St. Mary's Church, Krakow
What first strikes the visitor entering the vast and magnificent chorus is the abundance of bright colors. Walls and vault are decorated with mural paintings by Jan Matejko in 1890.
Superb is the high altar with the retable of Veit Stoss executed around 1480 in Nuremberg. This is one of the largest (11 x 13 m) and most famous altarpieces in Europe. (photo 1).
I saw many fine altarpieces in recent years by visiting museums (Dijon, Paris, Berlin and Brussels) or churches of Western Europe but I was really amazed by the large size of the figures that reach up to 270 cm, the vivid colors, the gilt and especially the facial expressions and dramatic gestures. (photo 2)
It is a sublime work. The central panel represents the Dormition of the Virgin surrounded by the Apostles. Above is the Assumption of Mary at the top and the Coronation of the Virgin in the presence of St. Adalbert and St. Stanislaus.
The open altar wings show on the left Annunciation, Christmas, Adoration of the Magi, on the right the Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit.
Groups of visitors, still mostly Poles, with their guide are sitting on benches in the choir to listen to the details of the scenes represented on the retable (photo 3).
If you want to have the choir for yourself come around 16 h. I observed on my second visit in 2011 that around that time most groups had left but note that the ticket office closes at 17.15 h.
Above the stalls are carved scenes from the life of Christ and Mary. These scenes are remarkable by their polychrome and gilt, there were made by Fabian Möller around 1635 (photo 4).
I have to confess that the outside of the St. Mary's Basilica did not really impress me but as soon as I entered I felt overwhelmed by the beauty. This church alone is worthwhile the trip to Krakow!
First buy your ticket to see all the church (10 PLN, reduced 5 PLN) at the shop on the right side of the church (Plac Mariacki) pay (5 PLN) also for a sticker allowing you to take photos. The church is open to tourists from 11.30h till 18 h (Sunday 14h - 18h). Best is to come after 12h so that the altarpiece is open. Of course you will meet guided groups visiting the church and especially the magnificent choir.
On my second visit, in 2011, I came around 16 h and the groups had left but note that the ticket office closes at 17.15 h.
I will avoid talking about the history of the church, the towers and the bugle call, because what is important when visiting this basilica is the visual impression of the interior decor which is really breathtaking.
The contrast with the Wawel Cathedral is also striking. At St. Mary you have perspective and depth. The three naves are extended by the wide choir (photo 1) and the high altar with the wonderful and so famous altarpiece from the 15th c. German artist Veit Stoss.
Tourists are entering by the right aisle where they will see a Baroque altar with a Holy Cross in stone (photo 2) sculpted by Veit Stoss showing a striking realism of the Christ suffering body. Background of the cross is a silver plate with a view of Jerusalem.
On the left of this altar is a surprising ciborium from the Italian Renaissance (photo 3).
As surprising are the vaults with their blue starred ceiling. You can see this from my photo nr 4 with the main organ from 1800. There are three organs in the church.
There are a dozen chapels competing in beauty with each other (photo 5).
I have left the best, the choir, for a special comment.
The Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady (often just called St. Mary's) is the best known church in the city, though it is not the most important one (that's Wawel Cathedral). St. Mary's was first built in 1222, but destroyed shortly afterwards during the Mongol invasion. The present building dates from 1397, but was altered after a 1424 and a larger refurbishment in the 18th century which gave the church its Baroque interior. It is not clear why the church has tow different-sized towers, but probably the reason was lack of funds. According to a legend, each tower was built by a brother and the competition became so fierce that the older sibling killed the younger. The altarpiece of Veit Stoss was unveiled in 1489 and is considered to be one of the finest works of late medieval art.
Every hour, a city guard plays a melody called “Hejnal”. It does not mark the full hour only, but confirms that there is not any danger in form of fires or enemy attacks. Therefore, Hejnal is played in every cardinal point. According to a legend, the short break in the melody comes from a former guard which was killed during the 1241 mongol attacks while playing the melody. You can hear Hejnal on the church's website.
There is an entry fee of 10 zloty and further 5 zloty for a photo permit (2013). The ticket booth is on the right hand side of the church. A chapel can be entered for free from a side entrance if you want to pray only.
The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the most famous churches in Poland, especially the inhabitants themselves. The building is located on the Old Town Square and the present structure dates from the 16th century in the 13th century a Romanesque church built, which was later replaced by a Gothic, for centuries this was one of the main churches of Krakow and its surroundings
Inside an impressive collections of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art viewing, including the famous wooden altar of White Stones from the 15th century
The two towers, which is 81 meters high is facing into the main square
Directly across the Square from the Church of the Virgin Mary is St Barbara's. Interestingly, this church from the 1400's was once a cemetery chapel. Before the time when the Polish nation established its roots it was dominated by Germans. In fact, during the Middle Ages, St Mary's was for Germans. St Barbara's across the plac, was for Poles.
There are carvings attributed to the Veit Stoss school, the same one that created the masterpiece in St Mary's Basilica.
Inside St Barbara's is a chapel to the priest that did the first translation of the Bible into Polish, Father Jakub Wujek.
The Basilica of St Mary (Kościół Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny ) is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Krakow. Located right off the Market Square (Rynek Glowny) at first it honestly doesn't look as imposing as a lot of other important churches do.
The original church on this site was originally from the early 13th century. It was then rebuilt in the 14th century. The two unequal towers are notable and once served at the city watchtowers.
As I said, the Church at first sight is a bit underwhelming. After all, where are the fancy Gothic decorations, the stone carving, the huge structure and flying buttresses?
Well the reason for that is that this is a Brick Gothic style church. What does that mean? Well, Brick Gothic was built with brick in regions where there was little supply of natural rock that could be used. Generally, this means Northern Germany, The Baltic countries, Poland and Scandinavia.
next- interior of the Church
The little square in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary is called Plac Mariacki. It isn't old at all. It was created in 1802 after the cemetery for the parish church was eliminated.
The statue in the fountain at the center of the square. If for some reason it looks familiar to you..well it is a copy from a part of the altarpiece inside the Virgin Mary Church.
Follow me across the square now
The first church built on the site was erected in 1220 but it was soon partly destroyed by the Tartars (in 1241). The present church, now upgraded to a basilica, was built on the remaining ruins of the earlier one, that is why it is not at a right angle to the square. What strikes when looking at the church from outside are the two unequal towers. The lower one (61 metres high) belongs to the church and contains 5 bells of which two date from the late 14th century, while the taller, 81 metres high one, topped with a Gothic spire of 1478 and a gold-plated crown of 1666, belongs to the city! It used to serve as a watchtower. The town bugel is played from this tower every hour (performed by a member of the fire brigade if I don't mistake myself). I have heard it should also be played on Polish Radio at noon, but I didn't hear it myself.
Legend has it that a Tartar arrow pierced the throat of the bugler while he was giving the alarm signal - that is why the bugle call breaks off suddenly, to commemorate the buglar of 1241. This has been done since year 1300.
According to legend this is the knife that struck the fatal blow over jealousy between the two brothers who built St Mary’s church tower. The knife is still hanging in one of the middle arches in the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall). No wonder the church spiral is not identical they were too busy arguing who has the best design.
The bugle at St Mary’s church according to legend the trumpeter spied from the distance of oncoming hordes of Tatar and sounded a signal to close the gates. While he was signaling an arrow struck his throat and the melody was broken. The legend also tells the trumpeter save Krakow from Tatar invasion. Till today the trumpeter plays the same tune (hejnal) and tourist can listen to the tune every hour at one the church gothic spires in memory of the brave trumpeter. Oh well it’s a good story.
The wooden altarpiece carved up by the genius Veit Stoss. This masterpiece is located inside St Mary church behind the communion table. When the panels of the triptych are completely opened the Veit altarpiece is about 13 meter high and 11 meter wide (Wikipedia).
St Mary’s Church Basilica the red brick gothic style church was built in the 13th century. The church is famous for the wooden altarpiece carved up by Veit Stoss. We saw his beautiful carving work. The piece of work is behind the panels of triptych which located above the communion table. At midday a nun with a long stick open the triptych door. Inside the triptych is the altarpiece carving. The Gothic altarpiece is the largest in the world and a national treasure of Poland. Seeing the altarpiece for me was a wow factor.
The interior of the church is simply fantastic decorated colorful fresco, rainbow color stained glass window, high ceiling with decorative walls and marble religious statues.
Looking from outside the church has two towers with two spirals and each spiral has different design to the other. Also one of the spirals is taller than the other. I have never seen a church with two different design spirals and tallness usually they are identical.
St Mary church is also famous for a trumpeter who blows his horn every hour at one the church gothic spires.
There is cost if you want to take photos of the opening ceremony of the altarpiece.
Open: Mon-Sat 11:30am-6pm; Sun 2-6pm
Once you come into the Basilica the magic really begins! Where many Gothic churches seemed somewhat dark, this one was lovely and well lit. Of course all the gold (gold leaf) added nicely to that.
It's not a gigantic church at all, quite intimate in fact. If you concentrate on the magnificent altarpiece you might think the Basilica is quite small. You get a different feeling when you go towards the back with the intricate carving and the large organ.
The Stained Glass was lovely, sadly, the day i was there was very overcast. I can just imagine that on a clear day near sunset the colors would be mind blowing!
The St. Mary's Church (Mariacki) is one of the most important churches in Krakow. It was built between 1287 and 1320 on the remains of a former Romanesque church. The church is home of the largest Gothic wooden altar in Europe.
St. Mary's Church is situated at the north eastern edge of the Market Square (Rynek Glowny).
Address: St. Mary's Church, Rynek Glowny 4, Krakow
If you want to know everything about the Hejnal read "Krakow in your pocket" under history "the Hejnal". You will learn that:
The 7 firemen chosen to play are on call for a 24 hour rotation and stay in the tower, after that they are off for 48 hours. The bell of the other tower of the church rings first and then the trumpeter opens the window first in the east and then in the three other directions. So if you didn't hear the first play run around the St. Mary Basilica’s to hear the others.
The melody came from Hungary and was used as a warning for fires or invasions as the word hejnal in Hungarian means ‘wake up’.
That the man playing in the tower at 54 m above the ground was shot in the neck by Tartar's invaders, thus abruptly cutting off the song in mid-melody is legend. More probably that the trumpeter was on guard on the city walls where he was shot and killed.