Pilgrims who visit Poland are privileged to not only visit its historical Christian monuments and its beautiful churches, but also have a chance to observe faith still alive in the hearts of its people. Since the year 966 the Catholic Church has played an important religious, cultural and political role in the country.
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PILGRIM DESTINATIONS IN & AROUND KRAKOW
Krakow, the former capital of Poland, is an important place along the way for all pilgrims coming to Poland. It is home to many churches, religious orders and monasteries. Karol Wojtyla, who later became St. Pope John Paul II, received his Holy Orders here, celebrated his first Mass in the Crypt of St. Leonard at Wawel Hill and served as Archbishop of Krakow for many years. In front of the Franciscan Basilica, in the Archbishop's Palace, is the famous window under which pilgrims gathered during every pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II.
St. Mary's Basilica is a brick Gothic church, originally built early in the 13th century and re-built in the 14th century. It stands 262 ft. tall and is adjacent to Kakow's Main Market Square. On every hour, a trumpet signal is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers, the tune breaking off in mid-stream to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before an attack on the city. The church is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss. The three-story-high carving depicts the coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Wawel Cathedral on the Wawel Hill, also known as the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Stanislaw and Vaclav, was the coronation site of Polish monarchs and it remains Poland's most important national sanctuary. It dates from the 14th century and most Polish kings are buried here together with the greatest national heroes. The cathedral contains the 1630 mausoleum of St. Stanislav, Poland's patron saint. It also houses the famous Black Christ's Crucifix of Krakow. This crucifix of Queen-Saint Jadwiga (Hedwig) was brought by the then fourteen-year-old daughter of the Hungarian monarch to her new kingdom's capital in 1384. She spent hours praying before this sculpture of the Savior, and it is said He spoke to her on several occasions. In 1987 Queen Jadwiga was beatified and her relics transferred to the altar of the Christ Crucified. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1997.
The Jasna Gora Sanctuary (Bright Mount in Polish) in Czestochowa, an industrial city of 300,000, is a ninety - minute drive northwest from Krakow. It is the most important Marian Sanctuary and pilgrimage destination in Poland. A small 15th-century chapel with a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as 'The Black Madonna', is the heart of the sanctuary. According to tradition, St. Luke the Evangelist painted the picture of the Virgin Mary on a tabletop once used by the Holy Family; however, art historians believe that the painting was initially a Byzantine icon dated from the 6th to 9th centuries. During the 15th-centrury restoration in Krakow, it was painted anew because the restorers were not able to apply their tempera colors over the original wax paint, so they scraped it clean. Each year hundreds of thousands pray before the miraculous painting of the Black Madonna. In addition, pilgrims can visit the treasury, which contains items donated to the shrine in honor of the Virgin Mary throughout history. There is also a monastic library, which can be visited upon request. It contains 13,000 old prints and Medieval manuscripts.
When visiting the monastery at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, it is worth a short trip to the Sanctuary of St. Anne, which has honored the saint for more than 500 years.
Lagiewniki, located in the city of Krakow, is where the Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalski, lived and died. The Lord appeared to her one evening in 1931 and told her to commission a likeness of Himself with the caption which reads in Polish, "Jesus, I trust Thee." In a series of other appearances, He also revealed to St. Faustina His dogma of Divine Mercy. After she was canonized by Pope John Paul II, who strongly supported worship of Divine Mercy throughout the world, Lagiewniki became the international center of Divine Mercy worship. Now the 19th-century brick convent of the Sisters of God's Mother of Mercy is part of the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy complete with the main church, chapels, a viewing tower, a modern lodge, cafeterias and shops. On August 17, 2002 Pope John Paul II consecrated the sanctuary's brand-new basilica. Every year two million pilgrims from all over the world visit the shrine.
About a mile from the Shrine of Divine Mercy is the Have No Fear! John Paul II Centre. The main feature of the shrine is the “lower church” or “Chapel of the Relics.” It contains pictures of various events during the pontificate of St. Pope John Paul II including his visits to some of the world’s most famous Marian shrines. In the center of the shrine is a simple altar that contains a relic of his blood. The blood-stained cassock that he wore on the day of the attempted assassination is also on display here.
Wadowice, the hometown of Saint Pope John Paul II, is a one-hour drive from Krakow. Pilgrims are able to visit the house in which Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920. It features a museum with a collection of numerous items and photos related to the life of the Pope. In the nearby church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where he was baptized and served as an altar boy, pilgrims can pray or participate in a Mass. Finally, a visit to Wadowice would not be complete without a visit to a local bakery to sample a piece of cream cake, the Pope's favorite, now known as papal cream cake.
The Passion and Marian Sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was established in 1600 and modeled after the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. A one-hour drive from Krakow, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its 42 churches and chapels, in addition to the central basilica and the Franciscan monastery, the complex of buildings is scattered among the woods on the slopes of Zar Mountain. Here pilgrims can follow the path of Jesus and Mary. The Stations of the Cross stretch around the sanctuary as part of its picturesque landscape. Prayers devoted to the Passion of Jesus and mysteries from the life of Virgin Mary can be said in chapels along the way. Each of the 42 tiny churches is different and represents a Jerusalem site prominent in the New Testament and/or the Christian tradition. The most visited place is the chapel with Our Lady of Kalwaria’s miraculous picture, which has been there since 1641.
St. Kinga, a Hungarian Princess, lived in the 13th century. According to legend, after marrying a Polish prince, the only present that she wanted to receive was salt. The king of Hungary gave her his richest mine and she dropped her engagement ring into its shaft. After coming to Krakow, the ring was rediscovered in the Wieliczka Salt Mine in the first clump of salt extracted there. St. Kinga was beatified by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1999. She is the patron saint of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mine continuously produced table salt from the 13th century until 2007; however, commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding. A sightseeing tour of the mine starts 65 meters and ends up 135 meters below ground. Its attractions include dozens of statues and a chapel that has been carved out of the rock salt by the miners. About 1.2 million people visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine annually.
The site of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz and Birkenau is an hour’s drive west of Krakow. Between June 1941 and January 1945 about one million men, women and children died in the three Auschwitz concentration camps –Auschwitz proper, Birkenau and Monowitz –and their more than forty sub-camps. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16670 in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941. When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. One of the 10 selected to die pleaded to be spared for the sake of his wife and children. Father Kolbe asked to die in his place and his request was granted. All ten died with Father Kolbe being the last.
The Trail of Wooden Architecture, a collection of 237 unique wooden buildings, some listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is in the Malopolska Province whose capital city is Krakow. Many of these buildings are churches. During a short stay in Poland, it is not possible to see all the monuments in this group; however, stopping for a prayer at a church or two will be memorable. The Trail of Wooden Architecture meanders through the region for over 1,500 km, connecting the 237 sites.
WARSAW & SURROUNDINGS
Warsaw is Poland's capital. The city was left in ruins at the end of World War II but it has regained some of its former splendor. It is now the economic hub of the country, home of many international companies and government buildings. It is also an important place for religious pilgrims.
Several famous people are related to the religious history of Warsaw. Along with sites that held significance in the life of St. Pope Paul II, people can visit the Convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, which Helena Kowalska (St. Faustina) entered in 1925. Pilgrims may also want to pray at the tomb of Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko in the Church of St. Stanislaw Kostka. He was famous for his anti-communist Masses in defense of the Catholic Church and freedom and was eventually kidnapped and killed by Security Service agents. Finally, Venerable Cardinal Stefan Wyszinski, is also well-known for his resistance to communism in Poland. His body is entombed at St. John's Cathedral. In 1989, canonization proceedings began for him.
The Temple of Divine Providence represents the steadfast faith of the Polish people.The cornerstone was laid in 1792; however, world wars and Communism interfered with its progress. It was completed over 200 years later in 2016. It is made up of three parts: The Church of Divine Providence; the Museum of St. Pope John Paul II and Ven. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski; and the Pantheon of the Great Poles, which holds relics and tombs of notable people of Poland.
Near Warsaw, Niepokalanów Monastery was established by St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1927. During WWII, he was in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he gave his life in exchange for the life of another man. Today the Monastery is visited by thousands of pilgrims as its Statue of Holy Mary is considered to have miraculous powers. On its right, there is a museum dedicated to Maximilian Kolbe.
On September 1, 1939, the attack of Nazi Germany on Gdansk officially marked the beginning of World War II. Years later, Gdansk became the cradle of Solidarity and Lech Walesa, its most famous inhabitant and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, became the symbol of the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Visitors can see the place where Lech Walesa jumped over the wall to join the shipyard workers on strike and start Solidarity and also the places honoring the heroes of those times. The 42-meter-high crosses of the Fallen Shipyard Workers Monument stand at the entrance gates to the Gdansk Shipyard where workers who were on strike during December 1970, were shot and killed. This is considered to be the beginning of the breakdown of the East European communist system. An inscription on the wall sums up what happened here: "They gave their lives for you to live proudly."
Support provided by the Catholic Church to the people of Solidarity was very important. Pilgrims will want to include The Museum of Solidarity, as well the Churches of St. Mary's Basilica and St. Brigit, which spiritually supported the Solidarity workers in the 1980s.
MORE PILGRIMAGE SITES
Throughout Poland there are numerous additional churches, shrines and sites connected with holy men and women. A few are noted below:
At Bialystok, in northeastern Poland, visit the Basilica Shrine of Divine Mercy, where Blessed Michael Sopocko is buried. He was the confessor and spiritual director of Saint Sister Faustina. There is also a museum which depicts his life.
Sokolka is the site of a Eucharistic Miracle that occurred on October 12, 2008, two weeks after the beatification of Blessed Michael Sopocko. During the Holy Mass celebrated at the Church of St. Anthony in Sokolka, at 8:30am a consecrated host fell from the hands of one of the priests during the distribution of Communion, next to the altar. The priest picked up the host, and, in accordance with liturgical norms, placed it in a small container of water. On October 29, the container with the host was transferred to the Divine Mercy Chapel in the rectory, and placed in the tabernacle. The next day, by decision of the archbishop, the stained host was taken out of the water and placed on a small corporal, which was then put back in the tabernacle. The host was kept this way for three years. By mid-January of 2009, the fragment of the host had dried out naturally, and remained like a blood stain or clot. That same month, the archbishop requested histopathological studies be done on the host. On March 30, he created an ecclesial commission to study the phenomenon. The results of two independent studies were in perfect agreement. They concluded that the structure of the transformed fragment of the host is identical to the myocardial (heart) tissue of a living person who is nearing death.
Many call the Marian Sanctuary at Lichen the Polish Rome. The largest church in Poland, the eighth largest in Europe and the twelfth largest in the world is located here. The Lichen Sanctuary is famous for its miraculous painting of the Blessed Virgin, Mary of Lichen. This is a popular pilgrimage destination among Poles.
As many as 100,000 young people from all over Poland each year gather in the fields near Lednica, which lies on the shores of Lake Lednica. Their focus is the Third Millennium Gate, a 36 m x 9 m openwork steel construction shaped like a fish – the symbol of Christ – and built in 1997. Attending Mass and passing beneath the “Fish” is the highpoint of the hours of ceremonies. The Dominican monks, who are carers of the Lednica fields, also established a museum here containing many items related to St. Pope John Paul II. The first Lednica get-together was held on the eve of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Gniezno in 1997.
The Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima, located in Zakopane, was established as an expression of gratitude to God for saving of the life of St. Pope John Paul II in the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981. It is an especially important place for the inhabitants of Zakopane and the surrounding areas, since they are famous for their piety. The church also features a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima crowned by St. Pope John Paul II and many tokens from his visits to the sanctuary during his pilgrimages to Poland.
Our Lady of Gietrzwald Shrine is a major pilgrimage destination in Poland. where a Marian apparition took place between June 27th and September 16th of 1877. When Our Lady appeared to a young girl on that first day, she requested that the girl return the next day and she did, but with a friend as well; and Mary appeared to both of them, holding the baby Jesus in her lap. For the next 10 weeks the apparitions took place daily, always with the same message: “Pray the Rosary”. The girls were told to go to a nearby spring, and Mary would bless it for the healing physical and spiritual illnesses. Word spread and by September 8th the total for one day reached 50,000 pilgrims. The apparitions were finally approved in 1977, one hundred years after they began. The Church was designated as a Basilica Minor by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
The Hermitage of Brother Albert in Kalatowski in Zakopane was erected in 1898. Brother Albert (real name Adam Chmielowski) was a nobleman who lost his leg in the uprising against the Russians in 1863. He later took Holy Orders and set up a monastery to help the poor. His tiny hermitage is now a museum, and his rooms are as he left them. Over the altar in the chapel, there is an historic crucifix, which Brother Albert received from Paulite monks in Krakow and in front of which he spent many hours contemplating the suffering of Christ. Brother Albert was a well- known landscape painter and several works have been preserved here. One of his greatest admirers was Pope John Paul II, who wrote a play about him as young man and made him a saint in 1989. The hermitage was visited by Pope John Paul II on one of his pilgrimages to Poland.
Wroclaw is the birthplace of Edith Stein who was born into a large Jewish family in 1891.and converted to Catholicism in 1921 after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Cologne in 1933, becoming Sister Teresia Benedicta of the Cross. Nazi persecution of the Jews led to her being smuggled into the Netherlands to the Carmelite convent in Echt; however, she was arrested by the Gestapo on August 2, 1940 while in the chapel with her sister Rosa, also a convert. The two sisters eventually arrived in Auschwitz where they were sent to the gas chambers on August 9, 1942. On May 1, 1987 ‘Teresia Benedicta of the Cross’ was beatified as a martyr in Cologne by Pope John Paul II, who described her as “a daughter of Israel, who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness.” He also canonized her in 1998. Today there are many sites connected to Edith Stein throughout Wrocław. Her family home now houses the Edith Stein Society, an organization devoted to Jewish-Christian understanding, Polish-German reconciliation and the development of civic society in Poland; the Church of St. Michael the Archangel contains relics and rememberances of her life; the European Peace Cross is a copy of a monument dedicated to her by an Austrian artist; and tthe Old Jewish Cemetery is where her parents are buried.
St Anna's Mountain, located on the route between Krakow and Wroclaw, has been a center of religious tourism for 500 years. The Sanctuary is dedicated to St. Anne, grandmother of Jesus, and her husband, Joachim. The site contains over 40 Calvary Chapels dating from the early 18th Century.
The history of the Marian Sanctuary, The Blessed Virgin Mary of Ludzmierz, also known as the Queen of Podhale, goes back to 1400. During a crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ludzmierz in 1963, a scepter fell out of the hand of Mary and was caught in mid-air by Karol Wojtyla, then bishop of Krakow. According to popular belief, by entrusting him with the scepter, the Blessed Virgin Mary foretold his later papal appointment.