Basilica of St. Mary – Cracovia

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The Basilica of St. Mary or Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in Polish, Kościół Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny (Kościół Mariacki)) of Kraków, Poland, is an outstanding Gothic church, located in the Market Square, the old national capital.

The church was declared a basilica on March 9, 1970.

According to the chronicler Jan Długosz, the first parish church in the Main Square of Krakow was founded in 1221-1222 by the Bishop of Krakow, Iwo Odrowąż. The building was destroyed during the invasion of the Mongols of Poland. Between 1290-1300 a new early Gothic church was built on the previous foundations. It was consecrated twenty years later, in 1320.

The church was completely rebuilt under the reign of Casimir III the Great between 1355 and 1365, at the initiative of Krakow’s neighbors to rival the Wawel cathedral, with substantial contributions from the restaurateur Mikołaj Wierzynek. The building was made mainly in brick, lengthening the presbytery and adding the tall windows. The main body of the church was finished in 1395-1397 when the new vault was built by the master Nicolás Werhner of Praga.2 However, the vault over the presbytery collapsed in 1442, possibly due to an earthquake, which never before then Krakow had happened.3

In the first half of the 15th century, the side chapels were added. Most of them were the work of the teacher Franciszek Wiechoń. At the same time, the two square towers, completed in the years 1400 and 1406, rose. The north tower, the tallest (80 m), was designed to serve as a watchtower for the entire city. In 1478 carpenter Maciej Heringh (or Heringk) 2 3 raised a gothic pointed helmet as auction for the tower. It was placed on him in 1666 a golden crown, which is still present today. The lowest tower (69 m) to which a Renaissance element was added in the sixteenth century, serves as the church’s bell tower.

At the end of the 15th century, the church of Santa María was enriched with two renowned pieces sculpted by Veit Stoss: the wooden altarpiece, the largest in Europe, 12 m long and 11 m high, carved between 1477 and 1489, late Gothic style; and a large sandstone crucifix.

In the eighteenth century, by decision of the vicar Jacek Augustyn Łopacki, 2 the interior was reconstructed in late baroque style. The author of this work was Francesco Placidi, who also designed on the main façade a baroque pentagonal portico. The 26 altars, all the furniture and benches were replaced and the paintings were decorated with polychromy, the work of Andrzej Radwański.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the city decided that a cemetery near the basilica would be closed and converted into a public square. Today it is known as Plac Mariacki (the Mariana Square) .2 In the years 1887-1891, under the direction of Tadeusz Stryjeński, the Neo-Gothic design was introduced into the Basilica. The temple was again designed with murals painted and financed by Jan Matejko, who worked with Stanislaw Wyspianski and Józef Mehoffer, the authors of the stained glass windows of the presbytery.

Inside, a commemorative plaque was placed in honor of John Paul II, who was archbishop of the city before becoming pope.

On April 18, 2010, a funeral ceremony was held in this Basilica by Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria. Later, the coffins were transported and buried in one of the crypts of the Wawel Cathedral.

From the top of the north tower every hour a trumpeter plays the Hejnał mariacki, a traditional Polish melody that airs at noon via radio, and throughout the country. This tradition is made to commemorate that in the thirteenth century a trumpeter was killed by a shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol invasion arrived. This is why it is known as the Hejnał tower.

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