Looking at the red brick façade of St. Mary’s Basilica, one would not expect the magnificent interior of this 13th century cathedral. When I had entered St. Mary’s, I was overwhelmed with its ornately painted murals of cornflower blue, burgundy, and gold. My eyes scanned the details from the rich wood pews, gold carved alters, and up to the intricately painted ceilings- it was breathtaking!
In 1978 St. Mary’s Basilica was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside the Historic Centre of Krakow.
St. Mary’s Basilica is located in the Old Town Market Square of the lovely Krakow, which is one of my favorite cities in Eastern Europe. The basilica was first constructed in the 13th century, although the current structure is from the 14th century. It was reconstructed due to the Mongol armies that invaded Krakow, and left it in ruins in 1259.
Over the course of the centuries, St. Mary’s Basilica had additions, as well as renovations. In the late 1800s (1887 to 1891), the neo-Gothic style was introduced. The basilica was designed with new polychrome murals that were painted and funded by Jan Matejko, a famous Polish painter. He also worked with both Stanislaw Wyspianski and Jozef Mehoffer, who were the creators of the stained glass in the presbytery.
The most famous work inside the Basilica is the Gothic Altarpiece by the German-born sculpture Viet Stoss, and is considered a national treasure of Poland. It was carved between 1477 and 1489, and is currently located behind the High Altar. It was such an extraordinary altarpiece to view; the size, details, and colors were magnificent.
Fascinating Fact– Viet Stoss’s treasured Altarpiece was taken by the German occupation in 1941, dismantled and shipped to the Third Reich in Bavaria. In 1946, it was recovered hidden in the cellar of the bombed Nuremberg Castle. After the war the High Altar went through a massive restoration, and the Altarpiece was returned to its rightful place ten years later.
The basilica has a strong Carcovian history, and every hour (24/7 – 365 days a year) a single trumpeter stands high above the market square, and majestically plays “Hejnal Mariacki”. If you are at the base of St. Mary’s on the hour, look up towards the tallest tower and you will see the trumpeter playing a short tune. The melody played is in respects to a Polish citizen during the Mongol attack of the 13th century, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm. Although Krakow was saved, the hero trumpeter was killed with his alarm cut short, and today’s tune break’s off during mid-song.
There is a considerable amount of history and beauty to Old Town Krakow, and are a few of the reasons that I fell in love with this city. St. Mary’s Basilica is a special representation of how unique and significant Krakow is. It is truly an amazing site.
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