Our Lady of the Wayside| National Catholic Register

The Catholic Marian pilgrim will find much in every corner of Poland.

So far, we’ve seen four major Marian shrines in Poland: Jasna Góra (Częstochowa), Gietrzywałd, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków. 

There are, of course, many more, e.g., the Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń, between Łódź and Poznań, but I’ve not been there yet and so prefer not to write indirectly about it. Instead, I suggest you look around you.

Devotion to Our Lady is so deep in Poland that you will find many the figure of Mary (or of Jesus in suffering meditation) along streets or roadside chapels. Especially in May, these are easy to identify: usually around 6pm, there’ll be a group of people gathered around to say the Rosary.

Our Lady of Kozielsk

I mention these smaller shrines because they generally are not noted by the foreign pilgrim but deserve to be known. Like the shrine to Our Lady of Kozielsk in the Church of the Holy Cross in downtown Warsaw. The Church itself is historic — the image of Jesus carrying his cross outside the church was one of the few artifacts still standing when the rest of Warsaw was destroyed by the Germans in 1944-45 after the Russians sat by, across the river, doing nothing.

The Shrine to Our Lady of Kozielsk was in part of the initiative of an American priest, the late Msgr. Zdzisław Peszkowski of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. Peszkowski, who miraculously avoided being sent among Polish military officers to Katyń, where Russians murdered 22,000 Polish officers in the spring of 1940, one by one with a bullet to the head, made it his life work to cultivate devotion to Our Lady on behalf of those massacred prisoners.

Our Lady of Czerwińsk-nad-Wisłą

Forty miles northwest of Warsaw is the Shrine of Our Lady of Czerwińsk-nad-Wisłą, with its 400-year-old image of Our Lady of Consolation. The painting, dating from 1612, has been a locus of graces for many people over the past four centuries. On a hillside overlooking the Vistula (Wisła) River, the sanctuary is in the care of the Salesian Fathers.

Kazimierz Dolny

Kazimierz Dolny, near Lublin, is a frequent tourist spot to visit because of its well-preserved medieval and Renaissance character, from the day when the town was an important point on the Wisła River for the transport of grain throughout Poland. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Annunciation is in Kazimierz, and it was one of the first religious sites to make an impression on me during my first visit to Poland decades ago.

The church also contains a 400-year-old painting of the Annunciation that has, over the centuries, been associated with many graces. For me, the sanctuary took on an ecumenical meaning. The church is atop a hill, and the path up the hill could get muddy. (While Poles honestly praise the “golden Polish autumn,” November is not a pretty month in the country.)

During World War II, the Germans turned the Church into regional Gestapo headquarters, and led their prisoners to torture and killing there. Because the Nazis could not get Polish mud on their pretty boots, they pilfered the gravestones of the local Jewish cemetery to pave the path up the hill to that Franciscan cloister. It always struck me that two religions, worshipping the true God, met in an interreligious dialogue of suffering in that Church, showing us that the Holocaust was not the work of religion but the work of the anti-religious, whose hatred of revealed religion was epitomized in that little church in Kazimierz Dolny.

Krasnobród

Finally, Krasnobród. 20 miles south of Zamość, in southeastern Poland, Krasnobród is somewhat off the beaten track. It’s in rural Poland, on the local roads that eventually lead to the Ukrainian border. Time and history seemed for a long time to have forgotten that corner of Poland, while the healthy pine-filled air of Roztocze beckons. It’s a special trip, but it’s worth it.

Krasnobród is home to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Visitation. The miraculous painting depicts Our Lady adoring the Child Jesus, lying on the ground. As in other cases, a tradition of thanksgiving for graces has marked this site since the 17th century. It is also said that a spring arose there whose waters were claimed by some to be curative.

Doubters might be bemused by the “miraculous” paintings of Poland, many of them dating from the 1600s, but — without necessarily formal declarations of ecclesiastical confirmation — the fact is that there are long attestations of people over those centuries who acknowledged graces received. Is their piety directed ultimately to a picture? No. It is to the one whom that picture represents, faith in Mary who was the first to point out needs to her Son (“Son, they have no wine”) and did not hesitate to promote her adopted children to him. It is that trust that has grounded Polish devotion to Our Lady in a country that has seen itself wiped for centuries from political maps, destined for physical extermination by totalitarians (and again finds itself on the front lines of war), and which — against human odds — trusted in Our Lady and her Son. 

The Catholic Marian pilgrim will find much in every corner of Poland.


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