Father of the fatherland

Wawel 3

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The central point of Wawel Cathedral, recognised as the symbol of Polish statehood and spirituality, is the grave of St Stanislaus of Szczepanów bishop and martyr, known as the Altar of the Fatherland.
Stanisław stood at the helm of the Diocese of Kraków in 1072–79. He campaigned for the spreading of Christianity in Poland, baptised but a century earlier, at the same time working hard to have Polish dioceses independent from the metropolis in Magdeburg. In 1075 he supported the endeavours of Duke Boleslaus the Bold (or Generous; Bolesław Śmiały or Szczodry) for the royal crown. Soon, however, a conflict started between the cleric and the monarch. The bishop is alleged to have committed treason, admonishing the King for spreading corruption, and for cruelty towards his subjects. According to another version, a political conflict developed between the lay and ecclesiastical centres of power, and the king accused the bishop of plotting. In 1079 Stanislaus was killed on the orders of the king (according to some versions he even died at his hand) during a mass celebrated in the Church on the Rock (na Skałce), and he was later quartered. However, the body grew back together in a miraculous manner, and the figure of the murdered hierarch initiated plenty of legends and quickly turned into an object of devotion. The news of miracles worked by Bishop Stanislaus in his lifetime was also spreading. The most famous of these is the story of Piotrowin, resurrected to testify in support of the bishop in a court battle. Pilgrimages began arriving at the grave of Stanislaus, and soon, in 1088, his relics were moved from the Church on the Rock to Wawel Cathedral. The year 1138 marked the nearly two century period of fragmentation of Polish territory during which central power was dissolved and the country was divided into petty principalities. At that time the tale of the bishop acquired a symbolic dimension: it gave hope that, like the parts of Stanislaus’s body grown together, the state, suffering for the sacrilegious deed of King Boleslaus, would also reunite. This vision has often returned in hard times, especially in the 19th century, when Poland, invaded and occupied by neighbouring powers, disappeared from the map of Europe.
The martyr was canonised in 1253 in Assisi, and his relics were deposited in an altar in the centre of Kraków Cathedral on 8 May 1254. From that time the day has been celebrated as his feast, and a procession with relics of Polish saints traditionally marches out from Wawel to the Church on the Rock on the Sunday following the Feast of St Stanislaus. One of the most important religious ceremonies in Poland, the procession was frequently presided over by Karol Wojtyła, later Pope John Paul II, and a number of times also invited the participation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Holy Father Benedict XVI.
For centuries, royal coronations took place by the grave of St Stanislaus, called “the father of the fatherland. It is here that Polish monarchs placed war trophies and votive offerings (their number includes the banners of the Teutonic Order captured in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, which a common belief ascribes being won thanks to the intercession of the saint), and funded magnificent altars and reliquaries. The present Baroque mausoleum in the form of a baldachin altar is made of marble and gilded bronze and dates back to the 17th century. It features the figures of the patron saints of Poland and evangelists, and bas reliefs of angels. The relics of the saint are deposited in a silver coffin decorated with scenes from the life of Stanislaus and his miracles, supported by the angels.
In 1963, Pope John XXIII made St Stanislaus one of primary patrons of Poland, together with St Adalbert and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland.

 

Wawel 3
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