Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Basilica of the Virgin Mary in Krakow

The subject of our most recent quiz was a panel from the liturgical choir of the Basilica of the Virgin Mary in Krakow, Poland. (It is often called by its Polish name, 'Mariacki'; C in Polish is pronounced TS, and A is long as in "father".) I found this church particularly interesting as a place where the two Catholic styles par excellence, the Gothic (or in this case neo-Gothic) and the Baroque sit together in harmony. Originally built in the 14th century, the church has of course been restored repeatedly; it retains many of the decorations added in the 17th and 18th century, along with extensive neo-Gothic work from the late 19th and early 20th century. Like most of the churches in Krakow, it is extremely busy, with an astonishing number of Masses on both the Sunday and weekday schedules. Although it is one of the most popular sites for tourists, the religious character of the building is respected and given absolute priority. The back of the church is reserved for prayer, since the more interesting parts for tourists (the altarpiece and the choir) are at the front. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a chapel near the back every day from early morning until the church closes in the evening, and one usually finds many people praying there. The whole building is also a tremendous challenge to a very amateur photographer such as myself, since there are strong exposed light bulbs nearly everywhere.
Another panel of the series of the life of the Virgin from the choir, showing the Tree of Jesse.
The rood at the entrance to the choir. On the beam is written (from psalm 27 and the Te Deum) " Salvum fac populum, tuum et benedic hereditati tuae - Save Thy people, o Lord, and bless Thy inheritance." This same words are the beginning of the Byzantine troparion of the Sunday of the Holy Cross, "Lord, save your people, and bless your inheritance, granting to faithful Christians victories over their enemies, and protecting your commonwealth by your Cross."
The high altar.
The famous altarpiece, with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, by the Bavarian sculptor Veit Stoss. Carved between 1477 and 1489, it is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world, over 42 feet tall, and 36 feet wide when the wings are opened. 
The neo-Gothic decorations of the vaulting over the choir.
The Baroque altar of St. Sebastian, and the Gothic pulpit next to it.
Another pulpit in the Baroque style.
The altar of the Cross, originally built as the principal altar for Requiem Masses.
The altar of St. Stanislaus, the 11th-century bishop of Krakow, martyred by King Boleslaw II; he is the patron Saint of Krakow, and one of the patron Saints of Poland.
One of several altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Several sections of seating were built and paid for by particular families, who then had the seats reserved for their use.  
An altar decorated with the instruments of the Passion.
The two distinctive towers of the façade can be seen from most of the historical center of Krakow. A famous legend recounts that in the Tartar invasion of Poland in 1241, a trumpeter mounted the taller tower to sound the alarm, but was shot through the throat before he could finish his tune. The song, which is called the Hejnał Mariacki (St. Mary's bugle - pronounced 'hey-now') is played from the tower every hour still to this day, and has become an important national symbol for the Polish people; it is broadcast daily at noon on Polish national radio. The story of the trumpeter appears to date only from the 1930's, but may have been inspired by a similar story recorded in the traditional Roman Martyrology for April 5th: "In Africa, the passion of the holy martyrs who, in the persecution of the Arian king Genseric, were murdered in the church on Easter day; among whom a lector, while singing Alleluja at the lectern, was pierced through the throat by an arrow."

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