FEATURE | MARCH 2014
Holy Week Outside Kraków
in Poland’s “New Jerusalem”
A Visit to the Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
Poland’s largest and most well-known kalwaria (Way of the Cross), Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, lies about 25 miles southwest of Kraków. Founded in the 17th century, it became world famous during the pontificate of Bl. (soon to be Saint) John Paul II who, as a young boy at his father’s side and as a Pope, often visited the shrine.
Throughout Europe, Catholics have sought to remember Jesus’ Passion and Death, especially through many outdoor shrines which present the Way of the Cross. The sacri monti of northern Italy (especially the great Passion shrine at Varallo Sesia, northwest of Milan) and the calvaires of Brittany (especially the parish closes in Guimiliau and St.-Thégonnec) are examples of monumental devotion to the Suffering of Christ. Devotion to the Passion of Christ brings pilgrims worldwide every ten years to the “Passion Play” in Oberammergau, Germany.
Poland also has its share of kalwaria,or outdoor Ways of the Cross, where pilgrims—both organized groups and individuals—have journeyed to walk Jesus’ last steps on the way to Calvary. These shrines, with beautiful outdoor chapels—often the size of small churches—marking the various “Stations” of the Cross, adorn the Polish countryside. They were established to allow pilgrims who could not go to the Holy Land the chance to retrace Jesus’ final journey, often on an actual scale.
Poland’s largest and most well-known-kalwaria, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, lies about 25 miles southwest of Kraków. Founded in the 17th century, it became world famous during the pontificate of Bl. (soon to be Saint) John Paul II who, as a young boy at his father’s side and as a Pope, often visited the shrine. (Kalwaria is about ten miles east of Wadowice, the Pope’s boyhood home, and many visitors usually join the two sites together). Kalwaria Zebrzydowska actually consists of two sets of chapels: those associated with Jesus’ Passion, which are the focal point of Holy Week observances, and those connected with the Blessed Virgin Mary, which become the object of devotion on August 14-15, the Feast of the Assumption.
The Bernadine Fathers have conducted the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska shrine for centuries. Brother Albert Mocarski spoke with John Grondelski about Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and why you should go there for Holy Week and Easter.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is called a “Passion sanctuary” and “the Polish Jerusalem.” What do these names refer to?
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is a “Passion-Marian” shrine. It’s the Polish Jerusalem, an authentic copy of Jerusalem in ancient Palestine and today’s Israel. Here pilgrims can walk in the steps of the Lord Jesus towards His Passion and Death, enabling them to obtain a plenary indulgence at the hour of their deaths.
Please tell us something about the origins and history of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
The founder and benefactor of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was Mikołaj Zebrzydowski (from whom the Kalwaria takes its name), voivode of Kraków. The cornerstone of the Chapel of the Crucifixion was laid on October 4, 1600. Zebrzydowski issued the foundational document for Kalwaria in 1602, entrusting its church and chapels to the Bernadine Fathers. Construction of the church and cloister began in 1604 under the Italian Jesuit Bernadoni and the Flemish architect Baudarth. The mathematician Feliks Zebrowski measured the land and laid out the distribution of the chapels.
The first of many papal indulgences for pilgrims was promulgated by Pope Paul V in 1612, conceding a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions for those who piously took part in devotion to the Passion of Christ at the Kalwaria chapels. Mikołaj Zebrydowski died in 1620, but work continued under his son, Jan. By 1641, 44 chapels—including six churches—were built on the grounds.
Also in 1641, the Bernardines received a depiction of Our Weeping Lady, a gift of Stanisław z Brzezia Paszkowski. It was transferred from the church to the sacristy, on order of Kraków’s Bishop Zadzik, until such time as miracles attributed to it were examined. There were noticed blood tears falling from the eyes of Our Lady which one day appeared on the painting. This fact was examined by a group of experts set up by the bishop of Kraków.
His successor, Bishop Albin Dunajewski, would crown the image in 1887.
Throughout its history, the shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was a constant point of pilgrimage for Poles and others devoted to the Passion of Christ. Among those pilgrims were Karol Wojtyła, Sr., a retired Austrian army officer, and his son, Karol Wojtyła, Jr., a future Pope. In 1979, Bl. John Paul declared Kalwaria Zebrzydowska a minor basilica. Two Popes have already visited Kalwaria—Bl. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
The grounds of Kalwaria are covered with a series of chapels that depict moments of Jesus’ Passion and Way of the Cross.
The chapels, which mark stages on Jesus’ Journey from Gethsemane to the Cross, including the traditional 14 events marked in the “Stations of the Cross,” are scattered across the grounds of Kalwaria Zebzrydowska, allowing the pilgrim to experience the path Jesus walked for our salvation.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska has had an enormous influence on the life of Karol Wojtyła, who already visited there as a young person. Tell us something about Kalwaria’s association with the future Pope, and how his canonization will be observed there.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska had a great influence on Karol Wojtyła who, as a teenager, would come here with his father. He remembered a visit when he was nine, after the death of his mother, when he discovered Mary, his spiritual mother here. The sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska belongs to those unique places in the world, to which pilgrims from Poland and beyond come year round. Wojtyła’s connections with the shrine come from his youth when he would come here for feasts of Our Lord’s Passion and of Our Lady with his father. He returned here as Pope in 1979, and came back in 2002, when he entrusted Poland and the Polish Church to Our Lady of Mercy. His contribution to the Shrine, especially in terms of its theological significance, has been enormous. Our Lady of Kalwaria, “who shaped his heart from his earliest years” and sought for him the graces he needed to solve the problems “which often disturb a bishop’s heart,” was she to whom he entrusted his country and church. Already in 1979, Wojtyła asked pilgrims to “pray for me here, during my lifetime and after my death.”
There will be a festive Mass here to celebrate his canonization. We will also walk the Path of Jesus’ Passion with John Paul II, as Karol Wojtyła used to do right here at Kalwaria. A delegation will also go to Rome.
Kalwaria is also a Marian sanctuary. Tell us something about that aspect of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is filled with special praise for its Mother and Queen during the month of August, as it celebrates her falling asleep, funeral, and Assumption. Huge crowds and people in folk dress gather and orchestras assemble, processions go among the Marian chapels—this phenomenal event is found nowhere else but here! It is scheduled this year for August 15-17.
Can individual pilgrims come to Kalwaria?
Innumerable ranks of pilgrims have been visiting Kalwaria Zebrzydowska for centuries. They come individually or in groups, to pray in the Basilica and along the paths of Jesus and Mary, at the individual chapels, and to meditate. We serve those pilgrims by leading groups in those devotions, on the pathways and at the basilica. We also serve them sacramentally, including by Confession. Such assistance—in the devotions and through the sacraments—is also available in English, upon advance notice. Just let us know!
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska also offers a pilgrim home with a restaurant and café for those who want to stay with us longer.
Tell us about Lent and Holy Week.
Lent and Holy Week are special times at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, especially Holy Week from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, where the Mystery of Jesus’ Passion is reenacted live here. That reenactment is joined with prayer-filled devotions along the pathways of Jesus’ Passion and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We welcome you to come and join us in prayer. Holy Week observances this year run April 13-18, with the Mass of Resurrection on Easter at 6:00 a.m., April 20.
For those who want to learn more about Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, see www.kalwaria.eu/english.html To reserve a guide, contact info@kalwaria.Eu. For those who want to make reservations at the Pilgrim House, which provides accommodations ranging from private/semi-private rooms to hostel-like bunk beds, write to dompielgrzyma@kalwaria.Eu.