Worship in a Church of the Polish Brethren

Kolosy date 02

There are a number of previous posts on this blog about the Minor Reformed Church/Polish Brethren and my visit to Poland in the summer of 2019. They can be seen here:

The Polish Brethren

Fausto Sozzini, the Polish Brethren and Kraków

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

Raków

The grave of Fausto Sozzini

But I have now uploaded to YouTube a video of the short act of worship we held on Sunday, 28th July 2019 in the former Polish Brethren church at Kolosy.

To be honest there is a lot wrong with this video – sound, picture, continuity, all are faulty in one way or another. It was recorded on a device that was seriously unreliable, indeed the picture cuts out altogether towards the end although the sound continues for a little bit longer. However, the end of the film now contains a number of still images of the former church at Kolosy, both exterior and interior shots, and closes with the text of the Lord’s Prayer in Polish which we tried, but did not succeed, in saying together in that language.

It is reproduced here because it represents a rare if not quite unique event – an act of worship in a church of the Polish Brethren/Minor Reformed Church, a church which was suppressed during the counter-reformation in 1658, just four years after this little church was built.

The service is led by myself, the Rev Dr Sándor Kovács (Unitarian, Kolozsvár, Transylvania), and the Rev Dr Roger Jones (UU, Sacramento, California). We were part of an organised tour of sites connected with the Polish Brethren in July and August 2019. Although a service was planned for this day this was essentially an impromptu act of worship because the Rev Dr Jay Atkinson, who was to have led the service, was unfortunately taken ill on the way to the building and had to go to hospital. So it fell to the three other clergy present to devise a service on the way. This is the service which is presented in the video, albeit in rather imperfect form. The chapel was built in 1654 and closed in 1658 but somehow has survived to the present day, perhaps being used as a store for many years. But it is still immediately recognisable as a place of worship. 

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

Faith and Freedom Number 184

Hot off the presses today is the Spring and Summer 2017 (volume 70 Part 1, Number 184) issue of Faith and Freedom. It has a striking picture of an Eagle Owl taken from an engraving by Thomas Bewick’s 1797 book Land Birds on the cover.

In this new issue we are again delighted to have some really fascinating articles. These include Phillip Hewett outlining his research in pre- and post-Communist Poland for his book Racovia. He compares his experiences in Poland with those of Earl Morse Wilbur decades earlier. We are delighted to have too Johnston McMaster’s in-depth examination of  Francis Hutcheson and the Social Vision of Eighteenth-Century Radical Presbyterians and Stephen Lingwood’s timely consideration of a Theology of Unitarian Ministry. Dan C. West discusses the way faith can cross boundaries and make connections and Howard Oliver discusses The Art and Theology of Thomas Bewick.

03a Sixteenth-century parsonage

The original sixteenth-century parsonage in Raków (photo: Phillip Hewett)

Faith and Freedom is always particularly strong in its reviews section and we are delighted to once again welcome some important reviews by top writers.

With the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses in mind, Professor Ian Hazlett, leading Reformation scholar and former Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Glasgow, reviews Scott H. Hendrix’s Yale University Press book Martin Luther Visionary Reformer.  Professor David Williams reviews Yuval Noah Harari’s newest book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and Philippe Sands’ East West Street: on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity. Lena Cockroft reviews Dan Hotchkiss’ Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, which is a major contribution to the theory of church administration. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths, looks at Main Religions of the Modern World and the Two Forms of any Religion by Antony Fernando, and Frank Walker reviews Emmanuel Carrere’s extraordinary and controversial novel The Kingdom.

You can subscribe to Faith and Freedom online via our website:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/