Pauline Church

Houses of worship

Not unlike Wawel Hill, the Church “on the Rock” counts among the places whose long and rich history dates back to the Stone Age, and its modern history has not only been strongly melded with that of the Polish nation, but also gave rise to many legends.

The church “on the Rock” (Polish: na Skałce) is primarily associated with the martyrdom and death of Stanislaus of Szczepanów, Bishop of Kraków, and – after his death – a patron saint of Poland, and the Pauline Order present here, thanks to the chronicler Jan Długosz.

The white church on a low knoll, partially surrounded by a 5-metre-high (16 ft) stone wall, conceals plenty of mysteries and riddles. The one hounding historians most is the aforementioned death of Bishop Stanislaus in 1079. Following a conflict with King Boleslaus the Bold (Bolesław Śmiały), the bishop was sentenced to death by quartering, with some even believing that it was the King’s own hand and sword that dealt the blows. The brutal murder is believed to have taken place while the bishop was celebrating mass in the Church “on the Rock”. The Polish Chronicle of Wincenty Kadłubek, known for mixing facts with traditions, myths, and poetic licence, states that the blood-covered chunks of Bishop Stanislaus’s body were guarded by great eagles, and when local folk attracted by a strange light and brightness reached the place, they found the body of the bishop had grown back together without any mark or scar. Originally, the bishop was buried in the Church “on the Rock”, and 10 years later, the coffin was transferred to Wawel Cathedral, where crowds of pilgrims gathered.

Today’s church is most probably the third to stand in this place. The original Romanesque rotunda of St Michael the Archangel, where Bishop Stanislaus is rumoured to have been murdered, was remodelled into a Gothic edifice thanks to King Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki) in the 14th century. This later church was so badly damaged during the Swedish invasion in the mid-17th century that a decision to demolish it was reached. The final form of the current, baroque, structure, including the two impressive flights of stairs leading up to the church, we owe to a Warsaw architect Antonio Solari. The new church has two patrons: St Michael the Archangel, and St Stanislaus bishop and martyr. At the same time, the Pauline Monastery, connected to the church, was given the form of a renaissance castello in Italian style.

Visible inside the church, in the altar of the Chapel of St Stanislaus, is a tree trunk that was sprayed with drops of the Bishop’s blood at the moment of his death (which contradicts the part of the tale that has him murdered inside the church). The remnants of the stone steps of the altar, on which the furious king is believed to have killed the martyr, have been preserved as well and mounted on the wall of the church, where they can be seen behind a glass oculus.

The spring and pond nearby the church became an important place for the veneration of the bishop. According to one version of the legend, it is here that the eagles brought the quartered body of the martyr, which later miraculously grew together in this very place. Late in the 17th century, the spring and pond received a balustrade, and a baroque figure of the bishop was set in the centre. People believe that water drawn from here has curative properties, especially salutary for the conditions of the eyes and skin.

Every year, on the first Sunday following 8 May (i.e. the Feast/Festivity of St Stanislaus), a congregation carrying the relics of the Bishop and other saints covers the route from Wawel Cathedral to the Church “on the Rock”. The tradition reaches back to the days of the canonisation of the bishop, i.e. 1253. Similarly, on the eve of their coronation, Polish kings would make a pilgrimage to “Skałka” to do penance for the notorious deed of their predecessor, King Boleslaus the Bold.

The crypt below the church (at ground level) was designed as a resting place for great Poles, mostly artists.

Be sure to see:

  • 18th-century organ, a work of Józef Weissmann, with an exceptionally beautiful, lavishly decorated casing
  • the high altar with a painting by Tadeusz Kuntze (from the 18th century), presenting the patron of the church, St Michael the Archangel casting Lucifer into the abyss
  • side altar of Our Lady of Częstochowa, with a painting by Jan Nepomucen Grott among copious ex-votos
  • neo-baroque choir stalls decorated with bas-relief scenes of the defence of Jasna Góra (the sanctuary in Częstochowa) against the Swedish invaders

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