Carmelite Church “Na Piasku”

Houses of worship

One of the favourite churches of the Kraków populace, the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is hardly ever called by its proper name, and in the popular legends which have brought it renown it is named after the order serving here: the Calced (i.e. shoe-wearing) Carmelites. The local monastic congregation has two miraculous paintings of Our Lady in their care: Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and Our Lady of Piasek, also known as “The Lady of Kraków”.

Her image was painted directly onto a church wall by an anonymous monk late in the 15th century. Legend holds that while he was still working on the painting, the author was unexpectedly called to perform another task. When he returned to the painting, he saw it had already been finished.

According to another tradition, the first church in this spot was founded by Duke Władysław Herman in the 11th century, after he was miraculously healed. Allegedly, he saw the Blessed Virgin in a dream, and she had him search for a place outside the city’s gates, where “violets were blossoming on the sand”. Sand poultices cured the ailing monarch who ordered the construction of a church as votive offering. There are however no documents to corroborate the existence of a Romanesque church on this site.

The actual origin is connected to other Polish monarchs, St Jadwiga and Ladislaus (Władysław) Jagiełło, who ordered the construction of the church late in the 14th century. Another legend connects the saint queen (in fact, Jadwiga was crowned King of Poland, peculiar as it might sound) with the church; its apparent proof is visible to this day. This is a stone with a footprint that can be seen in the outer wall of the church from the side of Garbarska Street. According to a popular tale, one day the ruler visited the construction site and saw that one of the builders had a gloomy expression. Asked about the reason for his anxiety, the stonemason told of his wife’s grave disease and the lack of money for its treatment. Moved, the Queen removed a golden clasp from her slipper to give it to the poor worker, momentarily resting her foot on a block of stone. After she left, the man saw that the royal footprint was discernible in the hard stone, and immediately decided to embed it in the church wall, to bear testimony to the generosity of the founder.

The church was rebuilt in its current form in the 17th century, after the invasion of the Swedish army.

Be sure to see:

  • a late-baroque high altar with a bas-relief presenting Visitation of St Elizabeth: one of the largest sculptures made in Kraków in the 17th/18th centuries
  • impressive monks’ stalls in the chancel with painted decorations depicting scenes from the life of prophets Elijah and Elisha, and the history of the Carmelite Order
  • the church cloisters, whose 18th-century murals on the vaulting present legendary and historical facts related to the church

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