Cracow churches

Cracow is known as the city of churches. The abundance of landmark, historic Roman Catholic churches along with the plenitude of monasteries and convents earned the city a countrywide reputation as the "Northern Rome" in the past. The churches of Cracow comprise over 120 Roman Catholic places of worship, of which over 60 were built in the 20th century.They remain the centers of religious life for the local population and are attended regularly, while some are often crowded on Sundays.

Here you can read about some prominent examples of Cracow churches.

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The Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Stanisław and Vaclav

The Royal Cathedral on the Wawel Hill,  also known as the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Stanisław and Vaclav, is Poland's national sanctuary with 1000-year-old history. It was the coronation site of Polish monarchs. It is also the burial ground of most Polish royalty as well as the greatest national heroes, poets and saints, which makes it the most important necropolis in Poland.

 

Inside there are a number of excellent sarcophaguses of Polish Kings, dating from the 14th to 20th century. The center of the nave is occupied by the mausoleum of St. Stanislaw, the main Poland's patron saint, the 11th-century Cracow bishop murdered by King Boleslav II. The cathedral is surrounded by eighteen chapels, full of art treasures. Among them the 16th century Sigismund Chapel is considered one of the most notable pieces of architecture in Cracow and perhaps "the purest example of Renaissance architecture outside Italy." It was built by Bartolommeo Berrecci, a Florentine architect, who also designed the Wawel castle as well. The Cathedral is also connected to the Pope John Paul II, who was the archbishop of Cracow between 1964 and 1978.

St. Mary's Basilica

St. Mary's Basilica is a Gothic church built in the 14th century adjacent to the main market square of Cracow. It is particularly famous for its magnificent wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss (Polish: Wit Stwosz), which is the largest Gothic altarpiece in the World and a national treasure of Poland.

On every hour, a trumpet signal, a bugle (Polish: hejnał) is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off mid-bar to commemorate a 13th century trumpeter, who, according to the legend, was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack on the city. The noon hejnał is heard across Poland and abroad, broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station.

St Adalbert's Church

St Adalbert's (Polish: Sw. Wojciech) is one of the oldest churches in Cracow. It is situated in the corner of the Market Square close to Grodzka St. The thousand years' old legend says that St. Adalbert consecrated the church in 997 and preached there before going on his mission to bring Christianity to Prussia (where he was killed in martyrdom). It is a beautiful little church that shows the thousand years of history of architecture, starting with the Romanesque door frame in it. It shows also the level of the Market Square dating from the 11th century. Under the church there is the Museum of the History of the Market Square.

St Andrew's Church

St. Andrew Church, located in the Old Town (Grodzka St)., was built between 1079-1098. It is a rare surviving example of the European fortress church used for defensive purposes. During the Tatar invasion in 1241 it served as a shelter for the Cracow citizens. Built in Romanesque style it is one of the oldest buildings in Cracow. Since 1320 it has been owned by the Order of St. Klara's. The present interiors are Baroque and feature beautiful stucco decorations by Baltazar Fontana, paintings by Karol Dankwart and gilded altars.

 

St Peter and Paul's Church

The Church of St Peter and Paul (Grodzka St.) was built between 1596-1619 and founded by the Jesuit Order by King Zygmunt III Waza. It resembles the Il Gesu church in Rome. Built in Baroque style, it has one nave surrounded by a number of chapels. The entrance doorway is decorated by the sculptures of the 12 apostles. In the monumental interior there is a late Baroque Main Altar constructed in the 18th century by Kacper Bażanka with the painting "Granting the Keys to St. Peter", by Józef Brodowski. The crypt inside the church contains the remains of Piotr Skarga, a distinguished Polish priest, whose monument stands right opposite the church.

St Archangel Michael and St Stanislaw Church "on the Rock"

St Archangel Michael and St Stanislaw Church "on the Rock", known as "Na Skałce", is one of the most famous Polish sanctuaries. The Baroque church stands on the site of the previous Medieval church, where the Bishop of Cracow saint Stanislaus was slain by order of Polish king Bolesław II the Bold in 1079. This action resulted in the king's exile and the eventual canonisation of the slain bishop in 1253. Stanislaus became then the main patron saint of Poland (buried in the Cathedral on the Wawel Hill). Before their coronation, all new kings came to this site to carry out a solemn ritual of penitence and expiation. The crypt underneath the church serves as a "national Panthéon", a burial place for some of the most distinguished Poles.

Franciscans' Church

Franciscans' Church (Franciszkańska St.) was founded in the 13th century by Duke Henry the Pious for Franciscan monks coming from Prague. The church was a witness of many historical events, e.g. Wladyslaw Jagiello - the pagan Lithuanian chosen by the Poles as their king - was baptised and then crowned here in 1386.

The present neo-Gothic interior contains magnificent Art Nouveau stained glass and wall paintings of flowers forming a hymn to St.Francis by Stanislaw Wyspiański, carried out after the disastrous city fire of 1850. The northern chapel contains Stations of the Cross painted by Jozef Mehoffer.

The monastery cloisters contain a gallery of portraits of the Bishops of Cracow. The monastery itself was the home of St. Maximilian Kolbe before his deportation and martyrdom at Auschwitz.

Dominicans' Church

Dominicans' Church (Stolarska St.) dedicated to the Holy Trinity was erected in the 13th century in place of the former pagan temple. Especially worth noting is a beautiful 14th century stone portal, richly ornamented with carved floral motifs and a 15th century bronze slab commemorating the humanist scholar Kallimach, designed by Wit Stwosz. The chapel of St.Hyacinth features a beautiful stucco decoration by Baltazar Fontana  and contains the tomb of St.Hyacinth.

St Catharine's Church

St Catherine's Church, founded by Kazimierz Wielki in 1363 for the Augustinian order, is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Poland. It is a three-aisle basilica with no towers and no transept. The Baroque high altar has a magnificent painting showing St Catherine. The ceiling bosses spell out "Kazimierz". The church's gardens are surrounded by high walls - 14th century remains of the old town of Kazimierz.

Corpus Christi Church

The Corpus Christi Church was founded by Kazimier the Great in 1340. It was the first church in Kazimierz and for a long time the main parish church. The front elevation has a Gothic gable but the interior is Baroque with a beautiful high altar (1634-7), massive stalls in the chancel and an 18th century boat-shaped pulpit. St Anne's Chapel houses the tomb of Bartolomeo Berrecci, the creator of the Zygmunt Chapel in the Wawel Cathedral and the Wawel Castle. The church was used by Charles X Augustus as his headquarters during the Swedish siege of Cracow.

St Anne's Church

St Anne's Church (St. Anna St.) is one of the leading examples of Polish Baroque architecture. For centuries this church was as much a university building. Official inaugurations of the academic year still take place here, their center point being the parade of robed professors to the auditorium for the opening lecture.  The present building replaced the medieval University church when it became too small for the cult of St Jan Cantius (1390-1473), the patron saint of the Jagiellonian University who is laid to rest there. The church was designed by the royal architect Tylman van Gameren in 1689-1703, based on the S.Andrea della Valle in Rome.
The magnificent plasterwork and the altars, the most important work of Baltazar Fontana, are especially worth noting in this beautifully ornate church.