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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Looking towards the site of the seventeenth-century graveyard