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The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Piekary, Śląskie

Piekary is mentioned in 12th century documents as a settlement in which a small Romanesque church under the invocation of St. Bartholomew existed since 1303.
A painting of Our Lady (of the Hodegetrii-Leader type), whose painter and founder is unknown, was located on the side altar. The extraordinary cult of Our Lady developed in Piekary at the beginning of the 17th century. Parish-priest J. Roczkowski explains in his writings that shortly after the transferal of the picture from the side altar to the main altar (1659) numerous miracles took place, which were talked about all over the region. 

When a plague broke out in the Tarnów Mountains in 1676, Jesuits urged the faithful to gather in pilgrimage in front of the Piekary painting of Our Lady. This, they did and, the plague began to retreat. In 1680, plague broke out in Prague. Leopold I, the Austrian Tsar, requested that the painting be brought from Piekary. On the 15th of March, 1680, it was brought to the streets of Prague in a procession ceremony. The plague soon died down. Prague Archbishop, Wellstein officially confirmed the supernatural character of the painting. On the return trip Father Schwertfer stopped in Hradec Kralove with the painting. Here also disease prevailed. The following year Piekary received a votive picture as a symbol of gratitude on the part of the inhabitants of Hradec Kralove, on which the following inscription was carved: The town of Hradec Kralove gives grateful thanks to The Holy Mother of God for the rescue of our lives and the spread of health as well as the town was miraculously saved a year ago from a plague. Consequently we kneel in gratefulness and love.

In 1683, Pope Innocenti XI summoned the Polish king, Jan III Sobieski to save Christian Europe from a Turkish onslaught. On his way to Vienna, on the 20th of August, 1683, King Jan III Sobieski stopped to pray in the Piekary church. He attended Mass in front of the painting of Our Lady and requested Her a victory over the Turks. After Mass he donated two gold chalices and a paten to the parish-priest. In 1702, for reasons of safety (religious wars), the painting was transferred to Opole, where it is located to this day in the Church of the Holy Cross. The painting was not distinguished as something special, however, and did not attract crowds of pilgrims. In Piekary meanwhile, where only a replica of the painting was located, pilgrims gathered and Our Lady dispensed numerous graces. Fr. Jerzy Bellman said: Neither man, tree, canvas, nor brush shall assimilate this place and its people, but God alone.

In the 19th century cult of Our Lady developed further, resulting in a huge increase of pilgrims to the site. The church was soon deemed too small. For this reason parish-priest Fr. Jan Nepomucen Alojzy Ficek decided to erect a new grander stone church. On the 22nd of August, 1849, Cardinal Melchior Diepenbrock, bishop of Wroclaw, consecrated the new Piekary church. While the church was being built, four chapels at each corner of the church were erected between the years 1844 - 49: St. Theresa, St. Sebastian, St. Francis and Our Lady-Healer in which a replica of the Piekary Madonna (know as a the healer) is situated. It dates from the 17th century. Also to be found in the chapel are Baroque sculptures of four evangelist (17th century) as well as two sculptures of saints Stanislaw and Wojciech. 

After establishing a new cemetery near Calvary burial of the dead ceased in the churchyard. Remains in the churchyard were under the chapel and a Paradise Square was created. Along the church wall at the west end on stone ground courses figures of the 12 apostles were carved. On the 1st of December, 1962, Pope John XXIII gave the Piekary church the title of Minor Basilica.

Piekary is a place of Our Lady's cult to which the first pilgrims arrived in 1676. Numerous eminent dignitaries have visited the site: King Jan III Sobieski, King August II, his son August III, Emperor Frederic Wilhelm IV, the Princess of Lanckoronska and the Princess of Holstein - Karolina Brzeska. The crowds of pilgrims gave the town a special character. Between the World Wars state pilgrims appeared alongside the traditional pilgrims e.g. Assumption Day on the 15th of August. Having ceased during WW-II pilgrimages began once again after liberation. Pilgrimages by men became the most numerous and occurred on the last Sunday of May. In 1967, the Metropolitan of Cracow Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, (Pope John Paul II), first attended the May assembly. He regularly took part in the pilgrimages from that time on. 

Piekary Calvary and the Holy Cross and Holy Rosary chapels situated on a beautiful hill favours contemplation and reflection. It was erected over over 1000 years ago on the plan of Calvary from Jerusalem. Also worth noting is the holy water spring and the St. Ignatius chapel dating from the 19th century.

History of the painting
As already mentioned the original paintings of Our Lady has been situated in the Church of the Holy Cross in Opole since 1702. It is based on Byzantine icons and is believed to have been painted at the turn of the 15th century. At present, a reproduction measuring 97x77cm is located on the main altar. The arrangement is identical to the original - Our Lady is shown holding the Child in Her left hand and an apple in Her right hand. The original crude Byzantine forms are lacking, however. Not much remains of the characteristic Gothic features either - the hands and fingers have shortened, garment creases have become smooth and features have been transformed. For this reason a new work of art was created. Although inspired by the former frame it is nevertheless different. Painted at the end of the 17th century, it at first functioned as a replica and after the original was transferred to Opole, it took its place and acquired fame by its graces. 

On the 15th of August 1925 the painting of Our Lady was ceremonially crowned. The crowns were donated and consecrated by Pope Pius XI. Fr. Wawrzyniec Lauri, the Papal Nuncio in Warsaw, put on the crowns. During the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to the homeland in 1983 the Piekary painting was moved to Katowice. The Holy Father gave it the title Mother of Justice and Social Love and donated a Gold Rosary to Her.

Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
City: Warsaw
Country: India
Date: August 24, 2010