The Bridge of Angels, little churches, and charming chapels - a walk around Polish Jerusalem | UNESCO treasure
It was the end of the 16th century, some quiet day at the castle in Lanckorona near Krakow. Polish noblewoman Dorothy, the wife of Nicholas Zebrzydowski (the voivode of Kraków), was praying in her chamber. While praying, she saw three fiery crosses rising to the sky above the nearby Mount Żar. Some sources say that her husband, summoned by Dorothy, also witnessed this vision. Inspired by this event, he undertook an ambitious project soon. He wanted to recreate the Way of the Cross - Calvary.
The idea wasn't new. From the beginning of the 15th century, sites commemorating an important event for Christians - the passion and death of Jesus - were created all over Europe. These places were called Calvary, which is a Latin analog of the Hebrew name Golgotha. Churches and chapels were usually built on hills to look similar to Jerusalem.
Nicholas discovered that the areas surrounding his castle perfectly reflect the topography of the Holy City. To make his Calvary even more similar to the original, he changed some geographical names. And so, walking today along the paths planned 400 years ago, we will find the Mount of Olives, Zion, and Moriah, as well as the Kidron River.
As early as 1600, Nicholas initiated the first works continued for several dozen years by him and after his death by his son John.
As a result, a monumental work was created - a perfectly designed park complex covering several hills, including a sanctuary, a monastery, and many beautiful chapels (42 objects in total) connected by paths, which are visited by about 2 million pilgrims and tourists every year. As the only place of this type, it was inscribed in the UNESCO heritage list in 1999.
At the same time, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (the city) was founded. On the outskirts of the town, there is the abovementioned monastery and sanctuary. It is where the so-called "Kalwaria paths" begin, called by pilgrims the Polish Jerusalem.
I started my walk here.
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is known primarily as a place of worship and pilgrimage destination. Still, at the same time, it is a beautiful historical complex with an exciting history, situated in the charming scenery of Polish mountains. Every person, regardless of religion, will find here a respite and space for reflection.
The two main paths, mirroring the Way of the Cross, are approximately 5 km long. It doesn't seem like much, but it took me several hours to complete the entire route. The terrain is varied - the path runs through several hills, which slows down the pace of the walk. In addition, there are many interesting objects along the way, which are worth stopping by.
One of them is the Bridge of Angels, which is decorated with stone statues of archangel Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Guardian Angel.
If someone needs rest from people, it is best to come here on a weekday. On Sundays and holidays, thousands of pilgrims wander these paths.
After crossing the bridge, I encountered one of the more significant buildings on the route, the Church of the Tomb of Our Lady, with a chapel built in 1611-1630.
After resting on the bench in front of the chapel, I climbed the Mount of Olives.
Then the path took me down again, to the Kidron River. I found there another interesting bridge with a chapel built on it. The first one was built in the 17th century; the present chapel is from 1824.
Some objects are outside the main Kalwaria Paths, like, for example, the Bethsaida Chapel. I had to deviate a little from the path to see it.
The present chapel was built in 1836 on the site of a wooden one.
Inside, a surprise awaited me - a natural pond surrounded by a wooden railing. This pond has been in this place for centuries, and the chapel is a kind of setting for it.
The water is clear; you can see coins thrown by pilgrims at the bottom. The statue of the Guardian Angel with an oar is reflected in the water surface. The figure is placed in the dome's lantern. A simple and at the same time interesting way to diversify the interior! I really liked it there.
I spent about 15 minutes in the chapel with the pond, then returned to the main path.
As I have already mentioned, it is not only a place of worship but also a beautiful area that is pleasant to walk around.
The Chapel of the Heart of Mary from 1615 deserves attention due to unusual architectural solutions - the building and the domed roof are heart-shaped.
One of the most interesting objects on the route is the Town Hall of Pilate, built in the years 1605-1609 on Mount Moriah.
Noteworthy are the covered stairs, inspired by the Roman Scala Sancta (Holy Staircase).
The last leg of the route is ahead of me. I pass subsequent chapels and figures, slowly approaching Mount Żar (now the Golgotha hill). Over this hill 400 years ago, Dorothy Zebrzydowska saw fiery crosses, inspiring her husband to build Calvary.
The climb up the steep slope is quite demanding. I have no problems with ascent, but for older pilgrims, it must be a challenge. There are several small churches and chapels at the top. It is the culmination of the tour.
I finish my walk twenty minutes later in the place from which I started in the morning - in the courtyard of the sanctuary.
I love the Kalwaria Paths a lot, although I am not a practicing Catholic. I feel that this place is universal, open to all people, regardless of religion.
I strongly recommend a visit to Poland, as always 💚