Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is a breathtaking cultural landscape of great spiritual significance. Its natural setting – in which a series of symbolic places of worship relating to the Passion of Jesus Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary was laid out at the beginning of the 17th century – has remained virtually unchanged. It is still today a place of pilgrimage.
Historical Description :
Work on building the Calvary was begun in 1600 by Mikolaj Zebrzydowski, the Voyevode of Cracow, who built the Chapel of the Crucifixion on the slopes of Żar Mountain. Together with a small hermitage, this was used by him for personal meditation.
However, Zebrzydowski was persuaded by the Bernardine (Franciscan) monks Tomasz Bucki and Ludwig Boguski to enlarge his original concept to cover an extensive landscape complex with many chapels, linked in form and theme to those in Jerusalem. It was conceived as being for the use not only of the local inhabitants but also of believers from elsewhere in Poland and in neighbouring countries.
The layout was the work of the distinguished mathematician, astronomer, and surveyor Feliks Żebrowski. He based it on the landscape of Jerusalem at the time of Christ, using a system of measurement that he developed to enable the urban landscape of Jerusalem to be reproduced symbolically on the natural landscape. This makes use of the natural topography, the Lackarańska Mountain representing the Mount of Olives and the Żar Mountain Golgotha, for example.
The sites chosen for the chapels that represented the stages in the taking of Christ and the Stations of the Cross were linked by tracks cut through the natural woodland and were marked first by a simple cross. These were replaced by chapels, nearly all of which were built between 1605 and 1632. The architect of the chapels was a Belgian, Paul Baudarth, and the influence of the Mannerist architecture of The Netherlands is very marked. In 1632 a wall was built (now no longer extant) which symbolized the urban limits of the Holy City, and also a system of routes that linked ten chapels associated with the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Only four further chapels were added - those dedicated to the Third Fall of Christ (1754), the Weeping Women (1782), St John Nepomucen (1824), and the Angel (1836). The original Bridge of the Angels was replaced by a new structure in 1907.
The Church of the Our Lady of the Angels and the Bernardine monastery were designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni. However, he did not complete the project, which was finished by Baudarth in 1609. The monastery was considerably enlarged in 1654-56, and took on the appearance of a Baroque castle.. A pilgrim chapel in developed Baroque style was added to the church in 1658- 67, to house a miraculous picture of the Virgin. The church achieved its present form at the end of the 17th century, whilst the monastery was enlarged once again at the beginning of the 19th century.
When the monastery was founded in 1617 the inhabitants of the town of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska that had sprung up were allowed to rent part of its lands within the Calvary park. They began to clear the woodland for pastures, and in the mid-18th century they were allowed to build houses on their plots. A process of reforestation began at the beginning of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Czartoryski family, the owners of the park, built a palatial residence near the pilgrim church, but this was largely destroyed in the 19th century. At the end of World War II the plot on which the palace had stood, together with some surviving outbuildings, passed into the ownership of the state, which used it for the construction of a theological college.
Historical archives show that Kalwaria Zebrzydowska had many distinguished royal and noble visitors as well as countless pious pilgrims. Many were attracted by religious performances and ritual that were staged there. As early as 1613 Mikolaj Zebrzydowski had received permission to found a religious fraternity to organize religious ceremonies of this kind. Local people joined the Bernardine monks at Easter to take part in dramatic enactments of Christ's Passion. These religious performances were discouraged during the Austrian occupation of this region, but they were revived after 1947. In addition to the Passion procession at Easter, there is a similar event at the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in August.