Christianity has a long history in Poland. In the 900s, we had no country – just a bunch of Slavic tribes. The ruler of one of them, Mieszko, had big ambitions, which fortunately were backed by the political and military skills. Having unification on his mind, Mieszko I, with substantial help from his wife, a Bohemian princess Dobrawa, decided to convert to Christianity. Dobrawa, by the way, was not his first wife. And not even his last. In 966 Mieszko had arranged for himself and his court to be baptized. Not wanting to be a vassal of neighboring Germany, he elected the ceremony to be celebrated by the Roman emissary, and doing so accepted direct ties to the Vatican. And so Poland was officially born as a country. It was as much a religious as a political move, since from that moment Poland was sanctioned by the Holy Roman Empire. The step was deliberate, since we didn’t want to become subservient to our mighty neighbors, Germany from the West or Russia from the East. Mieszko spent his time in the office unifying the rest of neighboring Polish tribes, dealing with Germans, Swedes, Bohemians and Russians, be it with sword, skillful diplomacy or strategic marriages. We will have enough problems with the two neighboring giants in the future.
The parish, in which our ancestors’ lands were located, was formed in the 12th century and the first mentions of the church building are from the 14th century. The structure was built and re-built several times, after many wounds inflicted by wars and even by a hurricane. The last gothic building was raised in 1904 and survived until now. It was damaged during the tumultuous times of WWII, when German and Russian invaders were using our country as a playground for their imperial games. But the loss was not severe and was promptly repaired.
I remember, as well as today, my father standing in front of his church, showing me around, and proudly describing the impressive interior of the place he was baptized in. I was then maybe ten years old.
Then he took me outside. “Look at this tower,” he said. The structure was quite tall, and the cross on top of it added to the grandeur of the temple. “My father, your grandfather, put it up,” he said. I don’t even remember how much I was impressed by this statement at that time, if at all.
But now I am. When I visited the church last October, the edifice was quite grand. A tall building with a solitary steeple, crowned by a simple cross shooting straight into the heavens. “How did he do it?” I thought of my grandfather. “What kind of tools did he have available in 1904?” He must have climbed on the scaffolding, having the huge cross tied up to his waist. And then to lift it up, erect it and fasten it, so high winds would not topple it. Quite a feat.
And he was just 25 years old. Watching him, I’m certain, his mother was mortified. But his father probably was just saying, “Yep, that’s my son.”
After more than 110 years, the cross is still standing there.