Four major sanctuaries in 21st century Poland

Polish religious architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries offers four major shrines, representative of the faith of the people and the way Poland has lived through the turn of the millennium.

Ignacy Soler-October 16, 2017-Reading time: 5 minutes
Sanctuary of St. John Paul II in Poland.

The most representative shrines are the basilica-shrine of the Sorrowful Mother of God and Queen of Poland, in Licheń; the shrine of Mercy in Łagiewniki, in Krakow; the shrine of St. John Paul II, also in Łagiewniki; and the temple of Divine Providence, in Warsaw.

Sanctuary of Licheń

Whoever visits Poland immediately discovers a great devotion to the Mother of God. It is said that the heart of Poland is in Jasna Góra, next to the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. But it beats also in Licheń, in the sanctuary built on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Birth of Christ and dedicated to the Sorrowful Virgin, Mother of God and Queen of Poland.

The history of this dedication dates back to May 1850, when the Blessed Virgin appeared on several occasions to the shepherd, Nicholas Sikatka, to ask him to pray the rosary and the prayer of atonement and petition, as well as to ask him for a worthy place for her image, which dates back to the end of the 18th century. In fulfillment of this wish, the construction of a sanctuary slowly began.

Around her mantle, the Virgin Dolorosa has the attributes of the Passion of the Lord and the legend: "With the weapons of the Passion of Christ Mary armed herself when she was preparing to fight the devil.". In the center of the mantle stands out the image of a crowned white eagle (which appears in the coat of arms of Poland), to which the Virgin gazes, as Christ on the cross to the beloved disciple, and the words are read: "Woman, behold thy son - Behold thy Mother.". The Queen of Poland looks at her people and makes the pains of the Polish nation her own pains.

The present temple was built between 1.994 and 2.004. It is the largest temple in Poland; it can accommodate 3,000 people seated and 7,000 standing. The architects and decorators have managed to harmonize the majestic with the functional and popular, and to favor prayer. While those who consider some of the chapels or images from the more than one hundred years of the church's history to be in poor taste may have a point, the same cannot be said of the new church, with its great golden dome that from a distance blends in with the wheat fields, or its elegant classical marble façade. On the esplanade, 250,000 pilgrims gather, where families from all over Poland pray, rest or visit the religious stores. 

This is a place of encounter with Christ and his Mother, of spiritual renewal, of physical and emotional rest, of encounter with culture and history.

Sanctuary of Mercy

The presence of Pope Francis at the Shrine of Mercy in Łagiewniki, precisely during the WYD in Krakow in 2016 and in the Year of Mercy, contributed to spreading the fame of this place and of the message and figure of St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who lived and died here.

The construction of a convent of the Congregation of the Mother of God of Mercy dates back to 1891, but the fame of the place is linked to the growth in the number of pilgrims to the tomb of Sister Faustina, the devotion to the image of the Merciful Jesus and the pilgrimages of St. John Paul II in 1997 and 2002. 

The basilica was built between 1999 and 2002. When John Paul II consecrated it on August 17, 2002, he said: "I pray that this church will always be a place of proclamation of the message of God's merciful love; a place of conversion and penance; a place of celebration of the Eucharist, the source of mercy."

It has a capacity for 1,500 people seated and 3,000 standing. It is a functional construction, with a wide and white nave, almost empty, in the shape of a boat; it is not beautiful, and one has the feeling that something is missing. But the Mercy of God covers everything with a patina of understanding and, if one looks at the sanctuary with good eyes, one ends up liking it. The masses of pilgrims, more and more numerous, have a dignified and spacious place to celebrate the liturgy.

Sanctuary of St. John Paul II

Cardinal S. Dziwisz consecrated the shrine of St. John Paul II on October 16, 2016. It can accommodate 3,000 people, 800 of them seated. It is located on the land where the Solvay chemical factories, where Karol Wojtyła worked in 1941 and 1942, used to be, just one kilometer from the shrine of Mercy. The contrast between the style of one shrine and the other is great. Both are connected by a large esplanade and a bridge over the watercourse that separates the two grounds.

The temple is adorned with mosaics by Slovenian artist Marko Rupnik SJ. Their colorfulness, together with the abundant light, fills the church with joy. They are full of details that make them a visual catechesis of the main teachings of St. John Paul II.

It has an octagonal plan and is made of white marble. On the main facade there are two inscriptions in Latin, very dear to the Polish Pope: Nolite timere - Aperite Portas Christo. The three splendid bronze doors stand out. The main one depicts St. John Paul II opening the door to many saints, and the other two contain fourteen bas-reliefs representing the life of the Pope in relation to his fourteen encyclicals. 

Inside, the glass ceiling reveals the sky, symbolically uniting the Creator and the creature. In the chapel of Our Lady of Fatima is the cassock worn by the Pope on the day of the attack in St. Peter's Square. On the ceiling of the crypt, an eight-point star alludes to Mary, Stella MarisOn the altar there is a relic of the blood of St. John Paul II. The walls of the crypt are decorated with paintings of the visits of the Polish Pope to Marian sanctuaries, and there are several side chapels.

The sanctuary is part of the complex of buildings of the John Paul II Center 'Do not be afraid'.whose purpose is to study and promote the teachings, life and social initiatives of Pope Wojtyła, recognized as the most important figure of that nation. 

Temple of Providence

The new parish church of Divine Providence in Warsaw is majestic, modern, well harmonized with its surroundings, but also controversial and not to everyone's taste. 

Its history dates back to 1791, when the parliament of the Republic affirmed in a decree the desire of all the estates to build a church dedicated to the Supreme Providence, as a perpetual remembrance of thanksgiving. However, soon after Poland was invaded by the Russian army and divided between Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the church was never built. In 1999 the parliament took up the old promise and decided to build the church. Work began in 2,003, and the consecration took place in 2016. It is integrated in the Providence Center which, in addition to the temple and a crypt, includes a pantheon with tombs of personalities of the political, cultural and religious life of Poland, as well as a museum of St. John Paul II and the Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński whose opening is planned for 2018. 

The plan is in the form of a Greek cross, with four gates symbolizing the four ways by which the Poles have achieved freedom: Prayer, Suffering, Defense and Culture. The purpose of the church is to thank God for the reconquest of freedom and to pray for the homeland. The dome is open and its square of light falls just above the altar. In the central nave there is room for 1,500 people seated, and as many standing in the side aisles. The altarpiece is a large empty wall, like a large screen that allows all kinds of projections; thus, the place offers a great venue for sacred music concerts and cultural, religious or patriotic shows. 

St. John Paul II is a central figure in the history of the Church in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. A main aspect of his humanity is his Polish roots, of which he was proud and which he always defended and promoted (Temple of Providence). He also stood out for his love of Our Lady (shrine of Licheń). He was the Pope of the family, but above all the Pope of Divine Mercy (Łagiewniki). And he was, finally, the evangelizing Pope, who proclaimed Christ everywhere: "Do not be afraid!" (John Paul II Center), was the cry of his inaugural Mass on October 22, 1978. It is still heard today: do not be afraid to be saints!

The authorIgnacy Soler


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