Monday, 19 July 2010

Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage to Poland

At the beginning of June I numbered among a fortunate few that went on a Pilgrimage to Poland. Based in Krakow we visited many of the ancient and beautiful shrines of Poland.

Led by two wonderful priests Fr Southwell and Fr Guziel we were blessed with having a Mass in the extraordinary form every day in one of the beautiful churches we explored.

Below I have tried to share some of the fantastic experiences we had:

The Sanctuary Of The Holy Cross Of The Cistercian Abbey In Mogiła

Within a few hours of getting off the plane we were off to visit our first church. The figure of the Miraculous Christ was spectacular and groves could be seen in the floor around the base of the altar where worshipers circle the altar on their knees as an act of penance. This was my first experience of this practice. Physical acts of penance over the years have become a bit of a taboo however although I am struggling to find the exact words to explain myself I feel they still have something special to offer spiritually which it perhaps overlooked in today's society.

In 1222 the Cistercians arrived in Mogiła. They built the church under the invocation of the Assumption of the Holy Mother and St. Vaclav, and the monastery in roman-gothic style. The church was consecrated in 1266 by the bishop to Cracow Jan (John) Prandota in the presence of Count Bolesław, his wife St. Kinga And numerously gathered worshippers.

The sculpture of the crucified Jesus, which was placed in the church, soon became famous for good graces and miracles. Many pilgrims were attracted to Mogiła to the feet of the Miraculous Christ, among them bishops, cardinals, kings and sovereigns such as Kazimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki), Vladyslav Jagiello (Władysław Jagiełło) or St. Queen Jadwiga , but above all, the pious country folk, who came by the thousand throughout the years.

The figure of the Miraculous Christ is 192 cm tall and is covered with polychromy. It has natural hair which, according to the legend, was supposed to grow. The hips are covered by a piece of golden, embroidered material. This is the voto of the nobleman Żółtowski for being saved from the masacre made by the Turks in the battle of Cecora in 1620. Over the centuries people, being thankful for the graces and miracles, brought numerous gifts, later robbed by the Tatars, Swedes and Austrians. The ones we can see today have been brought recently by the grateful worshippers of the Mogilian Jesus. The monastery chronicles and stories say about the exceptional graces and miracles experienced by the praying people.

The high altar, made of stone, is the reconstruction of the old roman one. Over the high altar there is a late-gothic carved triptych from 1514. In the middle of it there is a statue of the Madonna-and-Child. On both wings there are scenes from the life of the Holy Family and the pictures of the Passion of Christ. What is more, in the monastery corridors we can observe the precious remains, among which is a triptych from the XVth century showing the Madon-na-ancl - Child and the Saints.

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Our Lady of Czestochowa

One thing that struck me most strongly about Poland was when I visited sites of pilgrimage I felt more surrounded by pilgrims than I did tourists, people who had come to show their devotion rather than take a quick photo, this added wonderfully to the atmosphere and was something I experienced again and again during my visit.

Saint Luke the Evangelist, according to tradition, is believed to be the original artist of this painting in which Mary is depicted holding the Christ Child. This sacred picture, enshrined and venerated at the renowned Marian Shrine in Poland, was first brought from Jerusalem through Constantinople and was bestowed to the Princess of Ruthenia. It was brought to Poland in 1382 through the efforts of Ladislaus of Opole who had discovered it in a castle at Belz. To ensure its protection, he invited the Monks of Saint Paul the First Hermit from Hungary to be its guardians.

From this time onward, the historic records of the painting are documented and authenticated by the miracles associated with the painting. In 1430, a devastating attack on the Polish Shrine resulted in tragic losses and the damaging of the holy picture. To this very day, despite the attempts to repair the damage, the slashes on the face of the Virgin Mary are still visible.

The foundation of the Monastery and Shrine in Czestochowa began with a small wooden church. Subsequent development (1632-48) led to the construction of the present day basilica and defense wall which surrounds the sacred buildings. Under the heroic leadership of the Prior of the Monastery, Father Augustine Kordecki, the Shrine withstood the attacks of the Swedish Invasion of 1655. This great victory proved to be a tremendous boost to the morale of the entire Polish nation.

As a result, King Jan Casimir, in 1656, made a solemn vow proclaiming the Mother of God to be the "Queen of the Polish Crown" and the Shrine of Jasna Gora to be the "Mount of Victory" and a spiritual capital for Poland.

During the years of Poland's partition (1772-1918) the Shrine of Jasna Gora became a vibrant link for the Polish people with their homeland. The holy painting enshrined at Czestochowa beamed as a lighthouse of hope during the painful years of national hardships and defeats.

Following the restoration of national independence in 1918, pilgrimages to the Polish Shrine grew in number and size. As World War II ended, a nation devastated by the scourges of war drew new strength and courage from the Shrine to rebuild and recover from the war. Today the Shrine of Czestochowa in Poland attracts millions of worshipers and tourists who come to honor the miraculous image of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

In 1966, in celebration of the 1000th Anniversary of Poland's Christianity, a National Shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa was dedicated in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and is under the direction of the Pauline Fathers and Brothers who also administer the Shrine in Poland.

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The Wieliczka Salt Mine

To see what the miners had created with the salt down in the salt mines especially considering the conditions they would have been working in was truly spectacular.

The Salt Mine, located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, lies within the Kraków metropolitan area. The mine continuously produced table salt from the 13th century until 2007 as one of the world's oldest operating salt mines (the oldest being the Bochnia Salt Mine).

The mine's attractions for tourists include dozens of statues and an entire cathedral that have been carved out of the rock salt by the miners. About 1.2 million persons visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine annually.

Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding.

The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 300 km long. It features a 3.5-km touring route for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures. The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners; more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, so that the carvings resemble unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors expect. The carvings may appear white in the photos, but the actual carved figures are not white.

At the end of the tour, there is a large cathedral and reception room that can be reserved for private functions such as weddings or private parties. Also featured is a large chamber with walls carved to resemble wooden chapels built by miners in earlier centuries; an underground lake; and exhibits on the history of salt mining. The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland." It also houses a private rehabilitation and wellness complex.

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Wawel Cathedral

Being part of a pilgrimage group meant that we were fortunate enough to be allow into the Cathedral before it opened up to the public we had the whole place to ourselves had a beautiful Mass and a great little tour all before the crowds came in.

The 14th-century Wawel Cathedral (Katedra Wawelska), located inside Wawel Castle in Krakow, is the spiritual center of the Polish state. The burial place of nearly all Polish kings and national heroes, it was also the cathedral of Pope John Paul II before he left for the Vatican.

Wawel Cathedral and Castle stand on Wawel Hill, a 15-acre rocky limestone outcropping on the banks of the Vistula River, dominating Old Town Krakow. The hill is a natural point for fortification on the otherwise flat Vistula Plain.

In the 8th century Wawel Hill was topped with a tribal stronghold; since the 10th century it has hosted a royal residence and the seat of the bishops of Kraków. From 1037, when Kraków became the capital of Poland, Polish kings were crowned and buried in Wawel Cathedral.

The present cathedral, the third to stand on this site, was begun in 1320 and completed in 1364. The original austere structure remains mostly unchanged today, save for some Renaissance and baroque chapels that now huddle up against it.

Father Karol Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II, said his first Mass in the crypt of Wawel Cathedral on November 3, 1946. Seventeen years later, he took over the cathedral as Archbishop of Krakow. Fifteen years after that, he led the entire Roman Catholic world as Pope.
The dark interior of Wawel Cathedral contains no less than 18 chapels full of religious art. The most notable of these is the Kaplica Zygmuntowska (Sigismund Chapel), built 1517-33 by the Florentine architect Bartolomeo Berrecci. The chapel houses the tombs of King Sigismund, King Sigismund II Augustus and Anna Jagiellonka.

Easily identifiable on the exterior by its golden dome, the Sigismund Chapel is considered to be the finest Renaissance chapel north of the Alps. The sculptures, stuccos and paintings were designed by some of the most renowned artists of the age, including the architect Berrecci, Georg Pencz, Santi Gucci and Hermann Vischer.

Dominating the nave of the cathedral is the mausoleum of St. Stanislav, Poland's patron saint. The 11th-century Krakow bishop was murdered by King Boleslav II. The saint's silver coffin (circa 1670) is adorned with 12 relief scenes from his life and posthumous miracles. Marble tombs of four 17th-century Krakow prelates adjoin that of their predecessor.

Since 1037, Wawel Cathedral has been the burial place of Polish kings, even after the capital moved to Warsaw. The royal tombs of all but four of Poland's 45 rulers can be seen in the cathedral's side chapels and in the 12th-century St. Leonard's Crypt. King Kazimierz the Great's tomb is to the right of the main altar, made of red marble.

From the 19th century, only great national heroes were honored by a burial in Wawel Cathedral. These include: Tadeusz Kosciuszko (buried 1817); the great romantic poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki (whose bodies were brought back from exile for burial here); and Marshal Józef Pilsudski, the hero of independent Poland between the two world wars (buried in the crypt in 1935).
The cathedral also has a treasury, archives, library, and museum. Among the displays in the library, which is one of the earliest in Poland, is the 12th-century Emmeram Gospel from Regensburg.

Another major attraction of the cathedral is a climb to the Sigismund Tower, reached through the sacristy and a wooden staircase. The tower holds the famous Sigismund Bell (Zygmunt Bell), commissioned in 1520 by King Sigismund the Old.

The great bell is one-third heavier and 350 years older than Big Ben in London. It is tolled only on solemn state and church occasions, including the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

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Corpus Christi Procession

We visited so many wonderful places during our pilgrimage to Poland that it is difficult to highlight one event above the rest but the Corpus Christi Procession has to come close. I have included some clips I took of the procession below.

This is the beginning of the procession as it leaves the Cathedral in Krakow and heads towards The Church of the Virgin Mary in the Market Square.

This is just a very short clip capturing some of the group as they join the procession.

The procession paused four times on its journey to The Church of the Virgin Mary each re-presenting the four corners of the world. This clip shows the first time the procession stops and includes the sermon which was preached at the time.

This is a clip of the procession as it moves towards the market square and is final destination The Church of the Virgin Mary. I was trying to capture the vast numbers of people in attendance and some of the singing.

This clip is one of two capturing the procession as it arrives at its destination outside The Church of the Virgin Mary in the market square.

This is clip two of two capturing the arrive of the Blessed Sacrament as it arrives at its destination outside The Chruch of the Virgin Mary in the market square.


One the last full day of our Pilgrimage we went to Auschwitz. I found my time there to be quiet and respectful. The detailed tour helped me appreciate more the vast numbers of people that died and suffered in camps like this during the second world war. The pictures and exhibits were sensitively and well presented fully delivering the devastating message of what evils the human race is capable of.

All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.

The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.

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I have tried to share one activity from each day on this post however there were many other churches and places I have not mentioned here, the Divine Mercy Shrine and the City of Krakow itself just to give two examples. I truly had a wonderful time and found my experience to be holisticly energising. For anyone planing a break to Poland or considering going on a Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage I would encourage them not to hesitate and enbrace the opportunity. If any of the group happen to read this entry and would like to share your thoughts or just to say hello I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

3/7 St Sebastian's

I must admit I was initially disappointed when I entered the church of St Sebastian. Having been to St Peter's and St Paul's and knowing little about the Seven Church Pilgrimage I had expected something on a grander scale than what lay before me.
A short flip through my guides however revealed to me the spiritual significance of the place, especially for any individual fond of St Philip at it was in St Sebastian's Catacombs on Pentecost in 1544 while deep in prayer the St Philip became aware of the action of the Holy Spirit in the fire of his love, which he could feel localised in his heart. The experience resulted in his heart actually enlarging to the extent that his ribs were forced outward. It was also known to palpitate violently on occasions and emitted a great deal of warmth.

When I was there it was late in the day and I was fortunate enough to be the only English person their and so as given my own private tour which was wonderful. Upon seeing my enthusiasm the lovely gentleman added additional interesting pieces of information was happy to answer all my questions and we even took a moment to stand silently in prayer.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

2/7 St Paul's Outside the Walls

Two things immediately struck me about St Paul's. The first is quite how ordinary the building looks on approaching it from the side, however, this is dispelled when you get round the front and presented with a tranquil cloister and beautiful facade.

The Second it with the absence of any side altars and no dominating monuments you are drawn straight into the sheer loftiness and openness of the nave, where after admiring the Confession and Baldacchino your eyes trace over the portraits of the Popes from St Peter to the current Pope Benedict XVI.

If St Peter's helped me appreciate the size of the Rome Catholic Church then with its Popes St Paul's helped me appreciate the age of the Church.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

1/7 St Peter's

I was so excited the first evening I arrived in Rome I left my travelling companion settling into the hostel while I went out simply to capture a glimpse of St Peters.

The first picture on this slide is taken in the dead of night the atmosphere was so peaceful it was a wonderful introduction to Rome and provided me with a gentle realisation that I had actually arrived.

After my seek preview I went back early the next morning for a proper look. I found myself at St Peters on a couple of occasions during my brief stay in Rome and I would suggest that it is best to arrive early before the crowds. Despite the Vatican’s best efforts once the crowds have arrived and begin touring it distracts from the fact that you are visiting a building which primary function is a church. Arrive early however and you can witness the side altars alive with priests saying Mass, knee at the confessio to recite the creed without fear of being trampled and kiss the toe of St Peters statue without concerning yourself with people trying to take pictures. I found it makes for a more spiritual experience.

Once you have completed your devotions however, it is only natural to want to explore. The building is so vast and busy it can easily overwhelm the senses and I would highly recommend purchasing a good guidebook or renting the audio guide and taking your time.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

My Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches - Rome

On a recent holiday backpacking through Italy I had the chance to visit Rome for the first time, where I took this fantastic opportunity to complete the Seven Church Pilgrimage.

A book on the pilgrimage to the seven churches published in 1694 describes it as ‘a pilgrimage peradventure the most celebrated after Calvary and the Sepulchre of Christ’, and is an old medieval tradition that was revived and promoted by St Philip Neri in the sixteenth century. St Philip and his companions would set out to visit the four major basilicas of Rome, as well as the three more significant minor basilicas. They would pack picnic lunches, sing hymns, and pray litanies along the way, stopping occasionally to rest, and pausing at each of the seven basilicas for catechesis and prayer. They would start at St Peter’s walking south to St Paul’s Outside the walls beyond the city outskirts, and then across to the tomb of St Sebastian on the Appian way, back into the city to St john Lateran, up a short way to the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, heading out again to St Lawrence Outside the Walls, before finally ending in the city at St Mary’s Major.

Over the next several posts I will be sharing my journey with clips and relfections of my experience.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Passing on the Faith

For a few reasons to varied to mention here we have decided to prepare our youngest for her First Holy Communion and First Confession ourselves.

I must admit, when I was looking for books and scouting around on the Internet for ideas I was a little daunted by the prospect to say the least. While I consider myself to have a very good grounding in the Faith I was not sure I could pass this on to one of the child. I was certainly not sure if I could communicate my understanding in a child friendly way.

After speaking to a few friends and having a look around myself I happened upon and brought 'The Bread of Life: Preparing for First Communion and First Confession' by Fr Martin Edwards.
I am taking a slightly different approach, in order to preserve the book for future generations I have took to making word documents with the exercises on. I am also adding other fun activities I found on the Internet such as Mass word searches, gospel pictures to colour in and creating prayers where you have to fill in the missing words.

Yesterday we sat down together for the first time and......

I think it went really well, she appeared to enjoy the activities and afterwards was very eager to show her daddy her folder with the exercises she had done in.

I also enjoyed it, having prepared so well before hand I did not have to stop and start the session and the experience not only gave me quality time with the children but the feeling I got from passing on the Faith made me glow inside.

All my nerves have not disappeared and I would be very grateful for other peoples comments of their experiences but I am sure of one thing - that one of the most important things we Catholics can ever do is to pass on the Faith (both the doctrinal content and actual practice).

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Tradional Latin Mass Explained

This Thursday the Young Adult Group at the Birmingham Oratory meet for our monthly talk followed by questions and debate. Our topic on this coming occasion we be "Understanding the Old Rite"

The group consists of people from there early 20's to there late 30's both students and professional who frequently attend "Old Rite" and "New Rite" Masses so if anything this event promises to be both informative and interesting.

If anyone is interested in our future events we meet at the Oratory House 7.30pm on the first Thursday of every month.