Wawel Cathedral – Resting Place of Polish Kings and Queens

Wawel CathedralThe Polish Cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaw and Vaclav, more commonly known as Wawel Cathedral, lies on Cracow’s Wawel Hill, and was built in 1320. The church is home to a number of ecclesiastical artworks in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Romanesque styles, but it is best known as the coronation and burial site of the Polish monarchy for several centuries. It houses the marble tombs of the thirteenth century’s King Vladislav I the Short, King Casimir III the Great and Queen-Saint Jadwiga, and the fourteenth century’s King Vladislav II Jagiello and King Casimir IV Jagiello. It also has memorials to various historical figures such as clergymen, poets, national heroes, and three other saints, including the country’s patron saint St Stanislaw, an eleventh-century Cracow bishop who was killed by King Boleslav II.

By the sixteenth century, monarchs broke with the tradition of being buried in the cathedral and were laid to rest in crypts such as the opulent, golden-domed, Renaissance-style Sigismund Chapel that houses the sarcophagi of King Sigismund I the Old, his wife, and his successor, who was the last of the Jagellion dynasty. The interior of the chapel is lavishly decorated. The cathedral is also famous for the Sigismund Bell cast in 1520 that measures 9 feet (2.7 m) across and weighs 18.5 tons. It hangs in the fourteenth-century church belfry, and local superstition says that those who touch the bell’s clapper and make a wish will have their wish granted. Visitors can climb to the top of the belfry.

Yet perhaps what is most notable about the cathedral is that it contains the 13-foot- (4-m-) high Gothic Crucifix of the Black Christ. According to tradition, the devoted young Queen Jadwiga often prayed before the crucifix, and during these frequent hours of prayer Christ spoke to her several times. Queen Jadwiga was canonized as a saint in 1997.