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Carmelite Church in Krakow

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Carmelite Church in Krakow, Poland

Krakow’s Carmelite Church of Piasek

Since 1397 the Carmelite church in the Piasek neighborhood has been one of the most prominent shrines of Krakow. The church, dedicated to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is fairly centrally situated just one block from the Old Town historic district. Spiritually, its status as a hallowed place has been largely enhanced thanks to the veneration of the image of Our Lady of Piasek which adorns one of the walls.

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History of Krakow’s Carmelite church.

According to tradition, Duke Wladyslaw I Herman, who ruled Poland from 1079 to 1102, founded the church in the Piasek neighborhood of Krakow in 1087. In Polish, “piasek” means “sand” and the sand from the place where the church of the Carmelite church now stands allegedly cured the Polish monarch of severe facial carbuncles. He had a dream in which the Blessed Virgin Mary instructed him to find sweet-smelling violets and apply sand from under them to his face. The grateful duke founded a church on the site but its construction was abandoned after his death.

According to documents, in 1395 the royal couple of Queen Jadwiga and King Wladyslaw II Jagiello founded the Gothic church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1397 the first Carmelite friars arrived to take care of the church and live in the adjoining monastery. The church and monastery stood outside the medieval city of Krakow, some 200 meters from its fortifications. This doomed them to devastation on several occasions when the city was besieged. 

 

The present church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary dates from 1679 and is a baroque basilica with the front elevation modelled on the architecture of the Church of the Gesu (Chiesa del Gesu) in Rome. An outside alcove by the southern wall of the church, next to the Chapel of Our Lady of Piasek, holds a Calvary scene consisting of three sculptures of the 18th century showing Jesus Christ on the Cross and two crucified thieves against a background of Jerusalem painted in 1937. A low cornerstone of the Chapel of Our Lady of Piasek, secured with a metal mesh, bears a barely visible indentation in the stone allegedly being a footprint of Saint Queen Jadwiga.

Inside, a monumental high altar of 1700 covers the entire back wall. Its central scene depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary visiting Saint Elizabeth.

Pope John Paul II has granted the title of a minor basilica to Krakow’s church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1997.

Our Lady of Piasek in Carmelite Church in Krakow

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Piasek in Krakow

The present chapel of Our Lady of Piasek, designed by royal architect Giovanni Trevano, was erected in the years 1637 to 1641 next to the southern wall of the church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The solemn baroque structure is topped with a gold-plated statue of Our Lady with the baby Jesus of 1678.

The pious citizens of Krakow have always considered Our Lady of Piasek (Matka Boza Piaskowa) in the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the most reliable protectress of their city. The Madonna they have venerated at the Carmelite church in the Piasek neighborhood and often called Our Lady of Krakow, painted on the church wall by an anonymous artists, dates from circa 1500. Tradition has it that angels completed the picture overnight when its painter had gone to sleep and soon a strong light emanating from the painting and angelic music woke up monks and other people who lived nearby.

The miraculous image of Our Lady of Piasek depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus as the Mother presents her Child with an apple. They are flanked by two angels playing violin, who are barely discernible, faded and obscured by the frame of the altar. Originally, the painting adorned the outer wall of the church, next to its side entrance, and was visible from the outside. Since 1641 the picture has been enshrined inside a baroque chapel, added to the church, which replaced an earlier modest Gothic structure from the 16th century.

Evidently from the outset the image the Madonna of Piasek has become renowned for mercies obtained through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Also Poland’s king Jan III Sobieski (John III) maintained that his victory over the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Vienna was attained through the prayers in Krakow’s Sanctuary of Our Lady of Piasek.

The image of Our Lady of Piasek has been canonically crowned with papal crowns in 1883.

Other points of interest in Krakow’s Carmelite church

Another side chapel of the basilica is dedicated to Our Lady of the Scapular. It dates back to 1645 and was rebuilt in 1779. The chapel was erected as the symbolic seat of Krakow’s once immensely popular Archfraternity of the Holy Scapular, a devotional association embracing the poor as well as the rich, men and women, started in the 16th century. The chapel’s high altar of the mid-19th century holds the picture of Our Lady of the Scapular of 1761. 

The architecture of a large monastery adjoining the Carmelite church of Piasek mostly dates from the late 17th century. The ground floor of its great cloister is accessible through the gate at Karmelicka street from 8 am to half past noon and from 2 pm to 5.30 pm September through June, and 8 am to noon as well as 3 pm to 5.30 in July and August. Barrel vaults of the cloister are decorated with the 18th-century frescos which depict the story of the Carmelite church in Krakow and its Sanctuary of Our Lady of Piasek. The cloister’s intricately carved, gilded baroque altar of circa 1700 contains the picture of Madonna, though often covered with a painting depicting Blessed Francus of Francavilla. A grand staircase leads to two upstairs stories of the cloister.

Visitor information for the Carmelite church in Krakow

The Carmelite church and monastery stand on the corner of Karmelicka street and Garbarska street, their facades facing the former. They are situated within easy walking distance of the Old Town historic district of Krakow: just 500 meters northwest from the city’s Rynek Glowny central square, down Szewska and Karmelicka streets.

The Holy Mass is celebrated in the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Bazylika Nawiedzenia Najswietszej Marii Panny) at 6 am, 6.30 am (except July and August), 7 am, 7.30 am (except July and August), 8 am, 9 am, noon, 4.30 pm, and 7 pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and at 6 am (except Christmas), 7 am (except Easter), 8 am, 9 am, 10 am, 11 am (for children), noon, 1 pm, 4.30 pm, and 7 pm (for the youth) on Sundays and principal feast days.



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