I am often asked why most of the Polish tours have at least one church in the itinerary… Sometimes it is describeb with an expression: “ABC” (another… church).
Before any explanation WHY another church – enjoy a short visit to the splendid ST. ANNE’S in Cracow, which is one of Europe’s outstanding examples of baroque. 🙂
And now – here is some explanation:
In Poland – so dreadfully destroyed during the last great military conflict which was the Second World War – sometimes the only REAL art is located only in churches. It is worth remembering that a great lot of the splendid art that Poland was furnished with – was simply STOLEN by both armies (first the German and then Red Army). Earlier in the history there was a Polish-Swedish military conflict, which resulted in a great Polish loss of art as well as architecture (just to mention the Krzyztopor castle in Ujazd) and what should be NOT forgotten – is the Napoleonic period – which also resulted in plundering and destruction of Polish art and goods.
After WW II that art that was luckily found or (more rarely) claimed – was placed in museums. Unfortunately many Polish museums still do not have the knowledge of how to display the possessed art. Besides – not everybody likes (or has time enough) to visit museums. Another thing is that Polish museums still do not have the opinion or reputation as (for example) the Rijksmuseum has.
Another thing is – that most of the foreign visitors think Poland still is a country far, far behind the world. Common opinion says that visiting the museums in Russia, or Western Europe gives more art reflection. Yes it does – but among their exhibitions – there are many pieces that come from Poland. Think of it when you stand in front of a wonderful huge Beer Mug with coins in the Louvre. Do remember please, that it was made in Gdansk :), not to speak of a variety of art held in the Hermitage.
However church visiting is not only a Polish speciality. During my visit in Prague, we were rushed through nearly all the city’s churches, starting with St. Vitus Cathedral. In Rome, the sightseeing also starts with significant churches of the Eternal City (not to mention a special church to all the Catholics and art lovers – the St. Peter’s Basilica)
Also for a better understanding – please read the below fragment from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo… Very beautifully it explains WHY are the churches so important in and to Europe 🙂
Thought was then free only in this manner; hence it never wrote itself out completely except on the books called edifices. Having thus only this resource, masonry, in order to make its way to the light, flung itself upon it from all quarters. Hence the immense quantity of cathedrals which have covered Europe–a number so prodigious that one can hardly believe it even after having verified it. All the material forces, all the intellectual forces of society converged towards the same point: architecture. In this manner, under the pretext of building churches to God, art was developed in its magnificent proportions.Then whoever was born a poet became an architect. Genius, scattered in the masses, repressed in every quarter under feudalism, finding no issue except in the direction of architecture,–gushed forth through that art, and its Iliads assumed the form of cathedrals. All other arts obeyed, and placed themselves under the discipline of architecture. They were the workmen of the great work. The architect, the poet, the master, summed up in his person the sculpture which carved his façades, painting which illuminated his windows, music which set his bells to pealing, and breathed into his organs.Architecture was, down to the fifteenth century, the chief register of humanity; up until that interval not a thought which is in any degree complicated made its appearance in the world, which has not been worked into an edifice; that every popular idea, and every religious law, has had its monumental records; that the human race has, in short, had no important thought which it has not written in stone. And why? Because every thought, either philosophical or religious, is interested in perpetuating itself; because the idea which has moved one generation wishes to move others also, and leave a trace. Now, what a precarious immortality is that of the manuscript! How much more solid, durable, unyielding, is a book of stone! In order to destroy the written word, a torch and a Turk are sufficient. To demolish the constructed word, a social revolution, a terrestrial revolution are required. The barbarians passed over the Coliseum; the deluge, perhaps, passed over the Pyramids.In the fifteenth century everything changes.Human thought discovers a mode of perpetuating itself, not only more durable and more resisting than architecture, but still more simple and easy. Architecture is dethroned. Gutenberg’s letters of lead are about to supersede Orpheus’s letters of stone.