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.

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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

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Another view of the cloisters

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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.

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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.

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

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Ulica Bracka looking towards Sozzini’s house

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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.

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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.

The grave of Fausto Sozzini

Whenever I visit a place with Unitarian historical connections I find it is always instructive to see what Alexander Gordon made of things first. Gordon was a meticulous historian with remarkable skills which included an extraordinary ability to learn and read a vast number of languages. Consequently even though much of his writing dates back 140 years his work retains valuable insights and is often the base line for much of the research that came after. This is especially true for his work on continental Unitarianism where his research and reading across many sources and in many obscure archives and library has been repeated by very few English-speaking scholars ever since.

I am very grateful to Sue Killoran, the librarian of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, for providing me with copies of two letters he wrote to the Christian Life while travelling around Poland in 1879. The first letter concerns the grave of Fausto Sozzini/Faustus Socinus. Alexander Gordon was, quite probably, the first person from Britain to visit this site, this was in August 1879. His journey to get there was rather more convoluted than ours, we travelled in an air conditioned coach from Kraków in about two hours, on what might now almost be called a well trodden pilgrim route. Gordon first of all had to identify the spot. He made ‘fruitless enquiries’ in Kraków and Breslau (now Wrocław) but eventually found Lusławice on a military map. The nearest railway station was at Bogumilowice some twelve miles away, but he got off the train at Turnow, sixteen miles away, and visited the grave by walking a circuit out to Lusławice and back to Bogumilowice.  A round trip, according to his own reckoning, of 28 miles. But, he said, “It was a fine walk, through a charming country, and the fatigues of the road were abated by a friendly lift for some five miles given me by a hospitable Jew.” Gordon was able to meet up with the Catholic priest in the nearest town of Zacliczyn who cheerfully offered to be his guide to the tombstone of Sozzini.

Socinus Grave Front right view 01

Sozzini’s memorial today

Of course, this is the tombstone rather than the site of the actual grave of Sozzini. Gordon was of the opinion that the site which he visited was the original site of the Lusławice Arian church, what he calls the Oratorium, but what survived of his grave was brought there some years after his burial.

Socinus Grave pilgrims 01

Pilgrims at the memorial (This photo and the top photo by Sue Steers)

Philip Hewett recounts how the site of Sozzini’s grave was in 1604 “as secure a setting for an arch-heretic as could be found anywhere”. But it wasn’t to be, most of the memorial and possibly also his bones were thrown into the river Dunajec a few years later. All that remained was the cube-shaped stone – “one huge block of limestone some 4ft. square” – which Gordon says once carried an inscription on each side. These were each in a different language but the only one that is visible today is in Italian. Although barely legible it says:

Chi semina virtu, racoglie fama

E vera fama supera la morte

Which means ‘The one who virtue sows doth reap renown, and true renown doth triumph over death’.

Socinus Grave Main stone

The original grave stone

By tradition the inscription on his grave is also supposed to have said (in Latin):

Babylon is completely overthrown, Luther demolished the roof, Calvin the walls, but Socinus the foundations

But as Gordon observed in 1879 “there is no trace of the famous couplet which is said to have formed part of the epitaph”. Gordon also noted another stone with the initials SW inscribed on it. This he took to belong to the Wiszowati family who were related to Sozzini by marriage and continued to lead the Polish Brethren after his death. I take it that this is the flat stone in front of the memorial.

Socinus Grave Front stone

Sozzini was forced to leave Kraków in 1598 and found sanctuary in Lusławice where he died in 1604. When Gordon visited the site of his memorial it consisted of no more than the two stones. In the twentieth century, largely at the direction of Earl Morse Wilbur the memorial was created. Designed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, a prominent Polish architect, it was built in 1933. In fact the memorial was moved again at this time to the inside of the grounds of the local estate.

Socinus Grave Estate 01

“The adjacent Schloss”

Gordon had noted this estate when he came in 1879 – “The adjacent Schloss is modern, but with traces of antiquity about it” – and today it is owned by the eminent Polish conductor and composer Krzysztof Penderecki. It seems a more fitting setting for the memorial to be inside the impressive grounds of this estate with its plentiful trees and shrubs said to include no less than 700 varieties of plants.

Socinus Grave Estate 04

Socinus Grave Estate 03

The surroundings are still as appealing as when Gordon saw them:

“The spacious garden adjoining Sozzini’s last resting place, lies in the midst of a secluded but rich and fertile vale, sprinkled with noble trees, and embosomed by a glorious amphitheatre of swelling hills.”

Socinus Grave Estate 02

Nearby, Krzysztof Penderecki has built a most impressive music college. We were privileged to get to visit it and hear renditions of Polish Brethren songs adapted for a solo voice accompanied by a lute.

The Polish Brethren

At the end of July I was pleased to be part of an organised tour visiting sites connected with the Polish Brethren/Minor Reformed Church organised by the Rev Dr Jay Atkinson of Starr King School for the Ministry in California. When I was at college Arthur Long always used to quote Raymond Holt who said that the story of this little-known Polish church of the radical reformation was an illustration that it is not always the case that something good could not be destroyed by determined persecution. The Polish Brethren were totally wiped out in the counter-reformation: imprisoned, persecuted, exiled, forced to convert. But, of course, it is also true that through their publications and through the witness of those who went into exile something of them did survive and for a church that only existed from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century a surprisingly large amount of physical links with them remain.

They have attracted the attention of a number of highly able Unitarian scholars over the years, most notably, in recent times the late Rev Dr Phillip Hewett who wrote a wonderful article for me for Faith and Freedom in 2017 which can be read online here:

In search of Racovia

One of the points Dr Hewett was always keen to make was that the Transylvanian edict of Torda of 1568 (which marked its 450th anniversary in 2018) was not the first public expression of toleration. This came in Poland in the reign of King Sigismund Augustus, who reigned from 1548 to 1572 and who declared himself ‘King of the people, not of their consciences’.

A combination of weak royal power and reform minded nobles with authority within their own areas meant a variety of religious views developed in Poland including the Polish Brethren who may have numbered as many as 40,000 at their highest, their 200 or so churches extending across all the vast Polish territories which then included Lithuania and parts of Ukraine.

It was fascinating to visit some surviving sites connected with the Polish Brethren and remarkable that some of them had survived, given their effective destruction by royal decree in 1658. The disused buildings that we saw are now recognised by the state and have been re-roofed although they are still in need of considerable restoration.

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The church at Cieszkowy

The first chapel we visited was at Cieszkowy, in the countryside to the north of Kraków, the general location of all the churches we visited. This was similar in design to many of the chapels we were to see with two rooms downstairs, one the chapel and one a schoolroom, with rooms upstairs (which we were not able to visit) which presumably was the house of the minister. I believe this chapel also had a period of use as a Calvinist church, it was generally the case that the landowners decided the religious direction of the locals, and so such buildings could change hands before the full impact of the counter-reformation was felt.

One of the intriguing features of this building was that a number of inscriptions have survived in the interior: including a line from the gospel of Matthew in Polish inside the meeting-house, and a quotation, in Latin, from Virgil above the entrance to the schoolroom. The mixture of classical and scriptural texts suggest the temper and nature of the religious culture of the Polish Brethren.

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Inscription from the gospel of Matthew

Cieszkowy inscription 01

Classical quotation from Virgil

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The interior of the meeting house at Cieszkowy, showing the sixteenth-century doors

Not that far away from Cieszkowy is the chapel at Kolosy. It also has been re-roofed and has a similar layout. Here we shared in an act of worship and, as one of three ministers present, I was privileged to take part in leading the service together with the Rev Dr Sandor Kovacs of Koloszvár, Transylvania  and the Rev Dr Roger Jones of Sacramento, California. It was an unexpected privilege and delight to take part in worship in this building of 1654, built by the Polish Brethren just four years before the expulsion of the Arians (as they were frequently termed, named after Arius, the 3rd/4th century theologian). There can’t have been many services held in here since then.

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Kolosy. The date stone of this church can be seen at the top of this page

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The interior of the meeting house at Kolosy following the service

The next day we went to Moskorzew, originally an estate named after the local family. Here the chapel eventually reverted to Roman Catholicism, following in the direction taken by the family. The crumbling structure of the family home can still be seen as well as post-war Soviet-style social housing. There is also a largely derelict but still essentially intact schoolhouse which dates from the sixteenth century. We were told that when the chapel was reclaimed by the Catholic church the Brethren used the schoolhouse for worship until they were finally outlawed. This building is in state care but would clearly benefit from restoration.

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The church at Moskorzew today

Moskorzew door

The original ancient door of the Moskorzew church

Moskorzew schoolhouse

The schoolhouse at Moskorzew

Inside the much altered church there are still two memorials in the chancel to female members of the Moskorzew family dating from the time of the Polish Brethren in the late sixteenth century.

Moskorzew memorial 01

Memorial at Moskorzew dating from the 1590s commemorating a member of the Moskorzew family during the Polish Brethren era

Secemin is another Catholic church today but was used as a Calvinist church and here at a synod Unitarian views were first publicly expressed. As with most Catholic churches in Poland the interior is richly decorated but again there is a survival from the reformation period with a memorial in the chancel to Calvinist minister Gregory Broch who died in 1601.

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Secemin church today

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The interior of the church

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Memorial in the chancel to Gregorius Broch

On the estate at Ludynia, in its delightful setting, Mr Gieżyński, the owner, has restored not only the manor house but also the nearby chapel. Here he has also built up an impressive collection of books and prints connected with Raców, the Polish Brethren and Fausto Sozzini which  he shared with us in the chapel.

Ludynia manor house

Ludynia manor house

Ludynia chapel 02

The chapel at Ludynia

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Inspecting some of the documents in the chapel

In future posts I will look at other aspects of the tour and the history of Fausto Sozzini and the Polish Brethren.