Wielkanoc is a small village located on the Gołcza River, about 19 miles north of Kraków. There's a lot of speculation about how the village got it's unusual name. One theory is that it was a place where the Passion Mysteries, the mysteries associated with death of the Messiah, was actively celebrated but no one really knows for sure.....
The first documented evidence of the village can be found in the Jagiellonian Library. It appears that a certain man named Wilko and another serf named Jan were in dispute over a cow that was supposedly stolen from a pasture. We don't know who stole or who was the injured party but there you have it -people being people- even back in 1382, shortly after the time of Casimir the Great.
Wielkanoc is so small it doesn't have its own church. The faithful travel to nearby town of Gołcza, where the first Catholic church was built in 1214, then burnt down by invading Tartars, rebuilt again in 1326, then in 1585 and 1757 and again in 1983. There has been a Catholic Church in Gołcza even before the founding of Wielkanoc.
During the time of the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), under the tolerant reign of King Sigismunt II Augustus, Lutherism and Calvinism gained many followers in Poland especially among upper classes and intellectuals. In 1613, the tiny Wielkanoc is chiefly Protestant.
Here comes the Swedish invasion (1655-1660). It not only significantly reduces the number of residents of Wielkanoc but Charles Gustav's retreating army robs the Protestant church treasury and burns the church.
Things change. There is a slow decline in the numbers of Protestants and in the village itself. Poland suffers the partitions by Austria, Prussia and Russia. There are Uprisings and revolts against the foreign powers. According to the Polish gazetteer, Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowianskich, there are 12 houses and 130 inhabitants in Wielkanoc in 1827.
Another change. The new owner of Wielkanoc is a Jakubowski, a Catholic who marries the Lutheran daughter of the previous owners of the village. The last Protestants move out. Those that remain convert to Catholicism and the village is once again Catholic.
What does a small, ancient 600 year old village with a name like Easter do at Easter time? They do what their Catholic ancestors have always done.
On Palm Sunday they make tiny crosses from hazel twigs blessed in their church on Palm Sunday. They place the crosses in every field, so that "clouds of hail can see that this field belongs to the believer, " and pray with these words: "Lord, let the sign of your passion protect this earth and its fruits from all misfortunes and crop failures."
Good Friday is an important day in the life of Wielkanoc. There is spring in the town that emerges out of limestone rock. It is said that the water has special curative powers. Village lore says that the waters saved a supposedly uncurable child with cancer who was brought there and submerged in the freezing waters by his grandfather as a last hope.( People have attributed special magical powers to the origins of springs and streams since pagan times, since way before the founding of the village in 1382). After two weeks of struggling with the disease, the boy got better. And since that time people come to the spring on Good Friday seeking good health. Here's the catch: you have to come here on Good Friday before the sun rises. Only ablution before sunrise is effective, because then the water has the greatest power. Everyone first submerges their hands in the icy stream, rinsing their eyes with water and then the entire face. They wash their eyes so that they can better see the world, so that they can see the truth. They wash the face to ensure good health. And sometimes they take a pitcher of the water home, to make themselves a pot of tea.
On Holy Saturday the inhabitants bring their baskets of food to the roadside chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima for their food to be blessed as faith and tradition dictates.
On Easter Sunday, the faithful travel to their parish of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gołcza, in the diocese of Kielce, in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, to the church that they have been tied to since time forgotten. The Resurrection Mass begins with the rising of the sun. The vigil of Easter, called the Wielka Noc (later put together into one word of Wielkanoc?) or Great Night, has passed into the dawn of Easter Sunday and the church bells ring with the jubilant words of "Chrystus Zmartwychwstał" (Christ is Risen).
Footnote: The known origin and history of Wielkanoc is chiefly due to one Ludwik Duda, an inhabitant of the village who took it upon himself to research records at the Jagellonian library and to write the story of his little town and left it in the safekeeping of his family so that descendants could know (and through knowing, appreciate) the life of a place called Easter.
Happy Easter( Wielkanoc). Wesołego Alleluja.
My parents were named Józef (Joseph) and Józefa (Josephine) and they shared the same Name Day, the Feast of St. Joseph, celebrated by the Catholic Church on March 19. When I was young, more important to me than their feast day, was the fact that it came during the season of Lent and on this day the church released us from whatever worldly sacrifice we were making as part of our Lenten devotion. This meant I could eat whatever I had given up for Lent. One year it was candy in general, another year, chocolates. The Lenten season I gave up french fries was super hard and getting some french fries was all I could think about. As I got older I became less concerned about unfasting (is there such a word?) and more interested in Joseph and Josephine, wondering what made them tick.
Everything was always serious business with my mother. Every action was purposeful, every day a struggle. Every bit of food was saved, every dime accounted for. Nothing was easy, very little was fun. She never broke out in spontaneous song. She wasn't one for teasing or a lot of laughter. She thought anyone who laughed a lot was a fool. She'd quote old Polish proverbs to us, like "Poznasz głupiego po śmiechu jego," meaning, you can recognize an idiot by his laughter. Or, "śmieje się jak głupi do sera," i.e., he laughs like an idiot [looking] at cheese. See what I mean? It really put the kibosh on excessive merriment when we were young but it didn't have any long term effects on us. If there is a lasting legacy it's that when my brothers and I get together and we're laughing hysterically about something, one of us will still pipe up and say "Stop laughing like an idiot" - which makes us laugh even more.
Józef, had a dark side to him, too, but I didn't know him that well, not really. I caught him crying a few times when I was young but he never said anything, just hugged me to him. He wasn't one to talk a lot, or tell us stories or share his feelings but there was some merriment in his heart. He whistled. He'd whistle some Polish tune, light and gay, while pacing through the house in his slippers on a Sunday morning, while collecting his shaving paraphernalia, while stropping his razor. He'd pause briefly to concentrate on the sharpness of the razor's edge against his thumb and while running the razor beneath his chin and the area close to his Adam's apple but in between, when rinsing the razor between strokes, he'd resume his warbling. When he was done wiping away the last of the lather from his face he'd break into a song that dealt with love and romance, aiming it at my mother until she glanced up from shining our shoes for church. She'd tell him to stop his nonsense, that I was too young to hear those kinds of songs and besides, it was Sunday, best to sing a hymn. Józef would look at me and wink and we'd laugh - a brief moment of closeness- and then he'd revert back to whistling his tune.
Maybe my mother did have more songs in her heart before she experienced war. Maybe my father was more garrulous, less guarded before war happened to him, too. Maybe they'd have been more compatible, or maybe they'd have picked someone else altogether if their situation had been other than meeting when they both were suffering from exhaustion, starvation, loneliness, fear, despair, threats of concentration camps, and where the spectre of death was not something obscure but a reality that surrounded them every day. And in the middle of all this they have a child together.
I never heard them say "I love you" to each other. I never saw prolonged hugs or kisses. What I saw was my father tenderly push loose strands of hair off my mother's forehead, securing the strands back into a bobby pin. What I saw was my mother carefully place a throw over my father sleeping on the couch so as not to wake him, so he wouldn't get chilled and admonished us to be silent, to let him sleep, let him rest from his hard job.
What are the feelings that tie you to someone who has helped you survive, to live to see the next day? I can't even begin to understand or explore that complexity so their relationship will always be a bit of a mystery to me. On the approach of their feast day I think of Józef and Józefa and St. Joseph himself, patron saint of families and workers. Did my parents pray to this saint? They never said. But when my father died, my mother ordered a headstone under which she, too, would later rest. You can't see it in the photograph very well but just above both their names, she had the sculptor inscribe in small letters the words "Together Forever."
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.