The underground chapel known as the Bethlehem Chapel, Ossolin
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The underground chapel known as the Bethlehem Chapel

Ossolin

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An exceptional example of ecclesiastical architecture with very few counterparts anywhere else in Poland, this unique chapel remains the venue of intriguing Christmas Eve celebrations, worthy of inclusion on the list of Poland’s intangible heritage.

History

Ossolin is mostly known for the historical castle ruins, tracing their roots back to the 14th century. The castle was later extended in the first half of the 17th century by the crown chancellor Jerzy Ossoliński, who transformed it into a monumental, Late Renaissance residence for himself. However, there is also another notable historical monument in the village, founded by the very same individual, namely the subterranean Bethlehem Chapel – a structure which more than makes up in uniqueness for what it lacks in grandeur. Jerzy Ossoliński, the voivode of Sandomierz and, later, the crown chancellor, funded the construction of the chapel in 1640; many years later, his descendant, Józef Salezy Ossoliński, restored and redesigned the chapel in 1769, as evidenced by the inscription placed above the vestibule entrance. It was also during that period that the stone statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on the western side of the chapel. In the years 1982-1983, the chapel underwent restoration. The chapel continues to be surrounded by legends which say that the soil used to form the mound above the structure was allegedly brought by Ossoliński all the way from Palestine. What is certain is that a handful of Palestinian soil was embedded in its walls by a group of pilgrims from Radom in the 17th century, with another, likewise symbolic quantity being deposited on the site in 1996. In addition, the area around the chapel is the only place in Poland where festivities preceding the Shepherds’ Mass are held on Christmas Eve; for quite some time now, these have also been accompanied by a staging of the Adoration of the Magi as well as by lighting open-air fires. These intriguing customs forming part of the local intangible heritage contribute to the exceptional aura which surrounds the Bethlehem Chapel.

Description

Built using split stone and brick, the chapel was designed as an elongated tunnel-like structure with a barrel vault, featuring a pair of diagonal annexes at its eastern edge. The southern annex features a bipartite aperture with a Tuscan column in the middle. The nave is separated from the vestibule by a simple wall with a door and a window as well as a small, marble lavabo. The front wall of the vestibule, topped with a triangular, sculpted pediment, is made of brick and features a large, arched opening framed with a decorative surround made of sandstone blocks. The side walls flanking the chapel are made of sandstone. Above the arched aperture there is a marble inscription confirming that the chapel was founded in 1640 and redesigned in 1769. The tunnel-like interior of the chapel lies beneath a conical earthen mound, surmounted by a slender, brick lantern topped with a cross. The chapel itself is preceded by a pair of pavilions made of sandstone blocks, positioned west of the chapel itself and commonly referred to as hermitages. These structures are arranged in a symmetrical manner, flanking the walking path which leads up to the chapel vestibule. At the western edge of the walking path there is an axially positioned stone statue of the Virgin Mary with Child, standing atop a tall plinth and a stylised, composite column. The entire complex is surrounded by a stone wall, designed on a quadrangular plan.

The building can be viewed from the outside.

Compiled by Aleksandra Ziółkowska, 05-12-2015

Bibliography

  • Record sheet of monuments of architecture, Kaplica podziemna zwana „Betlejemską” (underground chapel known as the Bethlehem Chapel), prepared by J. Maraśkiewicz, 1986, Archive of the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Kielce, Sandomierz Branch Office.
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, vol. III, issue 11, Warsaw 1962.
  • Kazimierza Stronczyńskiego opisy i widoki zabytków w Królestwie Polskim (1844-1855), vol. II: Gubernia Radomska, prepared by K. Guttmejer, Warsaw 2010
  • Sobieszczański F.M., Zawaliska zamku i kaplica betleemska w Ossolinie, “Tygodnik Ilustrowany”, no. 164, 1862.

General information

  • Type: chapel
  • Chronology: 1640 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Ossolin
  • Location: Voivodeship świętokrzyskie, district sandomierski, commune Klimontów
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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