In Krakow’s Main Square [Rynek Główny], there’s a huge basilica whose twin towers overlook the square. On the hour every hour, hundreds people gather around the front of St. Mary’s Basilica at the base of the towers, dutifully awaiting the trumpeter whose playing of the ‘Krakow Hymn’ Hejnał Mariacki fails to resound through the square but certainly tries. It doesn’t last too long, and the trumpeter’s wave to the crowd always results in a round of applause much louder than his music.
The story goes that in the early thirteenth century, there was always a watchman in the tower, overlooking the city of Krakow in case of any enemy attack. When the Mongols invaded in 12941, the good old watchman saw them sneaking up and whipped out his trumpet to alert the city to the approaching attack. The townspeople responded to the alert and the watchman kept blowing his trumpet until the Mongols shot him with arrow to the throat.
There are two problems with this legend. The first is that the church was built a several decades after the Mongol invasion, and the second is that the legend was created in the twentieth century for a children’s book. The tradition of the bugle call however is much older and significantly predates the legend.
This is one church that is without doubt worth visiting if you’re in Krakow. Sure, I can’t compare it to the amazing cathedrals in Western Europe that I’ve never seen but I think it’s safe to say that the interior is pretty spectacular. I bought my ticket and paid an extra 5zł for a photography permit and I’m so glad I did [although I could have bought one in there when caught taking photos – they have people checking]. It was incredible.
Various artists and architects have taken full advantage of every inch of space, with every wall covered in frescoes or reliefs or reliquaries or statues or something. The high ceiling is painted with a vibrant blue starry sky. There’s plenty of gold, lots of cherubim and saints and stained glass windows and crucified Christs. There are smaller chapels on each side, one of which was closed off for worshippers as tourists invaded the main part of the basilica.
I think that the best way to describe the church is not to describe it at all, but to rely on the good old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. [I wish that my university lecturers would have accepted a pile of pictures in lieu of essays, but apparently it doesn’t actually work like that.]