Contents © Mark Carrot* 2013
Signs of the Church in the Tatra Mountains
Zbigniew Szlenk, Zbigniew M. Markiewicz
We dedicate this album to His Hiliness John Paul II
Vacations, holidays — people go to the Tatra Mountains. Is it only to go up to the summit, to walk along the route, is it only for this? There are those who do not go up only to the mountain tops; they go as far as the signs of the Church. They go individually, sometimes deliberately without witnesses. They go in goups and they even make pilgrimages along the religious routes.
There are more than one hundred signs of the Church in the Tatra Mountains. They are mostly crosses and paintings and figures of the Madonna. Most of the existing signs were made in place of ones that had existed for a very long time and which had succumbed to the effects of time. We know less and less about those ancient signs. Messages about the signs existed in the legends of sheperds but with their disappearance from mountain pastures and glades, most of the legends fell into oblivion. It is a great loss to our culture as those legends, alive in shepherds’ chalets, were — for instance in the musical sphere — a source of inspiration for such composers as Karlowicz and Szymanowski.
An accidental encounter with a sign of the Church during good weather and in merry company is sometimes treated with a certain amount of indifference. The matter looks different, however, if a sign of the Church is encountered while walking alone, during a sudden change of weather. Then this sign of the Church fills one with courage as it is evidence of the symbol of Christianity and, for a non-believer, the evidence of the unselfish activity of man. The courage comes from a basic reasoning: someone has made their way before me, then so shall I. To a wayfarer who loses his way, these signs of the Church, which are associated with material help in the form of foodstuffs, clothing and and medical aids, acquire a special significance. Some signs of the Church are themselves the object of pilgrimages; others are points on religious routes.
A sign of the Church which is perhaps the most fascinating, with its mystery and charismatic power, is in the Rusinowa Glade (Rusinowa Polana). A figure of the Virgin Mary, the “Queen of the Tatra Mountains”, stands in a chapel and a copy of the figure also stands in a small shrine. The sign commemorates an the extraordinary event in 1861 when the Virgin Mary appeared at a little ancient shrine next to a brook to a shepherdess named Maria. To commemorate the appearance, a shepherd — a self-made artist — carved in wood, a sculpture of the Madonna. The description of this event is lost but since then there has been an ever-increasing number of happenings which bear witness to the miraculous nature of the figure and the water from the brook. Its mystery fascinates one and it is the reason for the increasingly numerous individual and group pilgrimages to this — still as yet not “formally discovered” — “Polish Lourdes”. The number of people coming — healthy as well as sick — makes it necessary to celebrate five Holy Masses on Sundays and holidays. Holy Mass is also celebrated daily. It is also possible to have Confession and to receive Holy Communion at any time of the day. Receiving the sacrament of matrimony in the solitude of the Queen of the Tatra Mountains sign, is a great symbol of unity with our distant, hardly perceptible past. Apart from these extraordinary benefits — at the Queen of the Tatra Mountains those who feel hungry receive nourishment, those who suffer in body receive medical help.
A few routes lead to the Queen of the Tatra Mountains. On the route from Zazadnia, there are two figures and one painting of the Madonna. On the route from Toporowa Cyrhla there is a figure of the Madonna on the way to Kopieniec, then a figure and a cross on Psia Trawka. This cross was thrown out to the bushes. (MARK, WHAT DOES THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE MEAN?) Further along there is a cross before Waksmundzka Glade (Polana Waksmundzka). In the Waksmundzka Glade there is a “Shot-through Christ” figure with an extraordinary power of dramatic expression. Further along the way, as if in contrast, one can find a charming painting of the Last Supper on Gesia Szyja, which has been composed into the rock. On the route from the Poroniec Peak (Wierch Polnca), hidden by a spruce tree on the Naked Peak (Goly Wierch), there is an old wooden cross with the inscription: “To the King of Silence”.
The second most often visited sign of the Church is the Giewont Cross (Krzyz Giewontu) reached by taking the religious route “To the Cross” (Do Krzyz). This route begins at the Chapel of the Sisters of the Order founded by Brother Albert. Past the cross at the road, the route leads to the Chapel of the Albertine Brothers and from there to the shrine of the Black Madonna on the Kondratowa Combe (Hala Kondratowa) and further on to the Giewont Cross. Along this route in June, students who have just passed their secondary school examinations go on pilgrimage. On the feast of the “Exaltation of the Cross”, the parishioners of Zakopane go in a mass pilgrimage to their most “precious property”. On the Giewont Cross constructed by Ioseph Borecki of Kradow the following words are inscribed: “This Cross was erected here to the glory of the Saviour of the World by the parish of Zakopane together with its parish priest to commemorate the time of the nineteenth century 1900/1901”.
Most signs of the Church are situated on the “Ave Maria Route”, which derives its name from a legend which says in the places where there are now signs of the Church, an Angel was singing Ave Maria. This route starts at the painting of the Annunciation at the Black Pond of Gasienica (Czarny Staw Gasienicowy) and leads to “Christopher’s Cross’ Frozen Pond (Zmarzly Staw). Next to the cross there is an altar where Holy Mass is sometimes celebrated. On the altar there is a St. Christopher’s rescue box containing essential emergency medical supplies, foodstuffs and clothing. Under the altar there is a kerosene lamp. Because of its location, this sign of the Church is a very convenient place to celebrate the Holy Mass.
The next point on the route, which can be seen from here, is the “Madonna of Zawart”. A small figure of the Madonna, placed in the wall at the beginning of the 20th century by Father Walenty Gadowski — the creator of Eagle’s Path (Orla Perc), still delights one with its beauty. Beneath the figure of the Madonna another St. Christopher rescue box is placed along with a kerosene lamp to help those in need.
Subsequently, the route leads to the “Black Madonna” of Goats’ Peak (Kozi Wierch) and from there to the “Nursing Madonna” and the “Prayer Stone” in the Skrajny Granat. Beneath a medallion of the Madonna there is the next St. Christopher’s rescue box with a kerosene lamp. This box was placed, like the previous ones, by the Family of St. Luke and is marked with the emblem of the Family — a red cross with a yellow background. Every box contains the following inscription inside: “Earthly pilgrim! Mountain wayfarer! If you are in sudden threat to your life or health, then use the treasures of St. Christopher’s box”.
From the Nursing Madonna the route leads to the “Cross of Gasienicowa” Combe (Hala Gasienicowa) and from here past the destroyed cross on Boczan to the cross on the way to Kuznice and a shrine on the way to “Our Lady of Nosal”, at Nosal. A very special attraction of this route is the opportunity to hear a song to Our Lady often sung and played on the violin or flute by some musical pilgrims.
The longest religious route is the one “Around the Cross”. It runs from “Pol’s Cross” (Krzyz Pola), in the Koscieliska Valley (Dolina Koscieliska) and leads to the Nursing Madonna on Thin Peak (Chuda Turnia). Underneath the Madonna one can find a St. Christopher’s rescue box and a kerosene lamp. From here the route leads to the “Madonna of Krzesanica” where, underneath the Madonna,there is another St. Christopher’s rescue box and kerosene lamp. Further along the route is the “Madonna of Czuba Goryczkowa” and from here through Kasprowy Peak (Kasprowy Wierch) / Swinica one can go on to the Madonna of Zawrat. Here the Around the Cross route overlaps the route “Ave Maria”, leading to the Madonna of Kozia Przelecz, the Black Madonna of Kozi Peak. Further along the route through Granaty you come to the Mountain Rescuers’ Cross at Krzyzne, and then to the Cross of Father Jerzy Popieluszko at Red Pond (Czerwony Staw) where, under the Cross, there is also a rescue box of St. Christopher and a kerosene lamp. On the cross these words are inscribed: “Overcame evil by goodness” to the memory of Father Jerzy Popieluszko 19.X.1984. Further, the route leads to the destroyed cross at Hala Gasienicowa and from here to Our Lady of Nosal.
A particulary solemn pilgrimage along this route takes place during Jubilee Years of Redemption. It is traditional for pilgrims to carry stones from the seaside and place them at the feet of Our Lady of Nosal. The Giewant Cross is visible in the distance to anyone who travels along this route.
The newest of the religious routes is the “Route of the Cross”. It starts at the shrine of St. John the Bapist in the Chocholowska Valley (Dolina Chocholowska) and leads past a hostel and flock-master’s hut to the Cross of the Jarzabcza Valley (Dolina Jarzabcza). From here the route passes a number of crosses arranged from stones or hanging from trees. These are a sign to passers-by that at this very spot near the brook John Paul II stood meditating. People who make pilgrimages along this route arrange crosses with stones carried with them, or hang crosses on the trees.
The route which is most closely associated with John Paul II bears his name. It begins at the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, above Morskie Oko beneath “The Monk” (Mnich) and runs along to the image of Christ crowned with thorns. Here one can find a St. Christopher’s rescue box and a kerosene lamp. The route continues to the medallion of John Paul II at Szpigla Sowa Pass, where again, there is a St. Christopher’s rescue box with a kerosene lamp. From here the route carries on to St. Joseph’s Hostel in the Valley of the Five Poilsh Lakes and then on to the Mountain Rescuers’ Cross at Krzyzne. The route then leads to the Cross of Father Jerzy at Czerwony Staw, to the Shot-through Christ on the Polana Waksmundzka, and to a painting of the Last Supper on Gesia Szyja. Next along the route you will come upon the shrine of the Queen of the Tatra Mountains in the place of her appearance. This route finishes at the Chapel of the Queen of the Tatra Mountains.
The route invariably popular with academic youth is the “University Pastorate Route”. It starts at the Mietus Brook Cross in the Mietus Valley and leads to the Nursing Madonna at Chuda Turnia. The route goes on to Our Lady of Ostra Brama at Krzesanica and runs into the “Around the Cross Route” then turning to the Mala Laka Combe past the Madonna of Wielka Turnia to the Mala Laka Valley Cross. There it turns to Mietus Combe and terminates at the destroyed Cross of Przyslop Mietusi.
The least demanding of the routes is the “Route of the Legion of Mary” which begins at the Meitus Brook Cross where the “University Pastorate Route” starts. The Route of the Legion of Mary runs along past the destroyed Cross of Przyslop Mietusi to the Mlala Laka Cross and further along to the Madonna of the Deer Rock (Sarnia Skala). It continues by the path above the forest through Kalatowki to the Albertines Monastery, ending on the territory of the Convent of the Albertinex Nuns in the hermitage of blessed Albert.
The only route which is of any utilitarian importance is “St. Joseph’s Route”. It starts at the statue of the Madonna near Mickiewicz’s Water Thunderbolt and runs on to the cross by the Roztoka Stream and to the St. Family Hut. From here it carries on to the shrine of the Madonna placed above the Roztoka Stream and then to the St. Joseph’s Hostel in the Valley of Five Polish Lakes.
The route which most adequately symbolizes the Christian ideal is the “Samaritan Route” which begins at Christopher’s Cross by the Zmarzly Staw. Next to the cross there is a commemorative plaque with the words: “To the memory of Christopher, who sacrificed his life to save other members of a mountain expedition 27.1.1981”. This route leads to the Danes’ Cross in the Kozia Valley. The cross here bears the following words: “To the memory of Emanuel Gerhard Anderson and Emily, his wife, members of the Danish Red Cross, who dedicated their lives to fighting tuberculosis in Poland 18.2.1949”. Beneath the cross is a St. Christopher rescue box together with a kerosene lamp. This route leads on to Zadni Granat where it runs into “Ave Maria Route” and “Around the Cross Route”. It ends at the Mountain Rescuers’ cross at Krzyzne. Inscribed on the cross is: “To the memory of Mountain Rescue Teams”. At the foot of the cross there is a St. Christopher rescue box and a kerosene lamp.
The route which may furnish one with the most religious feelings is the “Route of the Way of the Cross” in the Mylna Cave. This route starts at the entrance to the cave and leads one to the fourteen stations of the cross and the martyrs’ urn. On the urn it reads: “Earth consecrated by blood from the concentration camps at Treblinka, Radogoszcz and from the spot of Father Jerzy Popieluszko’s martyrdom”. The route ends at the exit from the cave by the image of Christ ascending into Heaven. (All Signs of this route and others were destroyed by the communists.)
Apart from those mentioned above, signs of the church can also be found or could be found before their destruction, in the Koscieliska Valley, the Chocholowska Valley, at Kopieniec, in the Kopieniec Meadow, by the Czarny Staw beneath the Rysy Peaks, by Morskie Oko, in Biala Valley, in the Strazyska Valley, in Jaworzynka Valley, by the way to Kalatowki, in the Plasnia Meadow, on the Szalasiska Meadow, by the way to Brzeziny en route to Gasienicowa Glade, by the woods on the way to Olczyska Valley and in various other places.
Znaki Kościoła w Tatrach.