowski. According to contemporary accounts, together with his wife Urszula from the window of the castle in Lanckorona he saw three burning crosses rising into the sky over the nearby mountain of Żar. It was here that he founded a Baroque church and a Bernardine monastery and ordered the building of 12 chapels of the Way of the Cross.

Expansion of the complex continued under his successors, Jan and Michał Zebrzydowski and Magdalena Czartoryski. As a result, 42 chapels and churches were built on paths in the Calvary in the picturesque, mountainous and wooded terrain. All of them are the work of the Flemish architect and goldsmith Paul Baudarth. They are arranged in two routes. The first (the Path of Jesus) contains sites arranged in a narrative that tells the events of the life of Christ, from the Passover meal in the Cenacle to the crucifixion at Golgotha. The second is the Path of Our Lady, presenting the story of Mary from her pain under the cross to the joy that enveloped her after her son's resurrection. In addition, there are also religious buildings referring to other events and biblical figures, for example the Church of the Ascension and the hermitage of Mary Magdalene.

Kalwaria Pakoska (The Calvary of Pakosc) Since 1608, when the first service for pilgrims took place in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, it has become one of the most important pilgrimage centres in Poland, and primarily the centre of Passion worship in Poland. Since 1641, when the picture of the Madonna & Child was placed in the Bernardine church, the place took on a new character as an important Marian shrine.

Karol Wojtyła particularly liked Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. When he visited in 2002 as Pope, he said: “Today I come to this shrine as a pilgrim, as I used to come here as a child and adolescent. I stand before Our Lady of Calvary, as when I came here as Bishop of Kraków to entrust in her the affairs of the Archdiocese and those which God entrusted to my pastoral care.” In 1999, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska became a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture and Science.

Calvary of Pakosc

This is the second oldest religious complex of this type in Poland. It was founded in 1628 in Pakość in Kujawy, on the land of the Działyński family. At the time Wojciech Kęsicki made a topographic study of Calvary, based on descriptions and maps published by the Dutch monk Adrichomius after returning from the Holy Land. The shrines that make up the Stations of the Cross were built successively in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. A total of 26 were constructed. In 1631, the site was taken into the care of the Franciscans, who founded a monastery there. After the dissolution of the Order in 1832 by the Prussian authorities, the sacral complex was taken over by the diocesan clergy. The monks returned only in 1931.

Calvary of WejherowoKalwaria Wejherowska (The Calvary of Wejherowo)

The Calvary of Wejherowo (Kalawaria Wejherowska)was the third Calvary to be established in Poland. It was established by the founder of the city, the Voivode of Malbork Jakub Wejher. In the years 1649-1655, 26 chapels were established, each of which was associated with an event in the life of Jesus – from the Cenacle to the Ascension. The place quickly began to attract pilgrims from all over Pomerania and even gained the title the “spiritual capital of Kashubia“. Today, Kalwaria is known for the Mystery of the Passion of Christ Spectacle organised since 2002, involving actors dressed in costumes from the Roman era. Another attraction, though performed in a completely different style, are the feretory prostrations performed during the indulgences.

Calvary of Vilnius

Beyond the borders of Poland is the Calvary of Vilnius, also called the Calvary of Jerusalem. Its originator was the local Bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz (this was not his first initiative, in 1637 he founded Kalwaria Żmudzka). Unfortunately, he was unable to bring his idea to fruition as Vilnius was conquered by Tsar Alexis in 1655. In three days, Russian troops massacred around 20,000 inhabitants, and the town burned for 17 days. It wasn’t until five years later that the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was torn from Moscow’s grip.

The Calvary of Vilnius by Jan Chrucki, 1849 After the liberation, the plans of the deceased Bishop Tyszkiewicz were resurrected by his successor Jerzy Białłozor. The Calvary in Vilnius was to be a thanksgiving for deliverance from Russian captivity. The Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross and 35 wooden chapels of the Way of the Cross were built in seven years. However, they became easy prey to fires. In the eighteenth century, they were replaced by 19 brick chapels in the Baroque style. Sevealwaria Wileńskan wooden gates were erected as well as a bridge over the river Baltupis, which was given the biblical name Cedron. The Calvary of Vilnius suffered severely during the Soviet occupation. The communists blew up all the gates and most of the chapels. Only four survived. In 2002, the complex was rebuilt by the Lithuanians.

Góra Kalwaria

This ambitious project was the work of the Bishop of Poznan Stefan Wierzbowski. In 1666, he bought the village of Góra, lying 36 km from Warsaw, and built a town there, which he called the New Jerusalem. Its urban layout was a combination of two traditions. On the one hand, it was supposed to reflect (at least according to contemporary knowledge) the topography of the Holy City. Soil was brought from Palestine, which was strewn over the streets. Góra Kalwaria On the other hand, the town was designed according to the plan of the Cross, to symbolise the spiritual order of the world. 38 chapels were built for Passion worship.

New Jerusalem soon began to attract large numbers of pilgrims from Masovia. To provide pastoral care, Bishop Wierzbowski brought in seven religious orders, which opened their monasteries. At that time, seven church towers looked down over the town, a view unparalleled in other Calvaries. With time, the town came to be called Góra Kalwaria (Mount Calvary). It declined in importance after the partition of Poland, when first the Prussian authorities secularised most church property, and then the Russian closed the monastic orders. Today, of all the old gatherings, only the Marians still conduct ministrations. The main site of pilgrimage, however, has become the Cenacle of New Jerusalem, where the body of St. Stanisław Papczyński now rests.

Author: Grzegorz Górny

Source: “W Sieci”