Home Altars During Holy Week
Holy Week in Poland has always been a busy time of refreshing the interior of the house in preparation for Resurrection Sunday. The walls of country cottages were freshly whitewashed, windows cleaned and simple paper curtains hung. One of the items that received special attention during this time was the home altar.
At one time, home altars could be seen in almost every cottage in Poland. In its earliest form it was a small shelf hung in the corner of the room, on the east side of the house between two windows. Below it was a table. It was considered the holy corner, the swięty kąt. It was here that a crucifix was placed as were holy images of the Blessed Virgin Maty and patron saints. The table below it was covered with a white tablecloth and, according to Polish ethnographers, where the woman of the house kept a loaf of bread wrapped in a linen cloth. Bread and salt were kept here. For Christmas, a bowl of kutia, a dish of honey and wheat berries, was placed here. It was also under this shelf, in this corner, that a sheaf of wheat or rye was placed on Christmas Eve and kept until the Feast of Three Kings. It was here that priests and special guests were seated when they visited
Over time, the corner shelf began to disappear. The holy pictures were still hung in the corner but the table became the repository of the crucifix, Blessed Virgin Mary, or special souvenirs brought back from pilgrimages. As a rule, the rosary was hung on the cross, in such a way that it entwined the upper arm of the cross, while the cross from the rosary hung freely in front of the standing cross. A pair of candles flanked the cross or sometimes just one. In spring and summer, bouquets of fresh flowers were placed on either side of the cross. In the winter when they were unavailable, bouquets of flowers were made from the small feathers of domestic poultry.
In the first decades of the 20th century, crepe paper came to the villages through traveling traders and small-town shopkeepers. Polish housewives began using the colorful paper to make flowers to decorate the home altar. It was this work, among all the others, that kept the housewives and their daughters so busy in the days leading up to Holy Week. They dusted holy pictures, washed and starched the tablecloth and made crepe paper flowers so that during Holy week all would be in readiness. Not everyone was able to afford such an altar, so neighbors came together with those who could, to pray and praise God together.
Photo by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab in the Kurpie region of Poland
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.