Marian-Passionist Shrine in the South of Poland

Among the many wonderful treasures bestowed on future generations by Medieval Christianity was the development of pilgrimage routes and eminent shrine churches. Since about the 8th century, holy sites began to take more and more magnificent forms reviving and inventing arts and crafts, cultivating fresh intellectual work, and becoming vigorous spiritual centers; from Rome to Vezelay, Compostela to Cologne, Europe was mapping its consciousness according to the important religious sites and their relics. One of the principal catalysts in this cultural and religious momentum were the Crusades and the construction of churches in the Holy Land.

About 1600 AD, by way of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, an architectural model based on the Holy Sepulcher found its way to Poland and inspired a vision for a Passionist shrine where the faithful would walk the way of the cross in a topography similar to the actual sites in Jerusalem. Mikolaj Zebrzydowski, a pious nobleman and an influential high-ranking statesman, was moved to build a church for this purpose on the land he donated to the project.

Zebrzydowski hired a gifted draftsman-designer, Feliks Zebrowski and proceeded to oversee a massive project that encompassed a new shrine church and a network of garden pathways that eventually connected 40 chapels along the Via Crucis of Our Lord and a Via Dolorosa of Our Lady; each of the 40 aedicula is devoted to a different mystery from the life of Our Lord or the life of the Blessed Mother.

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska's overall plan was fashioned mostly in the Mannerist style, with Baroque influences becoming perceptible in later additions. The miraculous image of Our Lady with Child (bottom page) as well as numerous liturgical and artistic treasures draw, console, and strengthen thousands of pilgrims every year. Scores of ex votos decorating the walls of Lady's Chapel attest to the many prayers answered at this much-beloved Shrine.

Kalwaria draws most visitors during the Holy Week and during the days leading up to the Solemnity of the Assumption. Every year, August 15 is anticipated by many devotions and liturgies that begin days prior to the great feast. This past Sunday, a special procession with the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows took place, making stops at the chapels along the Via Dolorosa of Our Lady. 

The Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is cared for by the Franciscan Friars. It was inscribed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. 

Photography Credits:
Images 1 - 4: Piotr Ostrowski
Images 5 - 9: Andrzej Famielec

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