Polish Catholics flock to this tiny hamlet for one reason only – to visit the celebrated Church of Our Lady. The origins of Święta Lipka (shfyen-tah leep-kah), which means ‘Holy Lime Tree’, are linked to one of Poland’s most famous miracle stories. As the tale goes, a prisoner in Kętrzyn castle was visited the night before his execution by the Virgin Mary, who presented him with a tree trunk so he could carve an effigy of her. The resulting figure was so beautiful that the judges took it to be a sign from heaven and gave the condemned man his freedom. On his way home he placed the statue on the first lime tree he encountered, which happened to be in Święta Lipka (though it obviously wasn’t called that at the time).
Miracles immediately began to occur, and even sheep knelt down when passing the shrine. Pilgrims arrived in increasing numbers, including the last grand master of the Teutonic order, Albrecht von Hohenzollern, who walked here barefoot (ironically, he converted to Lutherism six years later). A timber chapel was built to protect the miraculous figure, and was later replaced with the present building. It’s perhaps the most magnificent baroque church in northern Poland, a huge attraction and still a major pilgrimage site, especially during the August Feast of the Assumption, which sees thousands of pious visitors descend on the village.
Święta Lipka is best reached from Kętrzyn (2zł, 20 minutes, hourly).