Altar of queen Jadwiga’s miraculous crucifix
Black marble from Dębnik, pink marble from Paczółtowice, 1743-1745, designed by Francesco Placidi (?), lime wood sculpture (?), Italy (?), late 14th century; silver plate, Krakow, 1634; queen Jadwiga’s reliquary, brass plate, bronze, 1987, designed by Witold Korski, made by Antoni Oremus
Krakow, the Wawel Cathedral
An altar made of black marble from Dębnik, situated in the south-eastern corner of the ambulatory in the Wawel cathedral. A huge five-axis structure with an expressive, recessed layout, supported by a high, two-storey base. External axes are slightly tilted towards the ambulatory, while the base on internal axes projects towards the ambulatory. In the bottom part, centrally, there is a separated altar stone in the shape of a horizontal rectangle with a niche, in which a bronze reliquary with the remains of queen Jadwiga is placed. Sides of the bases feature panels in the shape of vertical rectangles. In the top part, centrally, a separated “predella” with an engraved gilded inscription in Latin on the history of the miraculous cross:
HAEC SALVATORIS NOSTRI IESU CHRISTI CRUCI AFFIXI EFFIGIES
QUAE IN ICONOTHECA ISTA DEBITO CUM HONORE SERVATUR
(UT MAIORUM HABET TRADITIO)
CUM DIVA HEDIGE POLONIAE RGEINA
LUDOVICI HUNGARORUM & POLONORUM REGIS FILIA // VLADISLAI IAGIELLONIS PRIMA CONIUGE
PIETATE EXQUISITA DUM VIVERET // POST MORTEM VERO VARIIS MIRACULIS ILLUSTRI
TU ETIAM HOSPES SIGNA VULNERUM EIUSDEM DOMINI TUI
SINE VOCE HIC TE ALLOQUENTIA AUDI,
& QUAM GRATUS ERGA EA FUERIS TECUM COGITA
Sides of the base feature frames in the shape of vertical rectangles filled with panel made of pink marble from Paczółtowice. Central part in the shape of vertical rectangle with a rectangular niche, topped with a semicircle, with rich-profiled framing. It is flanked by two columns on each side which support massive entablature that dominates the whole structure and strengthens the visual tilt side axes towards the ambulatory. Such a solution adds to the altar’s character of a deep aedicula which forms a spectacular setting for the magnificent monument and relic – the miraculous crucifix. Over the entablature, a broken pediment shaped as two elliptic volutes, in between which, there is a huge gilded “sunburst” in the shape of Veil of Veronica supported by angels, framed with clouds and light beams. Slightly below that, on the central axis, between the top of the niche with the crucifix and the entablature, there is a volute cartouche with the inscription: ALTARE UNUM EX SEPTEM PRIVILEGIATUM. The whole structure is topped with a low, flattened pediment in the shape of an arc.
A realistic, detailed from all sides, yet unnatural in size figure of crucified Jesus is extremely dynamic and expressive. This result was achieved thanks to asymmetrical composition. The Saviour is hanging facing the right side, with knees pulled up in this direction and head lowered towards the right shoulder. What is more, a richly draped perizoma (loincloth) features an unusually large festoon placed over the right thigh. Side festoons are shorter and less exposed. Details of sculpting within the body are poorly visible due to a secondary coat of black paint. A closer look reveals a net of veins over the entire arms and shins sculpted realistically and an almost “decorative” motif of bums – wounds, some of which feature bloody effusions – covering the entire body evenly. The head has an elongated shape and regular features. Slightly opened mouth and deep furrows on the forehead add a sense of suffering to the image. Christ does not have nor facial hair nor and the scalp was intentionally left smoothly bald for a wig.
Queen Jadwiga’s reliquary in the form of a cuboid chest, where the shorter sides are square and the loner side is divided into there squares, in each of which, a geometrical foil design with traceries is inscribed in a circle. These medallions feature coats of arms of the d’Anjou family, the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, while in the centre, there is a crown with the letter “h” for Hedwigis – Jadwiga. On the strips that separate fields on the front side, there are inscriptions: SANCTA HEDVIGIS REX POLONIAE // SAINT JADWIGA QUEEN OF POLAND. At the bottom right, there is a signature – names of the designer and craftsman.
The north-eastern part of the ambulatory in the Krakow cathedral has become the second site where queen Jadwiga’s cult is especially celebrated after her tomb. There is a sculpture here that, according to a legend, was founded by the queen (brought from Hungary). According to later legends, Christ in this statue was to speak to the d’Anjou (one of the alternative version states the Saviour’s words spoken to her: Fac quod vides (Do what you see). Luxurious works of art played an important role at Jadwiga’s court. Most of her known foundations were of religious character, because the queen was renown for passionate piety in the sense of devotio moderna. The fact that she cared for the Wawel cathedral’s equipment is proved by the rationale of Krakow bishops (an element of liturgical clothing that emphasises a special status of the Krakow diocese in the Church hierarchy), which is whole embroidered with pearls, and scyfus (Dresden, Grünes Gewölbe) – a representative cup (originally for layman use) with an inscription dedicated to St Wenceslaus. Jadwiga’s religious needs and high culture are also expressed in the Psałterz Floriański [St Florian Psalter] (Krakow, Jagiellonian Library), which was made on her request, richly illuminated, Including Latin version of the psalms along with their translations into Polish and German. The queen also was in the possession of one of the oldest preserved manuscripts with the Visions of St Bridget of Sweden (Warsaw, National Library, manuscript II 3310) offered to her most likely by an outstanding theologian, Mateusz of Krakow. He was a member of the canonization committee for Bridget of Sweden and might have come into possession of the manuscript in late 1370s in Rome, where a code was attached: Defensio regulae s. Birgittae and Epistola ad abbatissam et conventum in Vadstena. The book includes the original text of the Visions, written down in the years 1373-1377 by Alphonso de Vadaterra, and was probably manufactured in the years 1375-1377 in Naples. The book is richly decorated, it includes, among others, a spectacular one-page miniature (k. 226v) depicting the Vision of God’s Throne and an initial with the image of St Bridget praying to Christ and Mary, as well as rich floral decorations, filigrees, braided frames and bird images on the margins. With time, in unknown circumstances, the manuscript found its way into the prebendaries’ library in Holy Cross chapel at the Wawel cathedral (the tomb chapel for king Casimir IV Jagiellon and his wife Elisabeth of Austria). Queen Jadwiga played an important role in bringing Slavic Benedictines (who celebrated liturgy in the Slavic language) from Prague to Krakow. She founded the Holy Cross church (not preserved until present times) for them. She also supported the Carmelites, for whom she founded – together with Jagiełło – huge churches in Krakow and Poznań (in the latter one, a beautiful stone console with a carved Anjou coat of arms was preserved). Numerous works of craft mentioned in written sources were related to her court. It is known, for example, that a new crown was made for her coronation because the royal insignia founded for the coronation of Władysław the Elbow-high were taken to Hungary by king Louis the Great and were returned to Krakow only as a result of Władysław Jagiełło’s efforts in 1412.
Jadwiga’s crucifix represents the so called “mystic” type with exposed, and even exaggerated signs of suffering. Originally, it was most certainly covered with a realistic polychrome. The body was painted in pink, while dark red emphasised wounds scatter all over the figure as clots and scabs carved in the wood. Such a verismo way of depicting the suffering and torment of the Saviour became popular c. 1300 in Lower Rhineland and then in other parts of Europe. Exposed wounds, which, in some cases, cover Jesus’ body in a bloody “ornament”, are related to the popularity of flagellants, that is people who mortified their own bodies by whipping it with a sharply-ended iron instruments. The composition and detailing used by the artist in this sculpture make it a unique case difficult to interpret. A number of hypotheses on its origin has been posed with central-European countries being the most likely option. Only recently, Romuald Kaczmarek proved in a very convincing way that the sculpture is a heterogenic piece that combines elements known and popular in various parts of Europe, but it is related by particular resemblance to Roman crucifixes from mid 14th century, some of which was allegedly adored by St Bridget of Sweden during her stay in the Eternal City. These figures feature an especially distinctive element: three festoons, that is loosely-hanging ends of a perizoma. While two side drapes are found in most late-medieval crucifixes in western Europe, the third one on Christ’s right thigh seems indigenous for Italy. The extremely expressive face bears strong resemblance to the Naples painting style. This thus, most likely, a piece imported from Italy, which is a rare phenomenon for this part of the continent in late 14th century. Hungarian d’Anjou branch originated from the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. The founder of this line, Charles Robert d’Anjou, married to the daughter of Władysław the Elbow-high and Elisabeth, the grandfather to queen Jadwiga, enjoyed great family connections. His uncle, the famous Robert the Wise, was the king of Naples, count of Provence and a titular king of Jerusalem.
Tales of the queen’s passionate devotion to the crucifix in the cathedral matches the model of piety she represented. It was deeply enrooted in piety of the late Middle Ages. St Albertus Magnus and St Thomas Aquinas justified a belief that the Church tried to eradicate over the next centuries, a belief that adoration of the images of Christ and the cross equalled to worshipping the Saviour himself. According to recommendations included in the most important pieces of mystical literature, a painting may serve as a means of prayer, facilitating the rise of thoughts and soul towards God. Christocentrism and the place of Passion in the centre of piety were expressed in continuous prayers taking place in front of the Crucified image, which was treated as the most important centre of private piety, both among clergy and laymen. For example, blessed Andrea Gallerani of Siena (died 1251), member of the third order, used to spend his days and nights in front of a crucifix and a loop around his neck mounted to the ceiling beams prevented him from falling asleep. Monastic traditions included bowing and throwing oneself on the floor in front of a Passion, described, for example, in a commentary to Dominican statutes by Humbert de Romans. A treaty De oratione et partibus eius, written c. 1220 allegedly by a professor of Sorbonne in Paris, Piotr Kantor, includes a theoretical remark that human posture during the prayer reflects their inner attitude, while their gestures reflect spiritual predisposition. De modo orandi corporaliter sancti Dominici, written c. 1280-1288 by a Dominican from Bologna was yet another popular piece. It emphasises the role of individual, “secret” prayer of St Dominic used to say in from of an altar and a crucifix, in which he perceived Christ’s real and personal presence.
Deep mystical experience of pious people who contemplated holy images were a source of legends of “reviving” pieces of art. Special importance was assigned to images of the Crucified, especially to those that depicted Jesus’ tormented body in a realistic way. In a work by Krzysztof Warszewicki, a canon to Krakow cathedral charter and royal secretary, released in Krakow in 1602 – Caesarum, regum et principium […] vitarum parallelarum libri duo, it was recorded for the first time, that the Wawel crucifix spoke to the queen. The same legend was reported in 1622 by Abraham Bzowski in Roczne dzieje kościelne [Annual church history], a comprehensive history of the Catholic Church released in Rome.
Unfortunately, it is uncertain what the original exposition of the crucifix was. In 1403, when a canon to the Krakow cathedral chapter, Niemierza of Krzelów, founded the adjacent All Saints altar, the crucifix had already been in its contemporary location. In 1415, the founder referred his patronage right in regard to this altar to Krakow Academy, with a reservation that violists could be selected only among Academy’s professors, while preaching in Polish was one of their most important duties. It was a very important step in the development of Polish-language preaching at the Wawel cathedral. At the dawn of the middle Ages, the crucifix was placed in an triptych altar, which also included figures of Mother of God and John the Evangelist. The back of the wings featured images of four pious women who attained the grace of a conversation with the Crucified. Each section featured the same composition layout with St Bridget of Sweden and St Hedwig of Silesia and two non-canonized rulers – queen Jadwiga d’Anjou and Krakow princess Kinga in their prayers in from of crucifixes. Inner side of the wings were lined with black velvet with votive offerings. A detailed description of this altar is preserved in Wizytacja [Inspection] by bishop Andrzej Trzebicki (1670) and in the files of the so called second beatification process of princess Kinga – the wife of Bolesław V the Chaste, who entered a Clarisse convent in Stary Sącz as a widow. The files were recorded in 1684 and include, among others, studies on a number of pieces of art preserved in Krakow, which testified the long-lasting history and popularity of Kinga’s cult. Expert studies were conducted by Krakow painters, Marcin Kłoszowski and Andrzej Ruszel, whose reliability, experience in the subject matter, and fitness for the position of expert was confirmed by the mayor of Krakow and town councillors. They found the above-mentioned triptych especially interesting. Its boards were to be covered in paints ab annis ducentis et ultra (two centuries ago or more), and the basis for such a claim was examination of the condition of the substrate and the style (modus picture), described as older than two hundred years. Thus, the piece dated back to approximately mid 15th century.
In 1634, a canon at the Krakow cathedral chapter, father Wojciech Serebryski, run conservation works on the altar and added a spectacular element to it, mainly a silver plate covered in floral ornaments placed behind the Crucified that has been preserved until now. A baldachin was hung above the triptych, while the statue itself was covered with a muslin veil. In the years 1743-1745, the dean of the cathedral chapter, father Michał Wodzicki founded a new altar sculpted in a late-baroque style in black marble from quarry in Dębnik. This piece launched significant changes to the cathedral’s fittings which underwent a wide scope of architectural works in the years 1745-1753 as a part of preparations for five hundred years anniversary of canonization of St Stanislaus. Further investments included six altars of black marble designed most probably by Francesco Placidiego, who was paid by the cathedral chapter in May 1747 for altar designs and sketches. Michał Wodzicki also founded in 1752 an altar in the Our lady of the Snow chapel (bishop Maciejowski’s chapel) that was being renovated simultaneously. The same year, old altars located by the pillars in between the naves were removed and replaced with new ones decorated with images of Archangel Michael and saints Florian, Adalbert, and Casimir. Thus, the interior of the church gained a set of altars homogenous in style, devoted to saint patron of the country and Krakow.
The crucifix and the accompanying figures of Mary and John the Evangelist remained in the central part of the new altar, while an inscription (unfortunately, dating is unknown) that the old altar featured as well was placed on the predella of the new one: To Zbawiciela naszego Jezusa Chrystusa przypiętego do krzyża wyobrażenie, które w ołtarzu tym z należnym honorem jest przechowywane, przemówiło (jak głosi tradycja przodków) do błogosławionej Jadwigi, królowej Polski, córki Ludwika – króla Węgrów i Polaków i Władysława Jagiełły pierwszej małżonki, za życia z pobożności, po śmierci zaś z licznych cudów sławnej. Ty zaś gościu znaki tegoż Pana twojego bez głosu do ciebie mówiące – usłysz i jak wielką wdzięczność jesteś mu winien – rozważ) [This is the image of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, on the cross, that is stored on this altar with due honours, which spoke (as our ancestors claim) to the blessed Jadwiga, queen of Poland, daughter to Louis – king of Hungarians and Poles, and first wife to Władysław Jagiełło, famous for her piety during her life, and numerous miracles after her death. You, visitor, hear the signs of the Lord speaking to you without voice and consider how great gratitude you owe him]. It clearly suggests that the sculpture had been treated from the very beginning as a very important relic of the past, while subsequent altars had been its ceremonial setting. It is strongly emphasised by the word ICONOTHECA, which literally means a place for storage of paintings, images.
This great example of “adaptation” of a medieval painting and medieval sculptures arranged in a similar way can be found in churches of all denominations in almost all European countries. Another example in Krakow is the “beautiful” Pietá in St Barbara’s church, which was found in 1677 in a dark hall of a Jesuit monastery and almost immediately referred to as peculiari artificio elaborata i ex lapide secto admirabili arte elaborata (crafted with special artistry and carved in stone with especially masterful craftsmanship). It was exhibited for the next two hundred years in a spending baroque altar from 1731 surrounded by numerous votive offerings: in a silver riza, bavette and apron with gold floral design. Also a number of other medieval crucifixes were preserved in Krakow, which were re-set in baroque altars for cult-related reasons (among others, in Mogiła Abbey, St Mark church and St Barbara church).
Another aspect of the cult of the miraculous crucifix is its use as a trophy site. The exact circumstances of the vent are not known, but on September 9th, 1679, a Krakow-based builder, Stanisław Kopernik found, while carrying out construction works in regard to making the northern section of the Wawel cathedral’s ambulatory higher, inside the church, near the altar of the miraculous crucifix, a splendid renaissance shield with a image of the battle of the Milvian bridge between Constantine the Great and Maxentius (312). This excellent work of Italian armour craft from the 16th century was considered a sign – an omen of victory of Christian armies over the Turks. When Phillipe Dupont, an envoy to king John III Sobieski, came to Krakow to announce the victory of Vienna, he found the queen in the cathedral praying for her husbands victory by queen Jadwiga’s crucifix. He gave her the grand vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha’s gold stirrup along with the following message: the one, whose foot rested in that stirrup, by God’s will is defeated. The stirrup was hung next to the crucifix as a votive offering where it returned on September 16th, 1883. The tradition to offer spoils of war to especially important sites dates back to ancient times. In Krakow, the victory of Grunwald (1410) was a groundbreaking moment. It was attributed to intercession of the country’s most important saint patron, a Krakow bishop, Stanislaus of Szczepanów. The ceremony of offering banners won at Grunwald for St Stanislaus’ tomb elevated the Wawel cathedral’s status to a trophy church. Also other places connected to other patrons of Poland enjoyed such a status, for example, in 1589, Prokop Pieniążek offered a banner won in 1581 during the battle of Pskov to St Hyacinth’s tomb in the Dominican church in Krakow.
In the 19th century, the altar of Crucified Jesus became not only a site of an intense cult of queen Jadwiga, but also of all kinds of patriotic celebrations. For example, on an anniversary of Jagiellonian University renewal, father professor Józef Sebastian Pelczar celebrated a mass for the university’s founders at this very altar. This place increased in importance, when in 1909 a convention of Polish bishops of the Galicia launched efforts to renew the beatification procedure of queen Jadwiga and in 1910, the quincentennary of the battle of Grunwald was celebrated on a grand scale. Polish Association of Catholic Women in Krakow started collecting money for the queen’s coffin. In the years 1932-1933, on archbishop Sapieha’s initiative, the miraculous crucifix was restored.
A culmination of efforts that had been undertaken by Church in Poland for centuries took place when pope John Paul II visited the Wawel cathedral for the first time on June 8, 1979. The pope celebrated a mass to queen Jadwiga according to a new form approved by Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship and Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. He was wearing the Krakow bishops’ rationale, which, from the point of view of liturgical history, was an unprecedented event. On August 8th, 1986, Congregation for the Cause of the Saints promulgated Declaration on the Blessed Jadwiga Queen of Poland which finally concluded the issue of beatification and opened the road to canonization. On June 5th, 1987, cardinal Franciszek Macharski, upon reception of approval form the Congregation, presided over exhumation of the queen’s remains, whose status as relics was confirmed by the Church this time. They were transferred to a new reliquary made of bronze, designed by professor Witold Korski of Krakow University of Technology and made by Antoni Oremus. During John Paul II’s visit to Krakow several days later, on June 10th, the reliquary was placed in a niche cut into the antependium of the Crucified Jesus altar. On this occasion, the pope delivered his famous sermon on the Holy Cross that began with the words Ave Crux (Praise be to the Cross).
The next stage within the canonization procedure was a decree on the heroic virtues of queen Jadwiga issued on December 17th, 1996. Within the scope of preparations for the 600-years anniversary of Jadwiga’s death, father professor Wacław Świeżawski, the Vice-chancellor of the pontifical University, initiated a so called novena of years celebrated on the 17th day of each month, which included prayers by the reliquary placed in the altar of Crucified Jesus. A painting, which was a subject of a special worship among Sisters of St Queen Jadwiga Servants of Christ Present, painted by professor Jan Bruzda in 1990, increased in popularity. The painting’s composition, Jadwiga praying to crucified Christ who addresses her with the words Fac quo vides, was based on the description of the unpreserved triptych with the miraculous Wawel cross. A reconstruction sketch prepared by professor Jerzy Gadomski of Jagiellonian University’s Institute of Art History, the most extinguished expert in Gothic panel painting in Poland, published as an illustration for father Czesław Skowron’s (aka Adam Sachetnik) article, was used as a template. It is a very rare example of how a scientific image made a religious “career”. The motif of prayers in front of a crucifix became very popular in iconography related to the newly blessed. One of the parts of an exhibition organised in 1997 at the Archdiocesan Museum in Krakow entitled Błogosławiona Jadwiga Królowa w oczekiwaniu na kanonizację [Blessed Queen Jadwiga in Waiting for Canonization] was called Jadwiga przed Krucyfiksem [Jadwiga in front of the Crucifix].
On June 8th, 1997, John Paul II declared Jadwiga a saint during a mass in Krakow Błonia park. It was the first canonization mass to take place in Poland. On the next day, the pope visited the relics of the new saint at the altar of Crucified Jesus at the Wawel cathedral. Soon afterwards, the inscription on the reliquaries was changed with the words BEATA and BŁOGOSŁAWIONA [blessed] being replaced with SANCTA and ŚWIĘTA [saint].
We are all well aware that to enter this Cathedral can not be without emotion. More I say, you can not enter it without the internal tremor, without fear because it contains in it - as in almost no Cathedral of the world - the enormous size, which speaks to us in all our history, our entire past.cardinal Karol Wojtyla