Monday, 7 April 2008

Saint Mary's Basilica, Krakow.

This staircase is built for the singing of the Exsultet on Holy Saturday night.

The Canons Stalls.

Side Chapels devoted to the Holy Cross are very common in Poland.

The rood and the (closed) High altar reredos.

The open reredos with a temporary altar table set to one side to allow people to see during Mass whilst half the chancel is fenced off for restoration work.

The Basilica from the square.

Another side Chapel.

The scale of the building is breathtaking.

Side chapel.

The temporary Chapel of reservation.

Saint Mary's Basilica dominates the monumental main square in Krakow. It is visible from almost every part of this great city. The old town itself is bordered by an oval park, running right round the city where the moat once ran. The Wawel Castle marks the southernmost end, the Florian Gate the northern. Many dark, candlelit bars are, I discovered, liberally scattered down the cobbled lanes. St Mary's Basilica marks the centre of the Old Town and occupies a special place in Poles hearts, being more a place of pilgrimage than a parish Church. It is very much a place of worship, however, with near continual exposition in a side chapel, hourly Mass at the altars and confessions available for most of the day. On my arrival in Krakow, i went to the Basilica to give thanks for a safe arrival before dinner in a very fine cellar restaurant and there was High Mass being celebrated amid clouds of smoke. The altars still face east, the vestments are baroque, in keeping with the building and it is packed full of worshippers every day. The High Altar is the focus of every visit, and it is cranked open to a trumpet blast every day at ten to twelve. As it is fully open by 12, the Angelus is sung before the next Mass begins. Confessionals are dotted around, staffed by aged priests in yellowing rochets and battered birettas and seminarians in pristine lace cottas and shiny new birettas can be seen guiding everyone around and preparing the altars. It as near a perfect representation of the beauty which the Church can aspire to and the devotion it can inspire as it is possible, in my opinion, to get.