Bernardine Church

Houses of worship

Hardly anyone knows that this unimposing church at the foot of Wawel Hill became the source of the name Bernardine that is commonly used to this day to denote the Church of St Bernardine of Siena of the Order of Friars Minor of Regular Observance, also known as Brownfriars.

The first Bernardine monks in Kraków were recruited from among the followers of a stern preacher, an Observant Franciscan St John of Capistrano, who preached fiery sermons against sin, folly, and vanity during his visit to the city in mid-15th century. The name of “Brothers of St Bernardine” (or Brownfriars in short) helped to differentiate them from Franciscans who had lived in the city much earlier.

The first Gothic church was completely destroyed during the Swedish Deluge in the mid-17th century. The current one, built in the early baroque style later in the century is crowned with a dome that was placed low inside the roof, low above the floor, rather than as was the custom, high above the roof of the church. This was deliberate owing to strategic considerations: protuberant elements of the construction might have posed a problem for Wawel artillery shelling the approaches to the castle.

Worth seeing is a large painting (203 × 253 cm/80 × 197 in) of the Dance of Death displayed in the Chapel of St Anne. In its centre, we can see a dancing wheel of women from various estates, from empress to a peasant woman, holding skeletons by their hands. They are accompanied by depictions of the crucifixion, the last judgement, and heaven and hell. The whole is contained in a frame composed of 14 medallions with male figures of representatives of various estates taken for a dance by the skeletons. The origin of the Kraków danse macabre painting is dated to the second half of the 17th century, and its authorship is ascribed to a Bernardine painter, Father Franciszek Lekszycki.

Be sure to see:

  • the altar-mausoleum of St Simon of Lipnica, a Bernardine monk who fell victim to the plague when serving the infected; to this day, monks treasure his coat, which is believed to have the power of healing
  • a sculpture of St Anne with Virgin Mary and Jesus, from the workshop of Wit Stwosz, and a figure of Pensive Christ (remaining from the original furnishing of the church)
  • stained glass decorations by Józef Mehoffer in the Chapel of St Simon of Lipnica

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