For my Polish family, religion is a part of everyday life. The routine of going to church begins in the cradle, and in adult life is fitted in between shift patterns and housework. For myself, faith has never been a given, but I am awed by the beauty, created by man in celebration of his God.
My last day in Krakow dawned bright and beautiful, and I knew that I would spend it outdoors. When I outlined my planned walk to my cousin Marta, it was greeted with her usual enthusiasm. In no time at all I found myself deposited in a car park, facing a church, and surrounded by greenery. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, so I was relieved to see, in the far distance, the surreal outline of the Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia. It was my eventual target, but first I would look inside this church.
From the exterior, Sanktuarium Świętego Jana Pawła II, looks rather severe and forbidding, but that impression is quite false. The finely sculpted cast bronze doors testify to somewhere very special. Then, across an enormous font, you catch a glimpse of the altar.
The octagonally shaped church is dedicated to Pope John Paul II, one of Poland’s most famous and best-loved sons. He was a very human pope, and a man who filled me with deep respect. All of Poland mourned his passing, and tributes are to be found to him everywhere. I was unprepared for the scale and the sensory indulgence of what lay inside.
I drew closer and closer, affected by the emotions and the glowing colours. A disturbed Peter and the eloquence of Mary’s love. The compassion in the touch of a hand. I have never seen mosaics used to greater effect.
Observing a stern and sorrowful angel Gabriel, I turned to walk away. The church was almost deserted at this early hour. Footsteps echoed in the empty space and a priest came through a doorway and crossed my path. I did not know the correct form of address. Father, ‘Tata’ in Polish, seemed too familiar, and before I could think he was gone. ‘Ojciec’, I should have said.
Out again, in the still and sunny morning, I began my walk. A path was newly laid and there were signs of ongoing construction, but I had the place almost to myself. A gentleman sat on a bench, his dog at his heels, and we exchanged greetings and a smile at the balmy morning. A lady strolled with pushchair. And I drew nearer to Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia.
An extravagance of yellow curly-wurlyness caught my eye, and then I stopped, unsure of the way ahead. Steps led down to what appeared to be a construction site and I wasn’t sure if it was accessible to the public. What to do, but carry on? I had no idea how else I could approach the church. I had been there once before, years ago with my niece Weronika, but we had arrived by car.
Down the steps and over a narrow bridge, the workers looked up from their tea break but made no comment. A digger or two puttered about, and I’m sure that in the near future there will be a formal path. Relieved, I followed a gravel path past the stations of the cross.
Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia, Church of the Divine Mercy, is an extraordinary building. I walked around it, looking up at the 77 metre high tower, completed in 2002. I knew that it was possible to ascend, and that the day was perfect to do just that.
On the grass in front of the tower, a party of school children frolicked and ate packed lunches. Steps led to the main body of the church, where a service appeared to be taking place. Clad all in white, the youngsters looked angelic. I permitted myself a discreet shot, then headed for the lift.
Leaving the lift, there were two further flights of concrete steps to take you to the top. The views encompassed Nowa Huta, the former industrial district, and all of Krakow’s suburbs. My third church, dedicated to Sister Faustina, was visible just below. I headed back down the stairwell.
Back down to earth. I was reluctant to leave. The atmosphere was so calming. So peaceful. In wandering, I discovered John Paul II’s tiny chapel.
The wall celebrating the sponsors of the church complex led easily into the courtyard of Saint Faustina’s. Born Helena Kowalska in 1905, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska was a visionary. Her death from TB in 1938 followed numerous mystical experiences.
The monastery of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy dates back to 1889. It contains a very special painting of Jesus, as seen in a vision by Sister Faustina. A place of international pilgrimage, it has close links with Pope John Paul II. The nun was beatified in 1993. As I approached the church a group of excited youngsters, all in white, spilled down the steps, chattering and smiling. Proud parents took photos. Marta later explained to me that the ‘mini pilgrimage’ is a regular feature of the church.
The joy shone out of the young faces and I longed to take a photo as they milled about. I watched for a while and then turned to go. I strolled back through the beautiful grounds and was just in time for one last treat. On the auditorium steps a group of children were having photos taken with the priest. I just about caught them before they dashed off.
My walk home was long, but maybe that’s a story for another day. This concludes my series of posts about my visit to Poland. I’ve touched on many aspects of Polish life and hopefully shared my joy. And now, we really have earned that cuppa, haven’t we?
As always I must say thank you to my many contributors and supporters who make this weekly post such a pleasure for me. I hope you can find time to read them, and maybe you’d like to join me in a future Jo’s Monday walk. Details of how to join in can be found by clicking on the logo. Here we go!
Budapest never looked more lovely than through Debbie’s eyes :
Spectacular alpine scenery from our intrepid Elaine this week :
‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’- immortal words shared by Drake :
Jackie posted a reminder of Gay Pride in Toronto :
England has some beautiful homes and gardens, doesn’t it? A lovely share from Lady Lee Manila :
Explore her latest home from home, with Liesbet :
A rousing cheer for Mlissabeth, who joins us this week! The family came too :
Miriam managed an overnight escape from her family, and that can also be blissful :
And then a little magic, up in the clouds :
While Biti continued her ramble along the Blue Coast :
You know I said last week how much I loved the Italian Lakes? Check this out! Thanks, Rosemay- it’s beautiful :
And Susan continues her fascinating look at Eastern Europe. There’s a book too! More about that later :
Becky turns conformist this week, but only for a little while :
And in case you didn’t know it, Becky has a second blog, featuring her English life :
A charming Irish walk next, from Inese, with a little bit of drama :
Next I have a jaw-dropper from Meg! Go and see just why I wanted to visit Gdansk :
Gilly has her very own city wall, and lovely gardens too, in beautiful Devonshire :
Exhausting isn’t it, all this walking? But I’m so glad you could come along. Next week I have a totally English walk for you. See you then!
And if you have any spare time, give a shout to the busy folks at Monday Escapes.