The Calvary of the Bernardine Monks has been on the UNESCO list since 1999. Located at the foot of Mount Zar, it is called „Polish Jerusalem” and attracts about one million pilgrims every year.
Their origins are connected with Mikołaj Zebrzydowski who was the governor of Kraków. He and his wife had a vision one night. They saw three fiery crosses hovering over Mount Zar. In response, Zebrzydowski founded the Church of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and, two years later, gave the land to the Bernardines. Construction of their church and monastery began in 1604.
The Italian architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni was the designer of the complex, while the Flemish goldsmith Paul Baudarth also had a hand in its construction. The buildings were designed in the Dutch Mannerist style and later expanded in the Baroque style with Rococo elements. Today, the basilica houses, among other things, a miraculous painting of Our Lady of Calvary from the beginning of the 17th century.
In 1609 Zebrzydowski started a new project. He began to build shrines, churches, and structures in the vicinity of a complex of buildings to commemorate the Passion of Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary. These buildings grew out of a natural mountain landscape, and ultimately 28 stations would be built on the Way of the Lord Jesus and 24 stations on the Way of the Virgin Mary, recreating important Christian sites in Jerusalem like Calvary, Zion, and the Mount of Olives. Over an area of 6 square kilometers, pilgrims would traverse the 5-kilometer route. Since the 17th century, these structures have miraculously remained almost unchanged.
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Kalwaria Zebrzydowska – Architecture
The Sanctuary is widely known for having preserved its Mannerist style. This term, which is difficult to define, refers to the art movement between the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It is characterized by subtlety, refinement, and an artificial touch, but lacks the excessive ornamentation of later styles. All of these characteristics are present in the design of the Calvary Foundation.
Some of the buildings in the area were built later. They are still in the Baroque style. One example is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. It has a Mannerist choir and a Baroque nave. There are also some art historians who have identified Rococo elements in the Zebrzydowski Chapel. In addition, the chapels that have been built over time have Mannerist features (the oldest ones).
Sanctuary and Monastery – Sightseeing
Kalwaria is an ideal destination for a full day’s sightseeing. You can easily spend a couple of hours touring the basilica and the monastery. Depending on the route you choose, the walk along the paths can take from two to five hours. An excellent way to explore the area and enjoy the beauty of the place is to take an easy walk. The winding paths will take you around the monastery, allowing you to admire its architecture and take in the atmosphere of the area.
Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
The main entrance of the church is located in Paradise Square. This square received its name only in the 19th century, when sculptures of saints were placed on the fence surrounding it, arranged from left to right: Simon of Lipnica, Anthony of Padua, Bonaventura, Francis of Assisi, Jesus, Mary, Clare, Louis of Toulouse, Bernardine of Siena, and John of Dukla. Nowadays, the wall of sculptures separates two squares: the outer Indulgence Square and the inner Paradise Square.
- Pictures and Google Maps Location: Here
I suggest you start the tour in the corridor connecting the church and the presbytery. Here, in the dark recesses, you will find several Baroque religious paintings, such as „The Last Judgement” and a copy of „The Dance of Death” from the Bernardine Church in Krakow.
Next, you can go to the main nave or directly to the chancel. Take a moment to admire the organ prospectus, which dates from the early 18th century. As you explore the church, be sure to marvel at the longest nave, which was built at the end of the 17th century.
There are two 18th-century side altars dedicated to St. Francis and St. Mary Magdalene in front of the choir. The most fascinating works are the polychrome paintings on the walls of the rainbow arch and on the ceiling, created by Wlodzimierz Tetmajer and Karol Polityński in the Art Nouveau style.
As you will see, Tetmajer’s paintings depict figures in folk costumes as part of the Calvary procession for the burial of the Virgin Mary in the early 20th century. Other paintings show scenes from Mary’s life. Polityński’s work is partly based on Tetmajer’s designs and partly on his own concepts. It is characterized by the unique haloes around the angels’ heads.
Altar In Basilica
In the center of the sanctuary there is an 18th-century altar with a statue of Our Lady of the Angels, which Zebrzydowski acquired from Loreto in the 1690s. The altar has two sides. The second side can be seen when entering the choir from the monastery. At the beginning of the 17th century, the modern monastery choir had two floors – the sacristy was on the ground floor, and the infirmary, or the room for sick monks, was on the upper floor.
You’ll find a large crucifix from the original decoration of the Church of the Crucifixion inside the altar. The crucifix is set against a silver plate engraved with Calvary chapels. Here you can also have a seat in the pews dating from 1630.
The Zebrzydowski Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Our Lady of Calvary, is located on the left side of the nave. It is characterized by massive columns and pilasters. It was founded by Michal Zebrzydowski in the 1750s and 1760s. The ceiling is decorated with rococo stucco and 19th century paintings. The painting of Our Lady of Calvary, also known as Lady in Weeping, can be found in the chapel’s center. It’s uncertain when or by whom it was created, but it is believed that it was painted in the first half of the 16th century.
The painting was brought to Kalwaria by Stanislaw Paszkowski, who claimed that Mary was weeping bloody tears. The bishop of Krakow was skeptical. That’s why the painting was first hung in the sacristy. After 15 years, when the cult of Mary was still strong, the church authorities gave permission for the painting to be on display in the temple. Today, every pilgrimage to Calvary stops here.
You can enter the chapel from the side of the nave or from the outside (from the square behind the temple), where you’ll pass St. Anthony’s Chapel with its 17th-century furnishings, built thanks to the noble endowment of the Duchy of Oświęcim-Zator.
It’s best to visit Kalwaria Zebrzydowska with a local guide to make sure you see all the sights. The Viridarium is the former garden of the monastery, in the center of which there is a fountain. Along the corridors of the Viridarium, you’ll find ancient paintings depicting the founders of the monastery. You can also see the room where John Paul II used to stay when he visited this place. Here you will also find a collection of the Pope’s memorabilia.
The real gem of this place are the chapels connected by the „pathways”. These paths refer to the routes that a pilgrim would take between certain landmarks. Currently, there are two main routes: the Lord Jesus Way (28 stations in 24 chapels) and the Virgin Mary Way (24 stations in 11 chapels). There is also the Roman Way of the Cross and the „Paths of the Dead”. Some of the chapels belong to several paths at the same time.
It’s worth mentioning that these architectural objects are not only historically important but also hold significance for Catholics. The Church of the Crucifixion and the Chapel of the Heart of Mary are important places for believers to reflect and pray. The gradusy is considered a place of penitential devotion, as it is meant to be walked on one’s knees in imitation of the Holy Steps in Rome. The tomb of Our Lady is an important place of devotion to the Virgin Mary, and the bridge over the Cedron River is significant because it represents a key moment in the Passion of Christ.
Other Interesting Sites
The Crucifixion of the Way of the Cross is located at the back of the basilica. It was built in the 17th century. It served as a defensive structure until 1747, when it was transformed into a place of worship. Inside there were confessionals and the Stations of the Cross, which were expertly carved. Two of the towers have been converted to chapels, Saint Anna and Our Lady of Sorrow. Under St. Anne’s we will find a monastic tomb.
The arcade courtyard behind the cloister is closed on the south side by an 18th-century entrance gate. On the other side, there is a scale model of the monastery and the chapels that surround it. You can also find a restaurant, a souvenir shop, a pilgrim’s house, and toilets. For the convenience of visitors, everything is easily accessible and well-marked.
Before You Visit – Practical Information
The city is accessible by car. There are several parking lots near the Basilica, including a large parking lot in the Piazza del Paradiso. If you need it, taxis and rental cars are also available on site. Overall, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is well connected and easily accessible.
How Much Time Will I Need to Visit?
Well, it is difficult to know exactly how long it takes to visit all the local attractions. Generally, if you’re traveling in a group and making stops for prayer, it takes about 5 hours to complete the route of the Marian Trails. If you’re traveling alone, the time may be longer or shorter. It’s important to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to explore, no matter which route you choose.
Where Do I Begin?
The starting point of the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Calvary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is considered to be the Service Square near the gate leading to the Arcade Courts. It is located on the south side of the basilica. Maps of the chapels along the pilgrimage routes can be found in several places. You can find one of them on the left side of the corridor right after entering the basilica.
However, for a more comprehensive and convenient experience, I suggest that you use the mobile application „Dróżki Kalwaryjskie”. This application contains markers and brief descriptions of places along the pilgrimage routes and can be downloaded from Google Play.
Why Am I Confused With The Chapels?
Coming across chapels with different invocations and numbered inscriptions above the doors can be confusing. This is because a single chapel can represent multiple events if it is part of a particular route. Let’s take the Chapel of the Joyous Patriarchs, an an example. It is both a station of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Marian Way and a station of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Dormition.
The Chapel of the Jewesses is the same. This chapel also serves as a station of the dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So it is important to remember: A single chapel can have several meanings, depending on where it is located along the way. For this reason, it is necessary to pay attention to the invocations and the numbered inscriptions that are placed above the doors.
Best Time to Visit Kalwaria
It is better that you visit Kalwaria Zebrzydowska as a tourist on weekdays when there are fewer people and fewer crowds. But if you want to experience the religious aspect, a visit during Holy Week for the Passion Play or on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15th) with its special procession to the tomb of Our Lady will definitely be a unique and meaningful experience. For specific dates and details, I suggest you visit the official Sanctuary website.
Is It Appropriate for Elder?
I need to admit that visiting the Hill’s chapels requires some physical fitness, especially when walking from the Weeping Women’s Chapel to the Third Fall Church. You need to know yourself whether it is ok to try to get there or not. During the summer, it’s a good idea to bring water. If you forget, don’t worry, locals often sell drinks along the way. At the top of the hill is the Basilica, which is about 200 meters higher than the train station. Make sure you have enough energy and water to make it!
Photography And Filming
In addition, you are expected to be quiet and respectful and to avoid disturbing others during their spiritual experiences. It’s best to check with the staff beforehand, as photography and filming inside the church may be restricted. Finally, remember that this is a place of pilgrimage, not a tourist attraction, so it’s a good idea to approach it with a sense of reverence and devotion.
Entrance to the various sites is FREE, we only pay if we want to hire a guide for the Sanctuary.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska – Accommodation
There are several options for accommodation when you visit Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. Many tourists choose to stay in Krakow and commute to the Sanctuary, especially during the high season, when it can be difficult to find a room at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
If you wish to stay in the city, the best option may be the Pilgrims’ House, located on the grounds of the Sanctuary at 46 Bernardyńska Street. This is a new facility that offers rooms with private bathrooms and the option to purchase breakfast.
Other options in the city include Noclegi Viktor on Stolarska Street, which offers rooms with private bathrooms, but is further from the Basilica, about 1.5 kilometers away. For more demanding travelers, there is a three-star Barka Hotel at 6 Partyzantów St. They offer rooms with private baths, including breakfast, and are about 3.5 km from the Basilica.