Painting by Polish artist Lela Pawlikowski titled "Matka Boska Jagodna" 1939
For many centuries the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church was celebrated on July 2. The feast day commemorates the day that Mary, pregnant with the infant Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth immediately knows that the child Mary carries is the one who will be sacrificed for the world. Elizabeth cries out “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42-45) This holy day was established in 1263 by St. Bonaventure of the Franciscan Order and then introduced by Pope Boniface in 1389 throughout the Church. As a result of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1969, the Feast of the Visitation is now celebrated on May 31, ending May - the Marian month.
In Polish folk tradition July 2nd, the Feast of the Visitation, was also called Matka Boska Jagodna, Our Lady of Berries. The day is associated with a legend in which a pregnant Mary walked many miles along lonely paths in order to visit her cousin Elizabeth. During the long journey, Mary's main food was the berries growing in the forest. Folk tradition dictated that until July 2 picking berries from the forest was to be avoided so as not to take the food from the pregnant Mary, who traveled to visit Elizabeth.
This refraining from picking and eating the berries of the forest, such as raspberries and blueberries, until that date was especially important to the pregnant women of Poland. This small sacrifice (because berries were already present and ripe for plucking by Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24) was a way of asking Mary for the grace of giving birth to a healthy and strong child. Our Lady of Berries was seen as the guardian of mothers and pregnant women, especially those who had problems with pregnancy, miscarried or had still births. Mary would also provide protection for the still born children in the afterlife.
Our Lady of Berries (Matka Boska Jagodna) depicted in folk art. National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.
Our Lady of Berries also became the patron of forest berries and orchard and garden fruit, all beliefs captured by Polish poet Leopold Staff :
Matka Boska Jagodna, Panienka Maryja,
Która owocnym, rodnym drzewom sprzyja,
Chodzi po sadzie kwitnącym i śpiewa
Pocałunkami budząc w wiosnę drzewa.
Nocą wieśniaczki jej śpiew słyszą we śnie,
Wieść, aby jagód nie jadły przedwcześnie,
Każdą jagodę z ust matce odjętą
Da zmarłym dziatkom Panna w jagód święto…Leopold Staff
Our Lady of Berries, Virgin Mary,
Who favors fruitful, fertile trees,
Walks in the flowering orchard and sings
Kissing trees awake in spring.
At night, the peasant women hear her singing in their sleep,
A message that the berries should not be eaten prematurely,
Every blueberry abstained from mother's mouth
The Virgin will give deceased children on the feast of berries ...
The Visitation is the subject of much devotional art. The Visitation of the Virgin to Saint Elizabeth Workshop of Goossen van der Weyden. National Gallery London
St. Anthony of Padua( Św. Antoni Padewski) is the patron saint of innumerable churches, parishes and sanctuaries all over Poland and it is estimated that over 198 towns derive their name from the name of St. Anthony. There is hardly a church in Poland without an altar or a statue of this saint not to mention roadside figures and chapels. The chapel of St. Anthony, carved in salt in Wieliczka, one of the oldest chapels in the mine dating to the 17th century. The first mass said in the chapel for the miners, who also took him on as a patron because they searched for “white gold,” i.e,, salt, was in 1698.
Chapel of St. Anothony in Wieliczka Salt Mine from old postcard. Public domain.
St. Antholny proved to be an excellent preacher and a person with deep theological knowledge. He began to preach the word of God earnestly as an itinerant preacher. He is usually invoked in finding lost or stolen things. “Św. Antoni, dopomóż odszukać koni!” St. Anthony help us find our horse, says the old proverb/prayer that was invoked with lost (or sometimes stolen) horses.
The history of praying to St. Anthony for lost items can be traced back to an incident in Anthony’s own life when he had lost a book of psalms that was very important to him for teaching students in his Franciscan order. A novice who had grown tired of living religious life decided to depart the community and also took Anthony’s psalter with him. Upon realizing his psalter was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him. The novice became conrite over his actions and was not only moved to return the psalter to Anthony but returned to the Franciscan Order as well. Shortly after his death people began praying through Anthony to find or recover lost and stolen articles.
St. Anthony of Padua is generally depicted in a brown Franciscan habit, having taken vows with the Franciscan order who spread his popularity throughout Poland. He is typically portrayed holding the child Jesus (who was to have appeared to him) in his arms, or a lily (symbol of a pure life devoted to God), or a book (he was canonized as a Doctor of the Church) or all three. His feast day is celebrated today, the 13th of June.
Excerpted from upcoming book: Spirit of Place: The Roadside Shrines of Poland by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
Photo of St. Anthony shrine by Michał Zalewski located in Zwiartów, Lublin region, eastern Poland.
.Sometimes it takes many years to find our way to our life’s true work and purpose. Oftentimes it begins in a completely different place. You find yourself meandering off in various directions. Nothing sticks until one day there’s a particular moment, a sudden epiphany, and the path straightens and the way becomes clear.
Such was the case with Adam Chmielowski, in later life better known as Brother Albert. He began his career as a student, became a soldier who lost a leg while fighting for Poland’s independence, found fame as an artist, joined a religious congregation, got sick and become a patient in a mental institution. He overcame his depression, began using his artistry to renew the interior of churches and the small roadside shrines that dot the landscape of Poland. Then one day a priest friend lent him a book on the Rule of St. Francis. For Adam it became his “Aha!” moment. All the pieces fell into place and he finally found his way to his life’s purpose. Utilizing St. Francis as his role model, Adam began working with the poor and homeless of Poland.
He went on to established his own branch of the Franciscans, the Servants of the Poor, who are sometimes called the Albertine Brothers. A few years later he helped found a women's congregation with the same intent of helping Poland's poor.
Much can be written about how he created homeless shelters and lived with those he served. He created decent life conditions and jobs in order to give dignity to the hopeless and needy. He established houses for homeless children and teenagers, facilities for people with disabilities, for the elderly and the incurable. He showed the world how, in his words, ”to be as good as bread” to others.
Brother Albert used bread as a metaphor to indicate how it sustains and nurtures life and that we can be like bread. We can sustain and nourish others though our behaviors and interactions with others. I know I am not capable of such great acts such as Brother Albert’s but his guiding principle in life raises this question for me: If I can’t be a whole loaf of bread for others like he was, doing great, monumental things, can I be at least a bite of bread for others each day? Can I do small things to help sustain and nourish others, both physically or emotionally?
For all the twists and turns along life’s path, Brother Albert eventually came to be called “Blessed” and later “Saint” Albert Chmielowski. He is depicted here in a stained glass window at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Pile, Poland as a Franciscan, holding a loaf of bread. Others depicted (from the left) are Jacek Odrowąż (St. Hyacinth), King Kazimierz(Casimir) Jagiellończyk, and Edmund Bojanowski.
He asked of us “to be as good as bread” (in Polish, “ powinno być dobry jak chleb") to others. His feast day is today, June 17th.
Photo of Albert Chmielowski: Wikipedia
Today is the feast day for 108 Catholics from Poland who were killed by Nazis during World War II. The group includes three bishops, 52 priests, 26 men and eight women from religious communities, three seminarians, and nine lay people.
Pictured here is Sister Julia Rodzińska(1899-1945) of the Dominican order, one of the eight religious Polish women beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.
At the time of her arrest by the Gestapo in July 1943, Sister Julia was head of an orphanage in Wilno and against all the rules of the German occupation of Poland, secretly taught Polish language, history and religion to the children of the orphanage
She was charged with political conspiracy and contact with underground partisans, jailed and tortured, and then sent by cattle car to Stutthof concentration camp where she was given the number 40992. From that time on she was brutally treated and suffered starvation along with the other women of Barrack 30.
She shared her food, her clothing and rendered what care she could to those suffering from the typhus epidemics that were raging through the camp. Sr. Julia would not abandon the sickest among them even though the piles of dead bodies surrounded the barrack kept growing. At a time of tremendous physical and psychological trauma, of beatings and unbearable workloads, Sr. Julia constantly called on her faith to keep her strong and inspired her fellow prisoners.
Her life ended on February 20, 1945 at Stutthof, infected with typhus while serving the dying Jewish prisoners. Surviving witnesses stated: "In the conditions of degradation, she was able to direct us to other values, spiritual values ... For us she was a saint, she gave her life for others.” Her naked body was thrown on a pile of dead corpses that surrounded the barracks. At a time when a blanket or a piece of cloth meant the difference between warmth and life and the very possibility of freezing to death, someone covered her lifeless, naked body with a piece of cloth, out of honor and respect.
Requiescat in pace.
December 28. Feast of the Holy Innocents, recognized as the first Christian martyrs. On this day the Catholic church commemorates the execution of all children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem under the orders of Herod, king of Judea, in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews. According to the apocryphal legends of the New Testament, the edict by Herod led to the Fight into Egypt by the Holy Family in order to keep the newborn safe from Herod’s murderous intent. The Flight into Egypt has been depicted over the centuries by artists all over the world including Polish art and artists.
To the left is the famous 15th century painting by unknown Polish artist titled Mistrz Tryptyk Dominikanskiego (Dominincan Tryptich) from the 15th century located at the National Museum in Kraków. The image became Christmas stamp in Poland in 1974.
Another image is by a later artist named Piotr Stachiewicz that depicts the fleeing family wandering through a Polish village, receiving a bow from a local peasant.
The event was also a theme for Polish folk artists such as this sculpture by artist Tadeusz Adamski.
One of the most popular Polish religious folk legends regarding the Holy Family fleeing from Herod focuses on the hazel tree. The Blessed virgin and Infant hide under its low spreading branches and are saved from King herod's assasins. Perhaps because of its history in protecting the infant Jesus, the leaves of the hazel tree were often used in folk medicine in the care of children, adding it to their bath water to help the children grow strong and to walk early.
Another theme that takes place during the flight was The Rest on the Flight to Egypt, also the subject of paintings by artists around the world. It also rooted itself in Polish legends and beliefs. One is about the herb known as sage. During the time when the Holy Family was fleeing to Egypt from Herod, they took rest near a clump of flowering sage. In order to make the rest of the Holy Family pleasant, the plant scattered all its flowers before Jesus, creating a sweet and aromatic carpet. As a reward, God gave the plant the power to heal all diseases. Ever since, the herb has been tied to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In Władysław Reymont’s Noble Prize-winning book Chłopi(The Peasants: Summer)one of the central female characters named Hanka says “I have vowed to go to Częstochowa for Our Lady of the Angels.”
The gospel gives several connections between angels and the Blessed Virgin Mary such as the Annunciation when Mary is told she would become the mother of Jesus; the appearance of angels to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus; the angel informing Joseph that he is to flee with God’s child into Egypt. Reference is also made in the much-loved Litany of Loreto (Litania Loretanska, in Polish) which intones “Queen of Angels, pray for us.” (Królowa Aniołow, modł sie za nami) but as a feast day, I was unfamiliar with Our Lady of the Angels. Hanka (or rather her creator, Władysław Reymont) was referring to The Feast Day of Our Lady of the Angels also known as the Portiuncula (Porcjunkuli, in Polish), observed on August 2nd.
The story begins in Assisi, Italy and with St. Francis of Assisi.
During the first centuries of the Christian era, pilgrims returning from the Holy Land built a small chapel at the foot of the mountain on which Assisi, Italy is situated. This chapel together with a small plot of land was later given to St Benedict in the 6th century and given the name Portiuncula, meaning, Little Portion.
In 1209, St. Francis obtained from the Benedictines the use of the Portiuncula, for which he apparently paid the sum total of a basket of fish. He set about restoring what had become a dilapidated chapel, was joined by others, gave it the name Our Lady of the Angels and is considered to be the cradle, the beginning of the Franciscan order: the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M).
One night, while praying in the chapel, St. Francis saw our Lord and His holy mother surrounded by angels and heard the voice of the Lord saying He would grant St. Francis some special request. After a few moments of reflection, St. Francis asked that anyone visiting his little sanctuary, who were contrite and having confessed their sins, receive a plenary indulgence, that is, a pardon, a forgiveness of their sins.
(The Miracle of the Porziuncola. Painting by Antonio de Oliveria Bernardes(1698) Cathedral of Evora, Portugal)
St. Francis petitioned the pope to be able to offer this spiritual boon to the faithful. It was granted with the restriction that the indulgence could be gained on that one day of the year, on 2nd of August, that being the anniversary of the little chapel's dedication. It became a holiday celebrated by all Franciscans around the world as the patronal feast day of the Franciscan church and monasteries.
The conditions for forgiveness included: confession of sins, attending mass, receiving holy communion, the recitation of the Lord's Prayer or some reaffirmation of one’s Christian beliefs. From that time on, the Portiuncula, the little chapel also called Our Lady of the Angels, became the site of numerous pilgrimages by devout individuals seeking pardon for their sins. It became known as the Pardon of Assisi and was later extended throughout the universal Church and not limited just to the pilgrimage site in Assisi. Anyone participating in a pilgrimage or attending their parish church on this day could unburden their sins and receive forgiveness.
Władysław Reymont lived, observed and wrote in the little village of Lipce where the setting for Chłopi (The Peasants) take place. He began writing in 1897. The fourth and last book in the sequence, “Summer”, was first published in the Polish language in 1909 making it clear that over a hundred years ago, the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels was an important part of the spiritual practices of the Łowicz region in Poland.
Struggling to manage the house and farm singlehandedly while her husband was in jail, fears of her losing her husband’s affection, and troubled by her feelings of hurt and anger and inadequacy, the character Hanka sought refuge, solace and forgiveness, by taking a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey to a sacred space on that special feast day. In Poland, that most sacred space was (and still is) Częstochowa. She sought comfort for what ailed her heart and soul… in her faith… on the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels on August 2nd.
You’re most likely to see a statue of him near rivers and bridges. He is known as the patron saint of water, bridges, and of farmers who have fields they want to protect against floods. He is often found near wells and springs, watching that they not dry out. He is also considered the patron saint of the drowning with his statue erected at sites of a drowning. Today, May 16, is the feast day of St. Jan Nepomucen. (Święty Jan Nepomucen).
Born in Nepomuc, Bohemia near Prague, St. John was and ardent minister who was murdered by King Wenceslaus IV when he refused to reveal what he had been told in confession. The king ordered that his hands and feet be bound and weighed down with rocks and thrown into from a bridge into the Vlatva River in Prague in the middle of the night. The year of his death was 1393. The cult of St. John Nepomucen began to spread in Prague soon after his tragic death.
In 1638, even before his beatification, a statue of St. John Nepomucen was erected on the Charles Bridge in Prague. The figure depicts the saint standing in priest’s clothes consisting of a cassock, surplice and stole, his head covered with a traditional priest’s biret and a nimbus of five stars surrounding the head. In one arm he cradles a crucifix and in the other holds a palm, the traditional symbol of martyrdom. It is this image that is the most widely reproduced of St. John Nepomucen throughout all of Poland .
The Jesuits promoted St. John Nepomucen throughout the known continents as the patron saint of a good confession. He is patron saint of confessors and those who wish to control their tongue from excessive talking so he is sometimes depicted with a finger against his lips in the traditional symbol of silence or sometimes holding a padlock. Sometimes he holds an open prayer book in both hands.
Considering the great number of shrines dedicated to this saint, it is clear he is much loved and venerated in Poland.
Top photo: Wikipedia. Lower photo: by author in Baranow Sandomierski, Poland
Over the centuries, the Feast of St. Andrew, celebrated on the night of the 29th through the 30th of November, stole the limelight from that of another saint. In Polish customs and tradition, it was a night of magic and fortune telling observed by young marriageable girls to divine who their future husbands might be. This custom, called andrzjeki, was once the province of just young girls but over time included young men and became what amounted to be a party with lots of teasing and merriment. Completely forgotten was St. Catherine of Alexandria, the third century virgin and martyr, who from the time of the Middle Ages, was the patron saint of young men and pious bachelors and patroness of a successful marriage in Polish tradition. It was on the evening of her feast day on November 24th into the 25th, that young men sought to determine something about their future marriage partners. The custom was called katarzynki, after Katarzyna, the Polish name for Catherine.
On this night, young men curious about their future paid special attention to their dreams: a white hen - meant a wedding with a maiden; a black hen - a wedding with a widow; a hen with chicks - marrying a widow with children; an owl - meant a wise but unmerry wife; a pigeon – a wife that was sweet and kind, but unfortunately, not too bright: a gray horse meant he would remain a bachelor for life.
Just as important as finding out her marital status and personality characteristics, was finding out her name. The men used a similar method as the girls during their night of St. Andrew's fortune-telling. Instead of cards with the image of St. Andrew , used by the girls, young men used holy cards with the image of St. Catherine, and on the back of the cards wrote the names of females they were interested in and placed them under their pillow overnight. This action gives understanding to the Polish proverb, “W noc świętej Katarzyny, pod poduszką są dziewczyny,” meaning, “On the eve of St. Catherine, the girls are under the pillow.” In the morning one of the cards would be drawn blindly from under the pillow to determine the name of the future wife.
Having learned these details about their future bride, there was still another detail to discover: would all this happen soon? To find out, it was necessary to cut a cherry branch (and some sources say apple or other fruit bearing tree) and put it in the water on Saint Catherine's day. If the branch bloomed by Christmas, it meant a wedding soon and a happy marriage.
In the end, as patroness of young bachelors and happy marriages, it was recommended that the young men attend church or a chapel and pray to St. Catherine for help and guidance in matters of the heart.
In Christian iconography, St. Catherine of Alexandria is always depicted with a wheel, the instrument of her torture and a palm, the symbol of martyrdom. Her image was often adopted as the crest for various noble families and for Polish towns and villages, such as the one above for Nowy Targ in southern Poland.
She is the patron saint of marriages, mothers, widows, bakers and sailors.
In paintings and iconography she is often depicted with the Virgin Mary as a girl or with the Virgin Mary and little Jesus such as the one shown above, painted by Leonardo de Vinci in 1508, now hanging in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
One of the most famous churches carrying her name can be found in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. Formerly known as Wilno, the city was at one time part of the Polish-Lithuanian empire until the partitions of Poland. The church was built by Polish King Aleksander Jagiellonczyk beginning in 1501, right within the same time period as Leonardo was struggling to pay homage in his own vision of the saint. In much later years, it was said that even Napoleon, after seeing the church during the Franco-Russian war in 1812, coveted the architectural jewel built of 33 different kinds of brick.
In Poland, Saint Anne enjoys unflagging popularity with 184 churches built in her honor as well as numerous sanctuaries, the largest located southeast of Opole in Silesia and called Górze Świętej Anny, the Mountain(or Hill) of St. Anne. The Franciscan monastery and the Church of St. Anne, built in 1209 and sitting high at 1,263 feet above sea level, is a unique place of worship visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. They are drawn by the miraculous figure located on the main altar known as Św. Anna Samotrzecia, the word "samotrzecia" an old Polish word meaning threesome or three of us, roughly meaning the St. Anne Threesome: the three figures of St. Anne, with her daughter Mary and grandson Jesus, in her arms. (below)
Yet, we do not find any word of Anne in the New Testament. The only information about her comes from apocryphal writings, that is, writings from the beginning of Christianity by unknown individuals, and subsequently of doubtful authenticity but remains part of the church traditions. The writings say that Anne was from Bethlehem and married a wealthy young man from Nazareth named Joachim. They were devoted to one another but their happiness was marred by the lack of children. They prayed for a child but years passed without an answer. Anne was considered barren when at the age of 45 an angel appeared announcing that they will become parents. In gratitude for the gift of an offspring, the parents offered their only child, Mary, later known as the Blessed Virgin Mary, to God.
The cult of Saint Anne appeared around the 4th century and expanded over time with increasing reverence towards the Virgin Mary. It was born among those who wished to place themselves in the care of the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus. Families, brides, spouses, women expecting offspring, childless women, mothers, grandmothers and widows placed themselves under her care and protection.
It is generally acknowledged that St. Anne was born on a Tuesday. In the folklore of the people of the Tarnów-Rzeszów region of Poland, it is believed that whosoever burns a candle to St. Anne every Tuesday throughout the night and prays to her, will not be afflicted by poverty.
The successful marriage of St. Anne is reflected in the Polish proverb that says, "Szczęśliwy kto na świętą Annę wyszuka sobie pannę"
"Fortunate is the man who finds himself a young woman on the Feast of St. Anne."
Happy name day to all Anne's, Anna's, and Hanna's and the numerous variations in Polish such as Ania, Anka, Hanka, Hania.
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.