Welcome to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska
The town owes its existence and fame to the squire of Kraków, Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, who commissioned the church and monastery for the Bernardine order in 1600. Having noticed a resemblance in the area to the topography of Jerusalem, he set about creating a place of worship similar to the Via Dolorosa in the Holy City. By 1617, 24 chapels were built over the surrounding hills, some of which looked as though they’d been brought directly from the mother city. As the place attracted growing numbers of pilgrims, more chapels were erected, eventually totalling 42. In 1999 Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was added to Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites.
The original hilltop church north of the centre was gradually enlarged and today is the massive Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels (Bazylika Matki Bożej Anielskiej). The holiest image in the church is the icon of Mary in the Zebrzydowska Chapel (Kaplica Zebrzydowska) to the left of the high altar. Tradition has it that the eyes shed tears of blood in 1641, and from that time miracles occurred. Pilgrims come to Kalwaria year-round but especially on Marian feast days, when processions along the Calvary Trails (Dróżki Kalwaryjskie) linking the chapels take place. The basilica is flanked to the north by the huge Bernardine Monastery, which contains impressive 16th- and 17th-century paintings in its cloister.
Kalwaria is also known for its Passion plays, a blend of religious ceremony and popular theatre re-enacting the final days of Christ’s life and held here since the 17th century. They are performed by locals, including Bernardine monks, during a two-day procession starting in the early afternoon of Maundy (Holy) Thursday during Holy Week of Easter.