St Mary’s Church, or St Mary’s Basilica (Bazyliki Mariackiej), Krakow
Another wonderful place we visited. There are so many notable places when in Europe, that it’s hard to be in a European city/town and not come across a special place, religious or not. Krakow is no exception as it’s chock-full of wonderful old buildings. This church—St Mary’s—is a great example of a special religious building.
This brick Gothic church on the edge of the Main Market Square (Rynek Glowny) is remarkable for many reasons; its history, the two unequal towers, its gorgeous interior. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen in Europe.
A church has stood on this spot for 800 years. The original church was destroyed by the first Tatar (Mongol) invasion in 1241(as was most of the city), but all subsequent versions, including this one, were built on the same foundations.
It looks like the church has two towers, but actually the church only has one (the shorter tower), as the taller tower is a municipal watchtower—a bugler plays the hourly hejnal mariackisong from here. Why? According to a Krakow legend, during the first Tatar invasion a town watchman saw the enemy coming and sounded the alarm. Before he finished the tune, an arrow pierced his throat. So, even today the hejnalstops suddenly part-way through. There are 12 buglers these days; all are firemen first, musicians second. Each works a 24-hour shift up the watchtower, playing the hejnalevery hour on the hour, which is also broadcast on Polish national radio at noon.
Tourists pay to enter the church and enter through the door on the right side (the front door is open for those who come to pray). Buy tickets across the little square across from the side door. The church is open 11:30am-6pm Mon-Sat and 2-6pm Sunday.
Probably one of the most famous things to see inside is the finely-crafted Gothic wooden altarpiece, which is opened up noon-6pm. This exquisite high altar is acclaimed to be the greatest Gothic masterpiece in Poland, and it is alleged that Pablo Picasso proclaimed it the 8thwonder of the world!
It is a pentaptych altarpiece, meaning it has a central panel and two pairs of side wings. It was carved with remarkable details by German Veit Stoss (known in Poland as Wit Stwosz) over 12 years and finished in 1489. Stoss used oak for the structural parts and linden trunks for the figures. If you get close enough you can see scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus, done in the medieval style, such as the death of the Virgin, the annunciation, birth of Jesus, visit by the Three Magi, the resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension. The more than 200 carved and painted figures depict medieval life in detail.
But, there’s more to this church than the altar and it’s hard to walk around without your jaw dropping in awe. It’s covered in art, from flowery Neo-Gothic paintings on the choir walls, to stained glass windows, to the starry blue vaulted ceiling, to the patterned pillars, to multiple statues of various saints and other religious persons, and statues and paintings of crowned eagles, the symbol of Poland. The colorful wall paintings were designed by Jan Matejko, a Polish painter from Krakow in the 19thcentury.
If you are ever in Krakow, please don’t miss this gem.