One thousand years of Swiety Krzyz

Katarzyna Woynarowska

Prince, angel and forest

This is a special place, charming and a little mysterious one. At the peak of the woody Lysiec Mount the Benedictines built a monastery and church, which were to shelter an extraordinary and precious treasure ( relics of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ died.
Ten centuries earlier, Emeric, Hungarian prince, travelled across the local primeval forests. Some say he was going to the tomb of St Adalbert and others say that he was hunting. The important thing is that he got lost in the middle of the wild backwoods, which was quite common since the old woods in Poland were vast. Suddenly an angel appeared to him and suggested a deal: the prince was to leave the relics of the True Cross and he would be rescued. It was Stephan I, King of Hungary, provident father of Emeric, that gave the relics to his son. Emeric kept his word. And soon afterwards the monks of St Benedict arrived at the hill. The story happened in 1006. This date was written pro memoriam on the old tomb in the Swiety Krzyz Abbey. Bishop Andrzej Dziega of Sandomierz stresses that many things have coincided to this jubilee, 'That's why, I take it as God's thought. Since if we had not noticed the inscription on the old tomb we would have missed the jubilee. Fr Bernard Briks, custodian of the Swiety Krzyz monastery, explains that the date of 1006 is connected with the beginnings of monastic life. Professor Samsonowicz, specialist in the Middle Ages, says, 'Let us keep to the year 1006!'
( Swiety Krzyz is a wounded place', says Bishop Dziega, and he is right. The history of the shrine reflects the fate of the relics, which it preserves. Suffering has become part of its history like in the history of the Cross. In good times the place was peaceful and rich. Swiety Krzyz had its golden epoch: a large monastery with many monks, a large library. And the pride of the Benedictines ( scriptorium where books originated. And these books are real pieces of art. They include the famous Swietokrzyskie sermons. The library reaches a total of seven thousand unique books. Pilgrims, both ordinary people and nobility, came here. Jan Olesnicki, a nobleman, founded a beautiful chapel for the relics. Jeremi Wisniowiecki, conqueror of the Cossacks, and Olesnicki with his wife and sons were buried in the crypts of the chapel. Today numerous tourists come to see their burial place. Jagiello also stopped here on his way to Krakow where he was to be crowned. Since that moment he used to come here before every expedition. Wladyslaw Lokietek and Kazimierz Wielki and then the Jagiellonian kings came to pay homage to the relics. And this is just the beginning of the royal list of pilgrims walking to the Swietokrzyskie Mountains. Even the Italian Borgias sent priceless votives. For 800 years the Benedictines were custodians of the relics. After them, in the 1930s, the function was taken over by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.
Patriotism is a characteristic of Swiety Krzyz. General Marian Langiewicz had its headquarters here during the January Uprising. The Russians took revenge on the monks and closed the monastery. They created a heavy prison in a considerable part of the monastery. A prison judas hole has been preserved in one of the doors. And the Germans committed an inconceivable crime here: they starved 8,000 Russian prisoners. They shot the man-eaters. Blood soaked into the ground, the walls and the stones; suffering froze; all of this has influenced the atmosphere of Swiety Krzyz.

Millennium means 1000 years

Today there are two routes to Swiety Krzyz. The most famous one is the royal route from Slupia Nowa. A narrow path leads through meadows and hills, which form a wonderful frame for the undulating landscape in late spring. A long comfortable broad asphalt road leads from Jodlowy Dwor and the Katyn Crosses through the old primeval dark large forest. On both sides one can see old woods.
The monastery is small and cosy: peace, silence and breathtaking landscapes. Some buildings belong to the Swietokrzyskie Museum, which exhibits stuffed deer and pre-Christian relics. Through the middle of the historical corridors, halls and chapels of the monastery there is a wall, which artificially divides the buildings into 'yours' and 'ours'. In some way it is like in the play 'Zemsta' [Revenge] by Fredro.
How much has been preserved over one thousand years?, tourists and pilgrims ask. A Romanesque window and stone wall ( the oldest parts. Guests admire the cloister with charming Gothic vaults. These were founded by King Jagiello.
When the monastery was divided in 1863 some vandal ordered to cover the priceless frescos in the cloister, which was converted into prison. Thus eyes of future visitors have been devoid of the joy to see the frescos. Only a small drawing of St Apolonia, patroness of chemists, has been preserved. The Benedictines were famous for their medical mixtures. The 'noble remains of 82 abbots, 270 priors and 1080 monks' were buried under the floor of the cloister!
We turn right to the Olesnickis chapel, the heart of the sanctuary. There is a note on the beautifully ornamented wrought iron gate. It says that the Holy Cross relics are exposed at the pilgrims' request. Fr Briks remembers that during the communist times only 2 to 50 groups asked to show them the relics. Now almost every group makes the request. And what makes him glad is that nowadays there are more pilgrims at Swiety Krzyz than tourists.

Relics and miracles

The relics at Swiety Krzyz are five small pieces of wood. For the sake of security these priceless fragments of Jesus' Cross have been divided into two parts. The bigger one remains in the monastery safe. One piece has been placed in a silver cross that is shown to pilgrims.
The former Bishop Waclaw Swierzawski of Sandomierz allowed opening the reliquary. It was done by Professor Kurpik, who also takes care for the Jasna Gora Icon. It turned out that the wood inside the reliquary was in a very good condition, which was amazing. And this wood is coniferous. And according to the tradition Christ was crucified on such wood.
People crave for peculiarity. They ask if there are miracles here. The cult of the relics was widely spread from the beginning since in 1287 the Ruthenians advised the Tartars not to destroy that place. Because it was sacred. The old books contain descriptions of miraculous events. Straps were used to carry people. They were carried as paralytics and then they were able to walk. Do similar events still happen? Surely, as everywhere else. And most miracles happen in the confessionals, Fr Briks explains. 'We know that some people come to confess sins of their complicated lives. Recently there has been an event here, the monk says, a childless couple that has been married for 7 years prayed here and received the grace of offspring. In the past there must have been many miracles since the Tartars, Lithuanians, Swedes, Austrians, Germans and Russians plundered the monastery and took votives from the walls. But they did not touch the relics. In case of danger the Benedictines took out the reliquary from the monastery and hid it in the rocks in the forest. Then they had to protect the monk who hid the relics. And they somehow succeeded because the relics have been preserved.

We celebrate the millennium

The main celebration begins on 11 June. The Benedictines arrived at Lysiec on that very day a thousand years ago. Cardinal Peer Erdo, Primate of Hungary, will preside over jubilee Mass. There will be Primate of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp, representatives of the Polish Bishops' Conference, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. Pilgrims from Hungary and Slovakia are coming. How many Polish pilgrims will come? No one knows. In 1957, fifty thousand people came for the 950th anniversary. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski led the prayer then. 10 June will be Hungarian Day since Swiety Krzyz owes its existence to the Hungarians. There is a picture of St Emeric, Prince of Hungary, in the church. The Bishop of Sandomierz intended to 'give' the painting to the Hungarian nation.

Start into the Second Millennium

Swiety Krzyz has never been a parish. It has always been an independent abbey. Today the Benedictines' work and the Oblates' work can be called pilgrim-tourist ministry. In Bishop Dziega's opinion this place is beginning to be very active. 'I am convinced that Swiety Krzyz is a place of the future. Although it was wounded and requires much prayer and time, Lord God is preparing this place for time to come...'

Swietokrzyski Jubilee ( gift for all Poland

Because of the jubilee I asked the Holy Father Benedict XVI to grant us the grace of plenary indulgence for pilgrims who visit the Shrine of Swiety Krzyz throughout the jubilee year 2006... The Tribunal of Penance granted the grace in question, outlining the requirements to receive indulgence (sacramental confession, communion, prayer for the Holy Father). May believers coming to Swiety Krzyz gain this grace. May individual, family and parish pilgrimages keep coming. May the jubilee last! May this specific sanctuary, located in the midst of wonderful mountains, be radiant all over Poland, says Bishop Andrzej Dziega of Sandomierz.

How did the relics come to Poland

According to the tradition, early Christians hid the wood of the Cross from the Jews and the Romans. After ages it was St Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, that found it. It is said that the True Cross, which was found, raised the dead by direct contact. It is also said that pilgrims, rejoicing that the cross had been found, took part in the exaltation of the Cross, i.e. the cross was raised in four places of the church and people adored it. The Persians captured the relics. It was the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius that recovered the True Cross and brought it to Jerusalem himself. The feast of Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated on 14 September, commemorates that event. During the Crusades the relics were brought to Europe and since they were regarded as the most precious ones, kings and emperors possessed them. One of them was Stephen I of Hungary, who was canonised and who gave five parts (splinters) to his son Emeric when he was going to Poland. The most famous relics of the Holy Cross are in the Church of St Ghent in Brussels, in the basilica of St Peter and in the basilica of the Holy Cross in Rome as well as in Notre Dame in Paris. In Poland the most famous relics are kept at Swiety Krzyz.

"Niedziela" 24/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: