The Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity and the Unitarian history of Kraków

On arriving in Kraków early in August 1879 the second place Alexander Gordon visited, after Ulica Bracka, was the Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity:

Dominican ext 01

Then I went to the Trójcy Kósciól where Gregory Pauli, on Trinity Sunday, 1562, preached that famous sermon during which the golden ball fell from the top of the spire, and the Unitarians said it was a good – and the Catholics a bad – omen.

Gregory Pauli (1526-1591) was one of the leaders of the Reformed church in Poland who had been appointed pastor of the congregation of Kraków in 1558. Educated at Kraków, Königsberg and Wittenberg he was regarded as a very able preacher. By this time the former Dominican church was in the hands of the Protestants and through the patronage of Stanlislas Cikowski , arch-chamberlain of Kraków and a general in the army, Pauli was appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church. As well as being an open advocate of Unitarianism he was also a pacifist and espoused millennialism, adult baptism and communism. He was involved in the subsequent division of Polish Protestantism into the Minor and Major Reformed churches.

According to Robert Wallace, in the second volume of his Antitrinitarian Biography (1850), “the citizens crowded to hear his sermons”. Wallace also recounts this incident on Trinity Sunday: “Some said, that the blow was meant to strike terror to the heart of the Preacher; but others said, that it was intended to impart new courage to him. The wiser and more reflecting portion of the community were silent.” Older images of the church seem to show a tower at the front of the building which is presumably where this golden ball was positioned.

Dominican chancel ceiling 01

Chancel ceiling

The church, dating from 1222 and currently undergoing extensive renovation, is every bit as impressive today as when Gordon saw it. In 1879 he wrote:

A fire, in 1850, did very serious damage to this church, but it has been handsomely restored, with a good deal of the old work entire. From a noble marble gallery, adjoining the choir, I could view the whole interior and the spectacle was striking in every way. Certainly the Jesuits did their work well. A more devoutly Catholic assemblage I never saw. People in all sorts of picturesque costumes were kneeling prostrate like Turks, and kissing the floor. The white-robed Dominicans sang lustily in their stalls, and the organ was a splendid one. The vergers in this church were women, all in pure white linen, with no caps, but elaborately-braided hair.

I don’t think there are women vergers any more but I saw plenty of white-robed monks and large, devout congregations. I sought out some of the other things Gordon had found but was not entirely successful, because of the restoration it is not possible to see everything.

Dominican cloisters

Part of the extensive cloisters

Dominican cloisters additional

Another view of the cloisters

Dominican side chapel 01

A side chapel

Dominican staircase

Staircase to the ‘noble marble gallery’ currently undergoing restoration

Gordon was impressed by what he saw in Kraków:

The richness of the churches here, of the cathedral especially, in splendid monuments, is beyond description. It was not without a thrill of emotion that I stood before the red marble figure of Archbishop Peter Gamrat, who burnt Katherine Weygel in the market-place. This prelate’s likeness has a huge underhung jowl, but a massive, intellectual forehead, exactly correspondent with the career of power and sensuality which he ran.

Peter Gamrat (whose memorial is actually in Wawel cathedral) was simultaneously Bishop of Kraków (1538-1545) and Archbishop of Gniezno, Primate of Poland (1441-1545), and was responsible for the brutal treatment of Katherine Weygel (c.1460-1539).

Katherine Weygel/Katarzyna Weiglowa (or Catherine Vogel as he calls her) is one of very few women listed in Wallace’s Antitrinitarian Biography. She was married to Melchior, a Jewish goldsmith and alderman of Krakow. She seems to have imbibed something of his religious views and after his death was charged with apostasy telling her inquisitors “I believe in the existence of one God, who has created all the visible and invisible world, and who cannot be conceived by the human intellect.” For this she was imprisoned for ten years before being burned at the stake at the age of about 80 in the market place. This took place at a time in Polish history when such brutal oppression was rare but Katherine Weygel certainly suffered at the hands of the religious authorities.

Krakow square 02

The market square in which Katherine Weygel was burned at the stake

In his letter to the Christian Life of 1879 Gordon also recorded that to his surprise his guide book noted there were 14 Unitarians listed in Kraków. The local Protestant pastor, who was very helpful to him, could not account for this in any way. But in a later publication Gordon suggested that this was probably a reference to “Uniat Greeks, that is members of that section of the Greek Church which is un union with Rome”. So there wasn’t a little hidden group of Unitarians that had laid undiscovered for centuries, but there was plenty of Unitarian history, hidden in plain sight.

 

Fausto Sozzini, the Polish Brethren and Kraków

When Alexander Gordon visited Kraków in 1879 the first place he went to see was Ulica Bracka, which translates roughly as ‘Brother Street’. It was here that Fausto Sozzini lived from 1580 to 1598. The exact location of his home is known and there have been suggestions that a plaque be put up in his memory on the house, but this has yet to happen. In 1598 a gang of students dragged Sozzini from his home, burnt his books and threatened to throw him in the Vistula. He was only saved from this by the intervention of some of the professors in the nearby university, including Martin Vadovita, the professor of theology. From this date he left the city and went to live at Lusławice.

Bracka streetview 02

Ulica Bracka looking towards the Franciscan friary which gave the street its name

Bracka streetview 03

Ulica Bracka looking towards Sozzini’s house

Socinus House 01

Sozzini’s house

There was also an ‘Arian’ church in Kraków. Built of wood I am not sure when it was originally constructed but Protestantism emerged in Krakow very soon after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 and the Polish Brethren church must have developed in the city in the 1560s. It was destroyed, however, in riots of May 1591. On 24th September 1621 the present Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas the Apostle was consecrated by Bishop Tomasz Oborski on the site of the Polish Brethren church. It seems that St Thomas the Apostle (‘Doubting Thomas’) was a popular saint during the counter-reformation for new churches that had replaced Socinian places of worship.

Krakow Arian church 02

Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Ulica Szpitalna

Krakow Arian church int Sue

Interior of the church

When Alexander Gordon arrived in Kraków he travelled via Breslau finding hitherto unknown letters of Sozzini’s uncles in an archive there. Once amongst what he described as the “ivy-hung towers” of the city of Kraków the second place he visited was the Dominican church, the Church of the Holy Trinity which I will look at in a future post.

Great George Street Chapel, Liverpool

Great George Street Chapel is one of the most impressive buildings in Liverpool although it may not be as appreciated as it ought to be. Of course, it is not called ‘Great George Street Chapel’ today and has not been so designated for more than half a century. After closure as a chapel it became an arts centre known originally as the Blackie (the building was then stained black by decades of industrial and domestic pollution) subsequently renamed in more recent times the Black-E. This has proved to be a long-lasting and effective institution which has ensured the survival of this building. It’s much altered on the inside but the exterior is much as it always has been.

GGC front side view wide

It’s remarkably imposing and is now set off against the architectural additions that have been made to Liverpool’s Chinatown including the arch and the lions that line the street.

GGC front view with Chinese Arch

GGC front side view portrait

The congregation that built the chapel liked to claim descent from the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. In the 1770s a new Independent Chapel was founded nearer the town centre, on Newington, including members who had left the Ancient Chapel because of the direction of the theology of its minister and leading members. Without being spectacular this church appears to have flourished for some decades until they called the Rev Thomas Spencer in February 1811. Then aged just 20 years old he had a resounding impact gathering a massive congregation of up to 2,000 hearers. His successor Thomas Raffles described his impact as in this way:

“The chapel soon became thronged to excess, and not alone the thoughtless and the gay, whom the charms of a persuasive eloquence and an engaging manner might attract, but pious and experienced Christians sat at his feet with deep attention and delight. There seemed to be, indeed, a shaking amongst the dry bones. A divine unction evidently attended his ministry, and such were the effects produced that every beholder with astonishment and admiration cried What hath God wrought?

They needed a bigger church and so built anew on Great George Street in 1811.

GGC engraving 01

A contemporary engraving of the church of 1840

But just four months after laying the foundation stone tragedy struck when Thomas Spencer drowned while swimming in the Mersey near the Herculaneum Potteries. But this did not deter the new church which soon called the formidable figure of Rev Thomas Raffles. In the best traditions of non-conformity not all the members of Newington left for the new church, a congregation stayed behind for decades to come but Thomas Raffles ministered at Great George Street for 49 years and when the new building burnt down in 1840 they built the striking edifice that remains to this day.

GGC corner detail

GGC dome detail

GGC door

It cost £13,922 in 1840 and could seat 1,800 hearers. The architect was Joseph Franklin, the Corporation Surveyor, and the massive columns around the circular entrance are said to have come from a quarry in Park Road, Toxteth. Remembered also as a pioneering architect of railway buildings Joseph Franklin succeeded John Foster junior, the architect of Rodney Street Church of Scotland, as the Corporation Surveyor. As with that building this is a significant and impressive structure.

GGC front view

GGC pillar heads

GGC pillar heads circular

 

 

Raków

It was a great experience to visit Raków, once the intellectual centre of the Polish Brethren and home to a famous academy which attracted students from all across Europe. Today Raków is a little more than a village but in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was a significant town that also housed a printing press whose output had a far-reaching significance, most notably with the publication in 1605 of the Racovian Catechism. Philip Hewett called it ‘the Unitarian capital of Europe’ in the early seventeenth century. Established almost as a Unitarian Utopia in 1569 the early years of the town’s existence were characterised by constant debate in what was known as the ‘perpetual synod’ but it was really in the seventeenth century that the town began to flourish under the leadership of Jakob Sienieński. But the tolerance that had marked Polish society in the previous century began to break down and in 1638 the authorities finally dealt with Raków; the church was torn down, the academy was closed, the press and all its books destroyed and all the Unitarians sent into exile.

As a result there is not a lot still to see in Raków that dates from the early seventeenth century. The site of the printing press is known, but nothing remains of it. The site of the graveyard is known but there is nothing visible. Some sort of archaeological investigation may have taken place on the site in the 1960s.

Rakow church ext 01

The Roman Catholic Church in Raków

On the site of the Arian church a Roman Catholic church was built which still proclaims in Latin that it was consecrated in 1655 to the glory of God the One in Three after the eternal banishment of the impious Arians (Arriana Impietae) and calling upon people to pray for Bishop Zadzik who had brought this about.

Rakow church tablet

Plaque above the entrance to the church

Alongside the church is what was once the house of the Arian minister. Perhaps the most substantial reminder of the days of the Racovian Catechism, until relatively recently it housed a museum although this has now been removed.

Rakow church minister house 01

A sixteenth-century house in the village is now the home of Racovian Society who work hard at maintaining the story of Raków. When we visited we were made very welcome by the members and were able to see the large exhibition as well as young members of the community dressed in seventeenth-century costume practising crafts, cooking and playing musical instruments from that time.

Rakow society ext 02 Sue

Rakow interior meeting cropped

Raków became the home of a large Jewish community and the Racovian Society also seeks to remember them, a people who were destroyed in the Holocaust.

Rakow Jewish 01

One of the exhibitions commemorating the Jewish community of Raków

One of the many pictures on the wall is a copy of the painting made for the ceiling of Bishop Zadzik’s palace in Kielce which shows the Arians gathered before the king and the hierarchy prior to their expulsion:

Rakow Kielce picture cropped

Rakow view to graveyard

Looking towards the site of the seventeenth-century graveyard