Monastery complex, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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When, in 1600, the Voivode of Cracow Mikołaj Zebrzydowski saw a blazing cross above Mount Żar, he recognised it as a sign of divine providence. The devout magnate firmly resolved to raise in the grounds of his estate a chapel of the Holy Cross modelled on the Golgotha Chapel in Jerusalem. It was consecrated one year later. A chapel of the Holy Sepulchre and a Franciscan monastery were raised next to it, the entire foundation being placed in the care of the monks. The church and monastic complex was designed by the Jesuit architect Jan Maria Bernardoni. Eventually, Zebrzydowski decided to transform the local Beskid landscape into a replica of Jerusalem at the time of Christ (in reality, a certain vision of the Holy City was recreated, based on a popular map of the period drafted by the 16th-century cartographer Christian Adrichon). In an atmosphere of religious fervour the Skawinki Stream was renamed the Cedron, Żarek became Calvary, and Mount Lanckorońska became the Mount of Olives. In his desire to recreate faithfully the site of the Passion, the founder sent one of his servants to Jerusalem with orders to take measurements; however, as the servant was slow in returning, Zebrzydowski decided to take matters into his own hands, making use of helpful hints from a chaplain. When it transpired that the distance between the chapels was greater than that in the Holy Land, the Voivode concluded that: “for every one of Christ’s steps we should take even ten”.

After Mikołaj Zebrzydowski’s death in 1620 the project was continued by his son, Jan. At the turn of the 17th century the church was enlarged, adding a substantial nave and a façade with twin towers. The richly decorated Baroque interior features a revered painting of the Virgin and Child dating from the first half of the 17th century, located in a chapel next to the chancel. Without this icon the church would never have attained such an exalted rank - Kalwaria was the private undertaking of a pious magnate up until the moment that the church received a painting of Our Lady, who was seen to be weeping blood. Other points of interest in the church include the openwork, double-sided main altarpiece dating from 1723 - an excellent example of Baroque woodcarving. The choir stalls behind the altar are adorned with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The monastery underwent several episodes of redevelopment, though it retains its historic character with its oldest part, modelled on 17th-century palazzo in fortezza residences, clearly recognisable. The walls enclosing the monastic complex retain some defensive features, which, whilst not making the monastery into a fortress, nonetheless protected it from robbers tempted by the church’s votive offerings.

The chapels of the Calvary, designed by Paul Baudarth, are notable for their artistic quality. From 1604 to 1617 the following were built: Pilate’s Palace, Christ’s Sepulchre, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Capture of Christ, the House of Annas, the House of Caiphas, Herod’s Palace, the Tomb of the Virgin, Taking the Cross, the Heart of Mary, the Second Fall of Jesus and the Cenacle. Jan initiated the construction of the East Gate, the Cedron Chapel, the First Fall of Jesus, the Cyrenean, Veronica, the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs), the Chapel of the Discovery of the Holy Cross, St Helen’s hermitage and eight Marian chapels. The chapels of the Crucifixion and the Virgin’s Tomb were enlarged. These chapels take a variety of forms: heart-shaped, rose-shaped, cruciform, quadrangular, circular and elliptical; their aesthetic charm is enhanced by being crowned with cupolas, towers and turrets. The chapels lie at the heart of traditional acts of worship known as the Pathways of Our Lord, the Pathways of Our Lady, and the Pathways for the Souls of the Departed. They also provide a backdrop for the most striking religious ceremonies: Passion plays and processions commemorating the Dormition and Triumph of the Virgin Mary.

The Calvary complex represents a planned landscape park composition: the tree-lined pathways are park alleys, and the views which they open out on afford the composition a unique quality. Of all the European Calvaries, this one is exceptional in its individualist features and the particular way in which it fuses the sacred with the natural. These were among the attributes recognised when Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

General information

  • Type: sacral architecture
  • Chronology: pocz. XVII - poł. XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
  • Location: Voivodeship małopolskie, district wadowicki, commune Kalwaria Zebrzydowska - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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