It is said that every country has its own genius loci, its "spirit of place," meaning that particular characteristic that makes it distinctive. Holland has tulips and windmills, Egypt has the pyramids, and Italy its Roman architecture. For Poland, that spirit of place, that special individuality that marks it, must be the tens of thousands of roadside chapels, crosses, and shrines that dot both its cityscape and landscape.
Anyone who has traveled to Poland has to agree that it is impossible not to notice the innumerable crosses, religious statues, and little chapels that seem to be everywhere one looks. Enter a courtyard in Warsaw or Kraków and discover a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary mounted on a pedestal with fresh flowers at her feet. Walk down a city sidewalk and there's a figure of St. Florian or of the Holy Family. Driving through a small town, a niche under the eaves of a home contains a figure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Nailed to a tree is a little open wooden box with a small image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Quite by accident you may spy a tall wooden cross hidden in the woods, just off the beaten path, or see one standing alone and majestic in an open meadow. They are simply everywhere. Some are of a size that denote power and substance. Some are so small as to evoke a sense of humility. Some are threadbare and worn, yet emit an aura of permanence and timelessness. All of them seem to blend in harmoniously with the environment and beautify it. What are these objects? What do they mean? How did they come to be here, in this particular place? Who set them here? Why are they important?
A thousand years of Christianity, and the Polish Catholic tradition in particular, have left their mark on the landscape of Poland. Spirit of Place: The Roadside Shrines of Poland is a unique look into the tens of thousands of roadside chapels, crosses and shrines that dot both its cities and countryside and tells of Poland’s faith, history and culture.
Here are some photos from Spirit of Place: The Roadside Shrines of Poland that help tell the unique story of Poland's landscape.
Spirit of Place: The Roadside shrines of Poland published by Hippocrene Books, Inc. 2023. Available on Amazon.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023: The murder of Polish and Russian forced laborers at Hadamar, Germany
Today, January 27, 2023 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to honor those that died there and to recognize others who were victims of Nazism. Today let us remember the murder of Poland’s men, women and children who were murdered at the German hospital called Hadamar.
Beginning in 1940, thousands of mentally and physically ill German children and adults were being murdered in various facilities throughout Germany. The murders were part of a clandestine killing program named Aktion T4, named after the street address of the central organizing office located at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin. The criminally insane, patients with dementia, epilepsy and other chronic psychiatric and neurological disorders were removed from their home institutions and transported by bus or rail to special killing centers. Shortly after their arrival they were gassed and cremated. When the secret "euthanasia" program became public knowledge and led to numerous protests by the German public and German clergy, Adolf Hitler ordered a halt to it in August, 1941.
In spite of the stop order, in a short time the euthanasia program slowly and quietly resumed. Physicians in designated institutions within Germany were empowered to kill patients with chronic physical, psychiatric and neurological conditions who could no longer work or be of service to Germany.
Among the centers located throughout Germany was a small state sanitarium for the mentally ill called Hadamar. In addition to killing its own German citizens, Hadamar became the site of murdering Polish and Russian forced laborers.
Photo: U.S Army soldier guarding entrance to Hadamar Hospital where inquiries were being made into the murders of Polish and Russian forced laborers.
On March 26, 1945, U.S. military forces captured the town of Hadamar and found that 476 Polish and Russian laborers had been killed at the facility. On the basis of violation of international law, the U.S. brought charges against seven individuals who ran the institution. The case was tried in Wiesbaden, Germany on October 8-15, 1945. The court was a Military Commission appointed by the Commanding General of the United States Army, Western Military District of Germany. Known as the Hadamar Trial, the accused staff members of the institution— Alfons Klein, Adolf Wahlmann, Heinrich Ruoff, Karl Willig, Adolf Merkle, Imgard Huber and Philip Blum—were charged with the murder of more than 476 Polish and Russian nationals by injections of narcotics and ingestion of sedative drugs.
Partial list of Polish and Rusian individuals murdered at Hadamar obtained during research at National Archives, College Park Maryland.
All of the Polish and Russian men, women and children who died at Hadamar were in Germany as forced laborers and came from several different work camps and hospitals. The main patient register shows the first patients to arrive were two Polish men in 1943 followed by five Russian men and women in the earlier months of 1944. What followed after that were larger numbers of admissions from June, 1944 to the time of liberation in March, 1945. The workers were admitted to Hadamar because they were ill with tuberculosis. Instead of caring for their illness, all the workers received essentially the same treatment, with none living more than a few hours after their arrival. They were told by the staff that they were receiving medication to prevent the spread of communicable diseases but in reality all were killed either by hypodermic injections of morphine or scopolamine or by oral doses of veronal or chloral.
According to the testimony at the trial, the women and children died within twenty minutes to an hour and a half of receiving the injections. The prosecuting attorney at the trial asked:
"There was not a single Russian or Polish man, woman or child who entered that institution who left alive, was there?"
"Not one," was the reply of Heinrich Ruoff, the nurse administering the injections.
As part of the proceedings, six bodies, identified as Polish or Russian were exhumed and examined by Major Herman Bolker, a qualified American pathologist.
Mass grave of forced laborers and bodies exhumed for examination during the Hadamar Trial.
His findings indicated:
A: "Four bodies had tuberculosis. One had pneumonia which I judged to be non-tubercular. In one I found no pathology."
Q: "As to those that showed of tuberculosis, was the extent of lesion to such extent as to produce immediate death?
A: In my opinion, it was definitely not."
The dead were carried to the cellar. Death certificates were completed by the German staff. The cause of death and date of death were both fictitious and picked at random. Defendant Philip Blum stated "with the help of some insane patients I used to carry the bodies to the cemetery and bury them there. I would bury eight to twenty in one grave and I would enter into the burial book where they were buried."
The Judge Advocate of the trial wrote: "To kill these nationals of the occupied territory when illness had made the cost of caring for them greater than their value to the German Reich as laborers was a clear violation of the laws of war. "
The perpetrators of the crimes: Alfons Klein, hospital administrator and nurses Heinrich Ruoff and Karl Willig were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead at Bruchsal Prison, Bruchsal Germany. Physician Adolf Wahlmann was sentenced to hard labor for the rest of his life; Adolf Merkle confined to hard labor for 35 years; Philip Blum 30 years and, Imgard Huber, 25 years with the designated place of confinement to be Bruchsal Prison in Bruchsal Germany.
Let us light a candle in remembrance and honor of the Polish and Russian men, women and children who were killed at Hadamar, Germany during World War II as victims of Nazism.
Photographs: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Research Project.
Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide; From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. University of North Carolina Press. 1995
United States of America v. Alfons Klein et al. Case Files 12-449 and 000-12-31 M1078 Roll#2 National Archives, College Park, Maryland.
Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945. Hippocrene Books, Inc.
Photo from Semanticscholar.org. Map of the Podole region in yellow from which these excerpts are taken.
“A few days before the (Christmas Eve) supper, preparations began. First, we cleaned and then decorated a Christmas tree brought from the forest. Grandma cooked wheat berries for kutia, it had to be pounded so that the husk fell off. The kutia was cooked for about six hours, stirring from time to time so that it didn’t burn through. There was dough for pampushki (also spelled pampuszki), which mama helped her with, and we helped with setting the table. Grating poppy seeds was the privilege of our grandfather Stanisław. Grandmother Weronika allotted this very serious matter only to him. The poppy seeds had to be crushed gently so as not to break the makutra(also spelled makitra, makotra) which had been bought before the war. The makogon (wooden pestle) was made by Grandma's elder son, Władysław, when he just started working in a machine tool factory in the mid-1950's."
A makutra was a specially made clay bowl with interior horizontal grooves that helped crush the poppy seeds. Photo #1 from Muzeum Etnogaficzne Kraków. Photo #2 from Wikipedia
"We helped grandfather by holding the makutra with our hands and sprinkling in more poppy seeds and sugar. I remember how you wanted to just stop the moment and use your tongue to lick a little bit of this poppy from the makogon. The process of grating poppy seeds and cooking wheat grains took a long time. One of us jumped out to the street from time to time to look for the first star…”
Polish artists #1 Jan Wasilewski #2 T. Popiel #3 H. Ciechowicz depict looking for the first star on Christmas Eve.
“The most interesting aspect was preparing the Christmas Eve table. My older sister and father were making a diduch(also spelled didukh, and in Poland, called dziad) out of different types of ears of grain. You had to weave them together very hard so that the family was always strong not only on Christmas, but also throughout the year.(See note at end) We brought hay from a neighbor and sprinkled it under the tablecloth, part of the hay was placed in the manger. Mama would take out her most beautiful embroidered tablecloth and cover the table with it. Grandma would bring a lighted candle and the opłatek, saying: “Opłatek on the table - light on the table.” The candle was left lit until we all left for the midnight mass so that darkness would not surround our families and for everyone to clearly see their way through life.
"The next dish that went to the table was kutia richly seasoned with honey, nuts, poppy seeds. Wheat grain guaranteed the presence of bread all year round, nuts - strength and health, poppy seeds drove away even the smallest worries and honey was a reward for the most hardworking bees in the family. Apples, garlic and a coin were also placed on the table. Apples - for every child to be ruddy and healthy, garlic was to protect against diseases and various impure forces, and the coin symbolized abundance in the next year. Then, other food went to the table, fish, herring, vinaigrette, followed by cabbage stuffed with buckwheat and also mushroom soup. Mama’s favorite was pampuchy (yeast raised bun, sometimes a pancake) fried in oil, a fragrant miracle she was able to conjure up from flour, yeast, water, a bit of salt and sugar. Two kinds of drinks were allowed on the Christmas Eve table: pure spring water, so that the ideas of everyone in the family would always be pure towards others, and uzwar (compote of dried plums, apples, pears and a few viburnum berries) so that the power of the fruit strengthened the blood and soul."
"At the beginning of the supper, Father took the wafer ( in his hands and everyone, standing, said "Our Father" and "Hail Mary", and thanking God for the past year [and] holidays, asked God for blessing for the next holidays and year. Then everyone started eating, starting with the kutia. "
"For the New Year at midnight we always went to church for the thanksgiving service and the Holy Mass to welcome the new year. January 6 - Epiphany, in Podolia – was a second holy evening. After returning from the church, where the priest blessed water, chalk and gold, grandfather would write an inscription on the door with holy chalk, for example, 19 = K + M + B = 86. On that day, there was always kutia for supper. In this way, we sympathized with our Orthodox brothers who were experiencing the Christmas Eve supper."
Excerpts from: Boze Narodzenie na Podolu (Polish Christmas in Podolia) by Nela Szpyczko who interviewed inhabitants of Grodek Podolski. 2004) Tworczow Ludowy Kwartalnik.Nr. 1-4 2005.
Diduch - click on the word and the link which will take you to see traditional and current examples of a diduch.
Sending sincerest wishes to everyone for a blessed Christmas and New Year. May these special days instill hope and bring you joy, love and peace.
Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia!
Веселих Різдвяних свят!
The dish can be spelled in a variety of ways including kutia, kutya, kucya, kucyji but within the old eastern parts of Poland, which at one time incorporated the western parts of what is currently known as the Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus, it was known as kucia and kucja
Kucja was a dish of boiled wheat berries mixed with poppy seeds, honey and nuts and, for those who could afford the luxury, raisins. In these regions, whether peasant or noble, kucja was the reigning monarch, the queen of all Christmas eve dishes, the flagship dish of the evening- so much so that Christmas Eve and the Christmas Eve meal itself was often called Kucja.
It is a dish worthy of respect not just for its antiquity but for its symbolic ties to family and ancestral memory. In time now long gone from memory, it always appeared at funerals as a meal for the deceased and also during the winter solstice when kucja was left at on the graves of deceased members of the family. The poppy was considered a symbol of death and sleep, making it a link between the world of the dead and the living. The abundance of seeds was supposed to ensure fertility and prosperity in the coming year.
Wheat berries were considered life giving for within them lay the rebirth of nature. Their seeds were magical, sprouting from the earth again in the spring. Honey is as old as man himself and a symbol of health and plenty and walnuts, with their secret interior, have always been considered a gift from the gods and associated with fertility. In toto, all the elements of the dish were meant to feed their ancestors who were the source of plenty and abundance.
When the church discouraged the leaving of food at gravesites, that particular custom was abandoned but people still opened their doors and windows to encourage their departed to take a seat in their ancestral home during the winter solstice which among Christians became the Christmas Eve meal, the Kucja, in Poland called Wigilia. It was believed that at this time of the year - at the end of the old and the beginning of the new - the souls of the dead came back among the living and it was for them, the deceased, that the dish was made. It was in their honor. And that honor was expressed when, after the sharing of the opłatek, the dish of kucja was eaten first. The head of the household partook of it, solemnly followed by the rest of family members present. After everyone consumed kucja, the rest of the prepared dishes for the evening were served.
War and politics shrunk the old boundaries of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth and the lost regions came to be known as the eastern borderlands of Poland, the Kresy Wschodnie, or simply, Kresy.
Photo: Tylfomapy.pl The area on orange depicts the areas lost to Poland after WWII and called the eastern borderlands of Poland. They are now part of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
But war, changing boundaries and the migration of people cannot erase cultural memory easily. Kucja still lives on along the eastern border of Poland in the Podlasie and Lublin areas, along the Carpathian Mountains and wherever people from the old boundaries of Poland settled within the boundaries of current Poland. The custom crossed oceans and lives on in the Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Belorussian diaspora throughout the world. It’s now more commonly referred to as kutia, but variations on the name still exist. Some make it with barley and some with rice, but that, too, was another method of preparing the dish in those regions. While some still eat the dish first after sharing opłatek, as did their ancestors, the sweetness of it led it to become the closing dish of the Wigilia meal. It’s all in keeping with the saying in those regions that: “There is no Wigilia without kucja.”
Here is a recipe for making kutia from my cookbook. Not difficult but cooking the wheat berries takes some time. The dish is served at room temperature.
Look for Christmas in the Kresy. Part II: Excerpts from diaries and memoirs about Christmas in eastern Poland
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:
There’s a Polish proverb that says “Lepsze rydz niż nic.” In literal translation it says “Better the Lactarius deliciousus (saffron milkcap mushroom) than nothing at all.” On another level it’s said in situations to indicate that something was gained but not exactly what you wanted or what you got was better than nothing at all. In the mushroom picking world of Poland everyone would prefer to find Boletus edulis, the porcini mushroom, king of forest mushrooms. However, in the absence of porcini, the saffron milk cap will do.
There’s a reason this woman, who just emerged from the forest, is happy to pose for me. She holds in her hand a lovely specimen of the much sought-after Boletus edulis called prawdziwek (translates into “the true one” in Polish) and also called borowik szlachetny or “noble boletus.” It is considered the tastiest of all edible mushrooms whether dried or marinated and was the preferred mushroom for the tables of Poland’s rich and famous. Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584), a famous 16th century poet and author, described the duties of workers on his estate. There were those tending the grain harvests, the vegetable gardens, the dairy barns and then there were those assigned to gather mushrooms. Foraging for mushrooms was not a hobby like it is now but genuinely hard work as it was an important foodstuff from May until first frosts. Mushrooms were eaten fresh, dried for use in the wintertime, and when salt became widely available, they were stored by salting down or pickling.
So what about the second rate saffron milkcap? the Lactarius deliciosus? Why give it such a name if not delicious? As the proverb implies, it’s a consolation prize, something one could enjoy even if not fully what you wanted. Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz (1826-1901), the famous Polish cookbook author, wrote a lot about mushrooms and didn’t scorn it at all. "Mushrooms are collected twice a year in spring and autumn. The young tender spring mushrooms should be sliced and dried in the sun and will be like fresh when added to vegetables in winter. The fall mushrooms should be dried on a string or in the oven after baking bread or for marinating because they are longer lasting and easier to keep. Rydze begin at the end of August until late into the year. Be careful to get them as frosts can begin early in November and the rydze are lost. “
Besides drying, salting and pickling mushrooms for winter consumption, mushrooms were also collected to trade or to sell at the marketplace to buy items like kerosene, matches or shoes.
Market in Krakow 1931. Images from Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe.
I grew up listening to my mother talk about the forests of Poland where she picked berries and mushrooms with her siblings. She used the proverb Lepsze rydz niż nic a lot. It’s her I think about when on mushroom hunting excursions with my cousins in Poland.
In the third photo, my basket is the empty one behind the bouquet of heather I had picked. There were only two mushrooms left in my basket by the time my cousin finished throwing out all the non-edible ones I had picked. Embarrassing, since even little Tomek knew his mushrooms but as the proverb says, it's better than nothing at all.
Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1, 1939 marked the beginning of World War II. Over the next five years, the conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. In Poland alone, it cost the lives of an estimated 6 million people among them 3 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps as part of Hitler’s planned and carefully executed “Final Solution,” now known as the Holocaust. Photos taken by a German photographer now part of Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe(National Digital Archives) in public domain.
The assault by air destroying railroad lines.
Germans attacking an undetermined village.
Germans in trenches waiting to attack Warsaw.
Bombing of the Citadel, a Polish Army garrison,training center and depot in Warsaw
German soldiers on Grojecka Street in Warsaw by September 26,1939
Let us not forget.
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
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.