Meeting the legacy left by St. Pope John Paul II amidst ancient historical ruins, cathedrals and streets of England, Ireland and Scotland.
England October 2, 2023
I would have missed it altogether. I was looking at the inscription on the stone floor marking the place of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 when the tour guide suddenly spoke about Pope John Paul II and pointed out the memorial plaque on the side wall commemorating his visit to the chapel. On May 29, 1982, two major church leaders – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, the leader of the world-wide Church of England, and Pope John Paul II, leader of world-wide Roman Catholic Church knelt together in silent prayer in the spot where Thomas Becket, also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, was murdered when he opposed his king and placed the rights of the church before any government interests.
The Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom, which had begun the day before, made history. It was the first time a reigning pope had ever visited the country.
From left: the newer altar (1986) at Canterbury (author photo); Pope John Paul and Robert Runcie at prayer (Canterbury Cathedral photo); the commemorative plaque on side wall of the chapel (author photo).
Ireland October 8, 2023
Clonmacnois was a stop on our way to Dublin. Located at the geographical center of Ireland, Clonmacnois was founded by St Ciarán and his small band of monks. It became an outstanding spiritual center for one thousand years where people sought silence, renewal and a sense of the sacred. There really was something otherworldly about the ruins and the location. And again, it was the tour guide who startled me when he said Pope John Paul II visited the ancient ruins of Clonmacnois in 1979 and pointed to the modern covered structure where he said mass during his that visit.
Pope John Paul II became the first pope to ever visit Ireland when he had arrived in Dublin the day before for a three-day visit .
From left: Ruins at Clonmacnois (author photo);Pope John Paul II at Clonmacnois in 1982 (Clonmacnois photo); covered building where Pope John Paul II celebrated mass during his visit (author photo).
Scotland, October 11, 2023
In Edinburgh, Scotland our hotel was on Princess Street, almost directly across from the magnificent Balmoral Hotel, once a great railway hotel built in 1902. It is a main thoroughfare and highly traveled. I discover that it was on this very same street that His Holiness traveled in his pope mobile during his visit to Edinburgh in 1982. Some 40.000 young people from all over Scotland came to greet him, singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone” referring perhaps to the pope’s constant reminder in his many addresses and homilies “that you are never alone, Christ is with you on your journey every day of your lives.”
He became the patron saint of World Youth Day.
Photos from Edinburgh Herald News 2022 in a retrospective of his visit 40 years earlier.
He was: the first non-Italian since 1523 to become Pope; the longest serving Pope in history; a Pope that circled the globe fulfilling a mission to be present to all, praying with Anglicans, Jews and Catholics alike; a man so many agree to be the most consequential pontiff of modern times.
Something I also didn’t know. As a result of Pope John Paul II’s special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he had the following Latin motto engraved on his coat of arms: “Totus Tuus,” meaning, "I am totally yours." It was taken from a book written much earlier by St. Louis de Montfort’s (1673 – 1716) titled True Devotion to Mary. The full line reads: “Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt… I am totally yours and all that I have is yours.” He entrusted himself and his purpose completely to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The small, unexpected encounters during this trip; to see and be in a few places of what I know to be a very, very tiny portion of the travels and sphere of influence of St. Pope John Paul II, felt extraordinary and very personal.
(Photo left from St.Peter's Basilica)
Photo credit on Princess Street: https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/heritage-and-retro/heritage/the-pope-in-edinburgh-40-years-on-here-are-27-amazing-pictures-of-pope-john-paul-iis-visit-to-the-capital
The Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for "Body of Christ") is the day on which the Catholic Church commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, it is celebrated annually on the church calendar on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, this year falling on June 8.
Holy Eucharist in monstrance carried in procession in Kadzidło, Poland. Author photo.
The feast day, called Boże Ciało in Polish, has been widely and solemnly celebrated in Poland since the 16th century and continues to this day. The Holy Eucharist is carried through the streets in a monstrance and stops at four different altars where it is venerated and adored.
An important custom of the Feast of Corpus Christi was the weaving of wreaths as small as the palm of the hand made of different herbs. This was especially true in rural, agricultural villages and areas where herbs and plants could be grown in home gardens or found in nearby fields and meadows.
In the Podlasie region, an area which runs along the Narew River in northeast Poland, the women wove nine small wreaths, each made from a different herb: thyme, hazelwort, stonecrop, lady's mantle, sundew, mint, rue, daisy, and periwinkle. Other plants which could also be used included lovage, sage and linden.
Lady's Mantle in author's garden.
Weaving a wreath made from Lady's Mantle for Corpus Christi. Images from Muzeum Rolnicztwa im. Ks. Krzysztofa Kluka in Ciechanowiec.
The wreaths were hung on the 4 different altars and then taken to church where they stayed for the week following Corpus Christi. The wreathes were believed to gain strength and power due to their proximity to the Holy Eucharist.
When the eight-day celebration of Corpus Christi was over, the blessed wreaths were taken home and served a variety of purposes. Healing infusions were prepared from the dry herbs of sage or linden for coughs, colds and sore throats. Some wreathes were placed under the foundation of a newly-built house to ward off evil spirits and protect the inhabitants who lived within. In Polish folklore it was said that when Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) called przywrotnik was thrown into the home fire, the smoke would disperse storm clouds that threatened the destruction of crops.
Wreathes of Lady’s Mantle were hung above the entrance to the house, near windows and on the walls above holy pictures, believing that it protected the house against fire, storm and lightning strikes.
Wreaths of Lady’s Mantle were also burned on hot coals, incensing sick people as well as ailing animals.
Lady’s Mantle can easily be grown in the garden. As a perennial, it does well in shady areas and is quite hardy in cold temperature regions. If you just want to add the yellow-chartreuse flowers to a dry arrangement for your home altar perhaps, they hold up pretty well after hanging the stems upside down in an airy space for a few weeks.
For more on the flowers and plants once essential to the people of Poland available in: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine, Hippocrene Books, Inc.
For more images on the making of Corpus Christi wreaths: muzeumrolnictwa.pl/aktualnosci/archiwum/rok-2018/wianki-w-oktawe-bozego-ciala
November 11 marks the feast day of St. Martin of Tours or, as called In Poland, Marcina. Legend claims that when the church wanted to make Martin a bishop he hid from the pope’s envoy among the geese, but his hiding place was betrayed by their constant honking. Being roasted was supposedly their punishment for revealing his hiding place. Another explanation rests with the fact that Advent, a time of strict fasting, was quickly approaching on the church calendar and gave way to feasting in anticipation of that four week period. Whatever the origin, the feast day has been celebrated with a goose in the oven for those who could afford the luxury.
The domestic goose has been part of a Polish barnyard for centuries. They were kept not only for meat, but also for eggs and feathers. Goose feathers were used to fill down filled quilts called a pierzyna as well as pillows that guaranteed warmth and a good night's sleep. Goose lard was widely used in cooking, but also in folk medicine as a salve on the chest in the treatment of respiratory ailments or in areas of rheumatic pain and joint degeneration.
Geese could be purchased at the local market. The text on the right indicates "geese at the market for St.Martin in Racziborz." The most popular is the white kołuda goose, originating from Kołuda Wielka near Inowrocław.
Here is a recipe for preparing the goose from a Polish cookbook titled “Praktyczny kucharz Warszawski” (Practical Warsaw Cook) dated 1894.
(Take) a carefully cleaned goose, scald it with vinegar, salt it, stuff with apples cut into quarters, add a little marjoram inside, bake in a roasting pan, pouring first with broth or water, and then with the fat that has leaked from it. Sprinkle with flour on top to brown. Cut into neat pieces, place on a platter, and surround it with the filling/ baked apples. You can also stuff the goose with whole potatoes that will bake, together with the goose, or make the filling from thick buckwheat groats, which you cook in boiling water, mix with butter, marjoram and fill the goose. Goose schmaltz left in the roasting pan fried with apples and marjoram and strained into a clean dish, will keep it for a long time.”
The business of scalding the goose with vinegar is curious but marjoram has always been known to aid in the digestion of meat. And the goose schmaltz in not unfamiliar to me either. My mother prepared it whenever she cooked a goose - only without the apples...and applied it liberally to our chests when we had a bad cough.
Last note: Currently, Poland is counted among the largest goose producers in the European Union
Read about my experiences with geese while growing up Polish American
When Jadwiga (the name translates into Hedwig in English) Andegaweńska came to Kraków from Hungary in the early spring of 1384 she took her place in Polish history as the only woman ever crowned king to the Polish throne.
(Queen Jadwiga by Italian painter Marcello Bacciarelli (1768-1771) who painted a set of portraits depicting nearly all Polish kings)
She maintained her position after her marriage to Jagiełło of Lithuania, but in the documents of the time, Jadwiga Andegaweńska was not called the king (rex), but the queen (regina) according to her gender. One of the conditions of the marriage was that Jagiełło convert to Christianity and Christianize Lithuania. He agreed. Their union brought the two countries together into one of the most powerful unions of the time not just through dynastic marriage but through the Catholic faith.
(Baptism of Lithuania depicted by Polish painter Władysław Ciesielski 1845-1901)
During her lifetime, Jadwiga Andegaweńska was not just a figurehead, nor a quiet, praying ascetic. Yes, her faith and religion was at the forefront of her life. She prayed seven times a day, during the canonical hours. These are known as matins and lauds (usually counted as a single hour) said in the middle of the night; prime, at sunrise; terce, 9 a.m.; sext, noon; none, 3 p.m.; vespers, sunset; and compline, bedtime. Every day, without exception, she also took part in the Holy Mass. She fasted rigorously during the 200 days dictated at that time by the church. She brought the Carmelite order to Poland from the Czech Republic, established new churches, donated generously to the monastery at Jasna Góra, and showered those first Lithuanian Catholic churches with chalices, books, monstrances, crosses, paintings, and liturgical vestments. She was also a ruler who combined piety with ambition. She took an active role in church affairs and butted heads with popes and the clergy. She was a patron of the sciences, donating all her jewels for the renewal of the Academy in Kraków to promote study in all fields and established a theological studies department there as well.
Even though Poland was not her homeland (her claim to the throne came through her relationship to the Piast Dynasty, the first ruling family of Poland, through both her mother and father), she won the hearts of her subjects with extraordinary goodness. Queen Jadwiga paid great attention to hospitals and was generous with alms to the poor. She looked out for the little man, frequently inviting the poor to eat at the castle. A separate table of simple dishes of buckwheat groats, sour rye soup, cabbage, peas, sausages, herring, bread and beer was prepared for them in the utility rooms, which everyone could eat to their heart's content
While Jadwiga Andegaweńska was famous for her piety, she was, after all, a woman of flesh and blood. As a young woman she loved beautiful clothes, jewels, tournaments, dances and banquets. She liked rice cooked in milk with almonds and raisins, fresh cucumbers drizzled with honey and was very fond of the precursor to today’s bagels called obwarzanki - rings of baked yeast dough which can still be bought on the streets of Kraków.
(Example of obwarzanek - smaller and thinner than today's bagel)
She was also fussy about her bread, sending inferior bread away from the table with someone dispatched in great haste to another town 10 kilometers away to buy better bread.
Jadwiga also liked beer! The Queen, despite the fact that she came from Hungary, famous for its wines, preferred beer to wine and was able to drink up to 2 liters a day. (Let’s remember that beer with meals was the staple at the time and water was only something to wash with, not for drinking).
Oftentimes confused with another formidable Polish queen, that of Queen Jadwiga of Śląsk(Silesia) who lived in an earlier century, Jadwiga Andegaweńska Jagiellonczyk was named after that particular Jadwiga but carved her very own story that lives on so many centuries later. She personified the Polish saying of someone who was “do tancza i do różańca” that is, suitable for dancing and the rosary, an all-around person who could enjoy life and be devout at the same time.
She lived less than 26 years. She died in 1399 after a very hard childbirth. She is buried in Wawel Cathedral.
In his homily at the time of her sainthood in 1997, Pope John Paul II proclaimed that “She gave the whole nation an example of love for Christ and man - a man thirsty for both faith and science, as well as for daily bread and clothing. Let us draw on this example today…”
We celebrate her feast day today on October 15. Happy name day to all named Jadwiga and Hedwig!
Sources and credits:
The year 1410 saw one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages under the command of Polish King Władysław Jagiełło(1386–1434) when he defeated the troops of the Teutonic order at the Battle of Grunwald. The King’s banner in battle was adorned with the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. On the lips of Polish soldiers was the song Bogurodzica (Mother of God), becoming the first act of giving Poland’s armed forces to Our Lady of Częstochowa.
Our Lady of Częstochowa on roadside shrine. Łysaków, Poland. Edward Knab photo.
In the time of the “Deluge” when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and it was thought that the country was lost to the foreign invaders, the one place that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Częstochowa.
Close up of depiction of Seige of Jasna Góra in 1655 by Polish artist Janaury Suchodolski. 1845. Wikipedia photo.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine),King John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. ” Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries.” Polish troops went on to victory.
King Michała Korybuta Wiśniowski ( reigned 1669- 1673) vowed the same at Jasna Góra on December 7, 1669. In his war against the Ottoman empire, he begged the mother of God “Support me and this Kingdom – not mine, but yours, in all troubles.”
When King Jan Sobieski III (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. With Mary's name on their lips, and her likeness painted on their armor and flying high on their banners, the kings and knights of Poland fought against the Tartars, the Turks, the Swedes and all foreign invaders.
King Jan Sobieski wearing a ryngraf, originally used as plate armour worn in battle to protect the throat. Wikipedia photo.
During the 123 years of partitions of Poland, when Poland as a country was erased from the maps of Europe, Our Lady of Częstochowa at Jasna Góra became a symbol of identity and unity. Poles in all three partitions regarded Jasna Góra as a symbol of their national sovereignty and in spite of the political situation, remained alive in the nation’s collective consciousness. “Our Lady” was the sovereign of the country, the Queen of Poland and the Grand Duchess of Lithuania and nothing could change that.
During the Uprising of 1863-1864(also known as the January Uprising), an insurrection principally in the Russian partition to restore the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, every insurrectionist wore a small scapular with the picture of Mary as a reminder that through her intercession, Mary was the nation’s hope for regaining its freedom and becoming an independent nation again.
In 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War with the Red Army, Polish soldiers again asked the Mother of God for help, and ended with a sensational victory in Warsaw called “Cud nad Wisła, the “Miracle on The Wisła.” According to the soldiers' reports, it was the intervention of Mary and her appearance over the site of the battle that caused the victory. In memory of the event which took place August 13-25, Polish Army Day was established in 1923, to be celebrated on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, the day she was to have appeared in the battle. In 1950, the communist authorities changed the date to October 12, but in 1992, in a free and independent Poland, August 15 again became Polish Army Day.
In 1939 with the outbreak of World War II, Poland’s men and women went underground, became a resistance force called Armia Krajowa (the Home Army, abbreviated AK) and fought the German occupiers throughout the five-year struggle. Their vow begins with: “In the face of Almighty God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Polish Crown, I swear to be faithful to my homeland…”
In 1944, in the battle for Monte Cassino in Italy, considered to be among the most important land battles of World War II, it was the soldiers of the 2nd Polish Corps, led by General Władysław Anders, who ultimately opened the way for the Allies to march on Rome. An image of Our Lady of Częstochowa was on the field altar for holy masses after the battles.
Throughout the centuries, the protection of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been sought by knights, confederates, insurgents, legionnaires, scouts, partisans, and soldiers in the fight for a free and independent Poland. She was their constant source of support and hope. She was their supreme hetman, the spiritual high commander, of Polish armies in battle.
Some of the above are excerpts from forthcoming book titled Spirit of Place: Roadside Shrines of Poland. Available October 2022.
You can listen to Bogurodzica, Poland’s oldest hymn here www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziCfs5tES_Y
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.
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.