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.

 

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

Edict of Torda anniversary

prior to service torda

Inside the Catholic Church in Torda immediately prior to the service to mark the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, much of which was simultaneously translated into English for visitors

Last year I was very pleased and honoured to be present in Torda, Transylvania, to attend the celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda. I blogged about my experiences there and in Transylvania at the time and the blog can be read here:

Edict of Torda 450

In April 2018 I addressed the annual meeting of the Unitarian Historical Society at their meeting at Staverton near Daventry, Northamptonshire. The talk and illustrations were filmed by the Society and subsequently uploaded to YouTube in slightly edited form. But as this week just passed marks the 451st anniversary of the Edict of Torda on 13th January 2019 I thought I would add a link to it for anyone who has not seen it:

 

Another location for theological controversies in Transylvania in the sixteenth century was the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár, for a long time the centre of royal power in Transylvania and the resting place of the only Unitarian king in history. It is a very impressive late Romanesque building as these images which I took last year show:

gyulafehervar cathedral pews

gyulafehervar cathedral pillars

gyulafehervar cathedral pulpit

We were given a fascinating introduction to the cathedral and its history by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gyulafehérvár who very graciously took us on an extensive guided tour. I was also pleased to get my photograph taken with both the Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Unitarian Bishop. Since I was also the Moderator of the Presbytery of Antrim at the time I thought that this made for an interesting trinity.

gyulafehervar 02

David Steers; György Jakubinyi, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gyulafehérvár; Ferenc Bálint Benczédi, Bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, at the cathedral, Gyulafehérvár

unveiling the monument at torda

Unveiling the new monument to religious freedom at Torda – ‘Ad Astra’, the work of Liviu Mocan, a Romanian artist 

 

Please note that this blog now has its own domain name:

velvethummingbee.com

and I am pleased to say that it is also now ad-free.

Martin Luther: Postage Stamps

As part of the commemoration last year of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, our churches in county Down put together an illustrated exhibition on the history of the Reformation from 1517. One part of this was a collection of stamps from around the world all related to Luther. It is surprising how many countries have seen Martin Luther as a suitable subject for a postage stamp. I don’t imagine this is an exhaustive collection of Martin Luther related stamps but it is interesting to compare the variety of images and styles utilised. Some are very artistic, others less so.

Stamps 01

Top row, left to right:

USA 1983 20c, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; French Polynesia 1983 90F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; Bulgaria 1996 300 lev, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 2017 .70 euro, 500th anniversary of reformation.

Second row, left to right:

Lithuania 2017 .39 euros, 500th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1971 30c, 450th anniversary of the diet of Worms; Estonia 2017 .65 Euro, 500th anniversary of reformation; France 1983 3.30F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

Stamps 02

Left to right:

South Africa 1967 12.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; South Africa 1967 2.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1979 50 pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s Catechism; Germany 1995 100 pf, 450th anniversary of the Worms Reichstag.

Stamps 03

Left to right:

Germany 2002 56 pf, 500th anniversary Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg; West Germany 1983 80 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; West Germany 1961 15 pf, 415th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 1996 100pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death.

Stamps 04

Left to right:

East Germany 1983 85 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 20 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 10 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 35 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

 

 

 

 

Today’s top selling toy

A news report earlier this year said:

 

“Astronomical sales of a tiny figurine of the Protestant Reformation figure Martin Luther, have confounded its maker, Playmobil, by becoming the fastest-selling Playmobil figure of all time.”

 

It was widely reported in the press that the first edition of 34,000 of these figures sold out in less than 72 hours when they were launched in February. The company urgently requested its factory to produce more of them such was the demand.

 

The journal Newsweek observed:

“The plastic toy, complete with a quill, German-language bible and cheery grin, was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, as Germany gears up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017”.

 

Martin Luther's portrait which comes with the figurine
Martin Luther’s portrait which comes with the figurine

 

It’s a curious phenomenon that a toy of an historical figure taken from religious history should prove so popular. The 500th anniversary of the reformation (in this case being dated from Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg on 31st October 1517) is an important event and it looks like it is catching people’ imagination, especially in Germany. A lot of the sites particularly associated with Luther are in Eastern Germany and consequently have not been over-visited. Writing in the Times in August Mark Greaves said “As a result of the lack of modernisation and development during the communist years, folksy towns with their beautiful old architecture have been left untouched.”

 

Quite probably this anniversary is the biggest event of all that could be connected with a reformation person or event. A few years ago (in 2009) the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin was celebrated. There were no John Calvin toys so far as I know although one Presbyterian Church did have a free download of a John Calvin mask which was just about the scariest looking mask you could imagine.

 

The Playmobil box
The Playmobil box

 

 

I was sufficiently impressed by the story of the sales of the Luther figure to track one down via eBay. Martin Luther seems to be only on general sale in Germany although one imagines he would sell very well in the USA. It’s hard to imagine a similar figure being produced over here and one wonders what would be the equivalent? John Wycliffe? John Wesley?

 

But the Luther figure is an attractive little model. It comes with its own Bible referencing his part in translating it into German and a quill pen. In addition you get a leaflet featuring his portrait and a map of places in Germany associated with Luther.

 

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

 

 

I wouldn’t think there would be too much of a market for Martin Luther figures in the UK today. However, from the 1930s to the 1950s British toy companies such as Britains and Johillco both marketed lead models of clergymen. These weren’t named but were part of the wide range of civilian figures that were available in those days. To my knowledge there were at least four clergy figures on sale, black clad and generally hatted they must have sold in their thousands. The hardest to track down today is the Britain’s ‘thin vicar’ who ceased production just before the war. But it is good to see Martin Luther enjoying such vogue.