Church of St Catherine and St Margaret
ul. Augustiańska 7
Here, local history is perfectly intertwined with that of the nation: its heyday and tragedies, highs and lows. From its earliest days – intermittently, though – St Catherine’s Church has been in the care of the Augustinian Order.
The church owes its origin to fairly dramatic circumstances, a tale that includes lechery, crime, a curse, and royal penance. The soft spot King Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki) had for the fairer sex was denounced by the Bishop of Kraków, Jan Bodzanta, who sent his envoy in the person of the cathedral vicar, Marcin Baryczka to admonish the king about the matter. The enraged monarch had the messenger drowned in an ice-hole in the Vistula. Repenting his deed, the king later turned to Pope Clement VI to lift the anathema. The Holy Father absolved him and ordered an appropriate penance: the construction of a number of churches, including that of St Catherine and St Margaret in Kraków in the place where the body of the drowned priest surfaced. This is how the bishop’s curse indirectly contributed not only to Kraków but also to Polish sacred architecture.
The King entrusted the construction of the Gothic church (around 1343) to the Augustinian Order, which has retained custody of the building to this day. Although the construction was never finished (originally, the edifice was to be 12.5 m (41 ft) longer, the planned towers were never fully built, nor has the façade been finished), earthquakes destroyed, among others, the roof and ceiling of the chancel, and floods and fires raged in the church, it has retained its magnificent Gothic character. Adjacent to the south is a porch and the Chapel of St Monica (mother of St Augustine) in what was to be the ground floor of one of the towers, doubling as a place of prayer of the Augustinian nuns from the convent on the other side of Skałeczna Street. The covered walkway that connects the two structures provides a characteristically picturesque accent.
The process of restoring the church, terminated after the third partition of Poland and designed among others for military storehouses, began in the mid-19th century, and – with only short breaks – continues into our times.
Linked to St Catherine’s is the story of a Kraków monk, Isaiah (Izajasz) Boner. Allegedly, the power of this servant of God (the process of his beatification is still far from completed) is capable of unmasking women of easy virtue. For it so happened that when the “shameless wenches” visiting the grave of Isaiah stood on the slab of his grave, a tremor ran through it, which is how the saint disclosed their profession.
In our times, members of the congregation visiting the church on the 22nd day of each month are often seen carrying a rose that they lay down by the sculpture and relics of St Rita, the patron saint of hopeless cases, for whom a rose would always blossom (even in winter) in the garden of the Convent of the Augustinian Nuns in Cascia, bringing relief from suffering and illness.
Be sure to see:
- late-renaissance tomb of Spytek Jordan in northern aisle
- spacious cloisters with 15th and 16th-century paintings and epitaphs
- Our Lady of Consolation, a 16th century mural, one of Poland’s oldest miraculous images of the Blessed Virgin (the chapel in the cloister)
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