St. Mary’s Church in Cracow
The two-tower, brick silhouette visible from Floriańska Street is a kind of flagship of Krakow. Around the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, colloquially known as the St. Mary’s Church, there are always tourists who came here to listen to the bugle-call, see the famous altar by Wit Stwosz or learn about the legend of two brothers.
The history of the church
Initially, the temple was built in the Romanesque style, only in later years it was rebuilt into a Gothic basilica with a facade covered in two towers and a magnificent presbytery, the founder of which was rich townsman Mikołaj Wierzynek.
At the end of the fifteenth century, at the end of the Gothic era, the church’s decoration was enhanced by the extraordinary work of woodcarving art – a huge altar made by master from Nuremberg, Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss).
The eighteenth century was a period of baroque initiated by the archpriest of Jacek Łopacki. It was then that the baroque porch was erected at the entrance from the Market Square. Only a lack of funds helped save the work of Wit Stwosz /Veit Stoss, which was also planned to be replaced with a more modern Baroque altar.
The temple was thoroughly restored in the nineteenth century. Then there were created the painting decorations depicting the starry sky on the ceiling and the figures of angels, heraldic signs and texts of Marian prayers on the walls. Their author was Jan Matejko, and his students – Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer- helped him.
The history of the construction of towers is described by the legend of two brothers who built them. One of them was the first to finish his work and began to fear that the second tower would be higher and would eclipse his work. Therefore, he committed a terrible crime – he killed his brother. However, the guilty conscience gave him no peace, which is why he soon committed suicide by throwing himself out of the tower.
The lower tower covered with a Renaissance dome is a bell tower. There are four bells hung on it: Półzygmunt, Tenebrat, and Misjonał (Missionary) and the oldest one called Campana Antiqua
The upper tower, topped with a helmet with a spire in the crown and eight turrets, is called Hejnalica, also called Strażnica- Watchtower. The guard watched her day and night who was trumpeting the opening and closing of city gates, and warning when the enemy was approaching. One of the most famous Krakow legends tells of a Tatar invasion during which a bugle-player warning about the approach of the enemy was hit by a Tatar arrow, and the melody was interrupted. To commemorate this trumpet story the bugle call played up to now every hour always breaks in half.
Altar of Wit Stwosz
The famous St. Mary’s altar is a pentapot or altar with a pair of wings – movable and immovable. With the wings closed, we see quarters with bas-relief scenes from the life of Mary and Christ. The open altar shows in its central part an apocryphal scene of the fall of Mary surrounded by the apostles. Above, we see the scene of the Assumption, and in the finial the Coronation of the Mother of God.
It is the largest preserved gothic altar in Europe, and work on it lasted twelve years. The sculptures curved by Wit Stwosz impress with their realism, there is a great concentration on the figures depicted, going far beyond the forms adopted in Gothic style. Wit Stwosz was ahead of his time, taking the first step towards Renaissance humanism.
- At the entrance from Pl. St Mary’s medieval marten has been preserved, so-called the rump of penitents in which petty criminals were seized.
- Hanging on the facade of the lower tower a small bell, covered with a roof, is called „bell for the dying.” It is one of three preserved bells of this type throughout Krakow
- Sundial on the façade from pl. St Mary’s is a work of Tadeusz Przypkowski from the 1950s. The Latin inscription says „Our days as a shadow on earth, and you have no extension.”
- If we had a pair of binoculars, we could see that the stone decorations in the upper parts of the building present very interesting scenes. The artists, masons aware that they will not be visible from the level of the Market with the naked eye, let their imagination run presented bizarre creatures and fantastic performances.
Part of the church along with the altar of Wit Stwosz is available to visitors from 11:30 to 18:00 (on Sunday from 14:00 to 18:00). The entrance is from the side of St. Mary’s Square, there are also cash registers where you can buy tickets at the price of 10 PLN normal and 5 PLN reduced. The back of the church, to which the entrance from the Market Square leads, is intended for prayer in silence and confession.
You can also visit the higher tower – Hejnalica. Entrances every half an hour are possible from 9:10 to 17:30, and on Sunday from 13:10. In the period from April to October, the tower is available every day except Mondays, while in March, November and December you can visit only from Thursday to Saturday. It is closed in January and February.