Aug 30, 2009

Saint Francis and the Shroud in Krakow

The photo is of Stanislaw Wyspianski's stained glass masterpiece, 'Let It BE, which shows G-D emerging from the cosmos in the act of creation. It adorns the western entrance to the Basilica of St. Francis in Krakow, Poland opposite the Archbishops’ Palace on Franciszkanska Street. I love this church for many reasons, first and foremost for Wyspianski's masterpieces of stained glass, and secondly for the wonderfully strange names associated with it - Blessed Salomea, who was the wife of the church's founder, Duke Boleslas the Chaste, and the aunt of Ladislas the Short. Only in Poland.

However, there is another reason why I frequently pray in this Church whenever I visit Krakow. To the left side of the Church as one is facing the altar, there is a large side chapel, into which the good friars have placed (quarantined, might be a more appropriate designation) a motley collection of the most gruesome of old Catholic religious iconography, dripping with blood and gore and expressing infinite anguish and the orgasmic satisfactions of ecstatic pain. If you would like to induce in yourself a spontaneous case of Cathological psychosis, spend an hour in this dank, dark and moldy room (as I have, on more than one occasion). Why is it that only in Poland does all this stuff seem, well, OK? I don't have an answer for that. But while I was sitting in the room, indulging in a bit of smug self-righteous judgmentalism, a middle aged woman slowly walked into the room, came over to the bloodied crucifix that was lying flat on the floor (for just this purpose) and with great reverence and no undue haste got down on her knees and devoutly kissed each of the five wounds. She remained in silent prayer for some moments, and then just as peacefully walked out. I felt as if I had just been rebuked by some higher power.

But to get to the point. Right in the very center of the room, before the altar, the friars have erected one of the few existing, life-sized reproductions of the Shroud of Turin (thanks to JPII, I'm told). It overpowers everything else in the room, and testifies to a mystery far too great to be contained in a room filled with Catholic S&M. I have prayed before this image many times, simply letting the mystery of the Shroud speak in its own terms, away from the roar of the crowds disputing this and that. I consider it to be one of the great religious icons of human history, and since 2002, and thanks to scientist, Ray Rogers of Los Alamos Laboratories (and subsequent scientific studies found here), I also believe in it's authenticity (more about that later). However, and I mentioned this to one of the friars, who was both amused and bemused by these observations, the Shroud image really belongs in a room filled with light, adorned with
Wyspianski's stained glass masterpieces, but with glass that is transparent to the light of the world outside, and preferably with rows of poplar trees seen through the glass. The Shroud is a testimony to the great mystery of the Resurrection (however one interprets this a-historical event) and should be adorned with images of life and light and rebirth. After all, if the shroud is authentic, then someone opened the tomb. Please take it out of the gloom.


Laura said...

I like the stained glass too. Thanks for posting it.

Laura Goff Parham

Jayden Cameron said...

Hi Laura, thanks for the comment. I checked out your website, beautiful work! Yes, the Wyspianski windows are masterpieces. I could gaze at them for hours.