Małopolska’s Way of St James
On the Way of St James, or the medieval Internet
The Way of St James is one of Europe’s oldest pilgrimage routes, known as far back as the 9th century! Wanderers on it included kings from different eras. Today, the Spanish national football team makes a pilgrimage to Compostela before every important game.
The widespread pilgrimage movement in some centuries contributed to the thought and intellectual development of Europe. Pilgrims, including many intellectuals, travelled from town to town, sharing knowledge and even material culture. The Way of St James encircling Europe can be compared to today’s Internet. The Council of Europe has recognised the traditions of the route as an important part of the culture of our continent and has called for its restoration. Today, most sections of the Way of St James are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Polish section of the road is part of the Via Regia route from Vilnius via Grodno, Kyiv, Lviv, Krakow, Olkusz, Będzin, Wrocław, Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne, Aachen, Brussels, Paris, Orleans, Bordeaux, Pompeluna, and Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. In 2015, Marek Kamiński, traveller and conqueror of two poles in one year, walked the trail from Königsberg to Compostela, covering 4,000 kilometres in 119 days.
The symbol of the route, the shell of St James, is associated neither with the person of the saint nor with the destination of pilgrimage – Santiago de Compostela. Many pilgrims, after reaching Compostela, trek even further, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, to Cape Finisterre, considered the end of the world in the Middle Ages. From there they took shells with them, which over time became a symbol and a signpost of the way.
Follow the temples dedicated to St James, Jesus’ favourite disciple
In 2008, the centuries-old pilgrimage route was reconstructed and is now known as the Małopolska Route of St James. Historically, it includes the route leading through the valley of the Vistula River from Sandomierz to Krakow. This year it is worth taking a special interest in this unusual pilgrimage route, as 2021 is the Jubilee Year of St James the Apostle.
He was the first of the twelve apostles to die a martyr’s death. He was said to have been particularly close to Jesus. The Apostle Saint James the Great is held in special veneration throughout Europe. It is claimed that his remains, transferred from Jerusalem in the 7th century, are in Santiago de Compostela (Spain); therefore, this place is accorded special veneration.
The current trail has been laid out with easy-to-read signposts. It turns out that all over Europe, on the way to Santiago de Compostela, you will come across churches dedicated to St James. In the administrative part of Małopolska, we can find them in Pałecznica, Niegardów, and Więcławice Stare. These are most likely places where pilgrims have stayed overnight for centuries. It is no coincidence that the temples were a maximum of 30 kilometres apart – the distance a person can cover in a day.
It is worth mentioning that in Kazimierz (now a district of Krakow), there was also a church of St James. It may have already existed in the 13th century. Unfortunately, it has not survived to the present day. It was located in the place of the current Vistula Boulevards on the side of Wietor Street.
The modern pilgrimage route in Małopolska was designed to lead through dirt roads, away from noisy routes, but above all to allow visiting important religious sites during the journey. The initiators also drew attention to the natural qualities of the route. Pilgrimage along the Małopolska Way of St James consists in individual expeditions, where the pilgrim has to arrange their own lodging and food, and carries everything they take on the journey in a backpack.
The main route of the Małopolska Way of St James starts in Sandomierz, but if we wanted to start our journey in Małopolska, we should start from the first church dedicated to St James in Pałecznica, which was built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Five must-see places on your itinerary along the Małopolska Way of St James:
- Zielenice. From Pałecznica, it is worthwhile to reach Zielenice. In this small village, in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Zielenice, in the main altar of the temple there is an image of Our Lady with the Child (a copy of the Roman image of Our Lady of the Snows), which came to this parish in 1613! The painting is said to have been brought all the way from Kam’yanets’-Podil’s’kyi (now Ukraine). The painting was famous for many graces and is therefore considered miraculous.
- Więcławice Stare. Here we find the church of the Apostle St James the Great mentioned as early as 1325. Undoubtedly, the shrine was on the route of medieval pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. In the church, we can find the relics of St James, which were brought from Rome. It is worth remembering that they are on display every 25th of the month at the evening Mass and during the parish fair on 25 July. But the church is worth visiting not only because of the relics. It is a unique temple on the Wooden Architecture Route, where we can admire the image of St James the Great on the main altar. Above his figure, an angel holds a wreath of glory, and at the saint’s feet, angels hold his attributes: wineskin, pilgrim’s staff, sword, and shell. A unique monument is the triptych of St Nicholas, painted on boards and located to the left of the main altar, dating back to 1477! The central image depicts St Nicholas with St Stephen and St Lawrence; on the obverse - left wing: figures of St John the Baptist and St Andrew, St Stanislaus the Bishop and St Erasmus; on the obverse - right wing: figures of St Bartholomew and St James the Great, St Florian and St George. When attending solemn liturgies, one can admire the still-used Gothic, Baroque or Rococo chasubles, as well as other valuable liturgical vessels, including a late-Gothic monstrance. It is worth adding that it was in Więcławice Stare at the end of 2007 that the Brotherhood of the Apostle St James the Great was established at the parish, which greatly contributed to the reconstruction of the Małopolska Way of St James.
- Krakow. St Nicholas Church, Kopernika 9, at which there is a khachkar – an Armenian cross-stone, regarded as a monument to Polish Armenians. The khachkar was unveiled in 2004 and commemorates Armenians who have been coming to Poland since the 14th century, but is also a tribute to the victims of the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915. St Nicholas Church itself was built as early as in the 11th or early 12th century and was located on the merchant route to Ruthenia. There are many historical monuments in the church, including the baptismal font from 1536.
- Krakow. The Basilica of St Francis of Assisi (pl. Wszystkich Świętych 5) was built on this site in the 13th century, but its current appearance is very different from the original. The building has been rebuilt several times. It became the seat of the Franciscan Order brought to Krakow by Duke Henry the Pious. Despite its remote history, it is now famous above all for its polychrome and stained-glass windows by Stanisław Wyspiański, as well as a faithful copy of the Turin Shroud. Perhaps we will soon learn a new, hitherto unknown history of the monastery, all because of a discovery made in 2015. Through their research, archaeologists and history enthusiasts have discovered catacombs beneath the Passion Chapel. Studies are currently underway and have revealed that there are 18 crypts beneath the monastery. Some of them have been reached, and researchers have discovered 96 burials in 95 coffins.
- Krakow. The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec (Benedyktyńska 37), which symbolically closes the Małopolska Way of St James, is an unusual place in many respects. Its character and surroundings reflect to a large extent the intentions behind the reopening of the Małopolska Way of St James. The beautiful natural surroundings in which the Benedictine monastery has been built, and the building itself, invite you to contemplate, reflect and appreciate the surrounding nature!
See you on the trail!