The Wawel Cathedral is one of the most visited temples in Krakow. Its history begins in 1000, when the king Bolesław the Strong creates four dioecesis, among others one in Krakow. Soon, he builds the first, probably wooden cathedral, this unfortunately was demolished by Czech prince Brzetysław.
After the conquest the duke Kazimierz the Restorer moves with his court from Gniezno to Krakow – Krakow becomes the capital of Poland. His successor Władysław Herman builds second cathedral made of limestone. Until today some of the elements exists, like the Tower of Silver Bells and Saint Leonard Crypt.
The present Cathedral is the third building standing at this place. It was build by the kings Władysław the Elbow and his son Kazimierz the Great in 14-th century. They build beautiful ghotic temple, that in the following years was surrounded by 19 chapels.
The cathedral possess two tapestry series given by bishops of Krakow from the 17th century. In the nave there are four tapestries presenting the history of Jacob from the Old Testament, in the chancel there are six tapestries presenting green nature.
In the cross of the cathedral there is an altar dedicated to Saint Stanislaw. The altar was found by Marcin Szyszkowski and made by John Trevano. The altar is decorated with 8 figures of saints related with Poland: Stanislaw, Adalbert, Wenceslaus I duke of Bohemia, Casimir Jagiellon, Hyacinth Odrowąż, Florian, Sigismund, Ignatius of Loyola.
The coffin hold by four angels contains the relic of Saint Stanislaw. Saint Stanislaw was the bishop of Krakow keeping this position in the mid 11th century. In 1079 he was killed by the king Boleslaw the Cruel (see the legend). Saint Stanislaw was canonized in Assisi, Italy in 1253 and his relics placed in the cross of the church. The coffin is decorated with following scenes: 'Buying a village by bishop Stanislaw', 'Raising of Peter by bishop Stanisław', 'Killing bishop Stanisław', 'Eagels flying over the body of bishop Stanisław', Bishop Stanisław in the coffin', 'Moving from Skałka to the Wawel Cathedral', 'Raising of three death people', 'Canonisation of the bishop Stanisław in Asisi', 'Saint Hyacinth', 'Battle of Grunwald'.
Next to the coffin there is a silver book containing blood of the pope John Paul II. In 2011 the pope was beatified, in 2014 canonised. Soon after some drops of his blood were transfered to different sanctuaries as relics. In 1979 John Paul II for the first time as the pope visited the cathedral. In that time left special candle, staying until today on the right side of the altar.
Below, on the floor there is a conmemorative plaque and grave of the cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha. The cardinal performed his function during World War II, later 1 of November gave priesthood to Karol Wojtyla future pope John Paul II.
In the cathedral the king Władyslaw Jagiełło and four his wives rest: Hedwig, Anna from Celje, Elisabeth Granowska and Sofia Holszanska. The monument presents real face of the king, the masterpiece was made by order of the king when he was alive. The monument is decorated with several coat of arms: Poland, Lithuania, Ruthenia, Major Poland, Land of Dobrzyń and Land of Wieluń. The sarcophagus is covered by renaissance style canopy, gift of Wladyslaw Jagiello's grandson Sigismund the Old.
The sarcophagus contains the body of the king Władysław the Elbow, the first that was crowned in Krakow in 1320. He opens the chain of royal coronations in the Wawel cathedral. In total the cathedral was the witness of 37 ceremonies – 17 men and 20 woman obtained crone in the cathedral. The sarcophagus does not present real face of the king, unfortunately the monument was remodeled in 19th century and any information about the former shape of the figure survived. Besides, this is the last sarcophagus that never has been opened – we really don’t know the looks of the king. The only information bring us the story that he was as short as an elbow, hence his nick-name.
He was the second king crowned in the Wawel cathedral. Casimir is the only king who got the assumed name “Great”. We owe to him establishing the first university in Poland (second old in this part of Europe), enlarging the defensive walls, building lots of castles, creating the city Kazimierz (today one of the districts of Krakow), and several gothic churches. Polish say about him "He found Poland made of wood, he left Poland made of bricks".
The statue of the king does not present real face of the king. The sarcophagus was created in Hungary by the order of the Hungarian king Luis the Great. The artists did not know the king, the monument patterned on the sarcophagus of Rudolph IV burried in Vienna. In 1869, so almost 500 years after his death the grave was accidentally opened and his bones examined.
This is 14th century cross brought from Hungary by the queen Hedwig. The queen was beatified and canonized by the pope John Paul II. Since 1987 her relic lie in the small coffin below the cross. Tradition says that Jesus talked to her from the cross. Saint Hedwig got married with Władysław Jagiełło as 11 years old child. In 1399 she died as 26 years old lady giving birth of her daughter Elisabeth Bonifacja. Her child also did not survive. On the nail of the Christ’s foot there is a stirrup. The stirrup comes from the horse of Kara Mustafa, commander of Turkish troops during the battle of Vienna in 1683. The coffin below the cross is her third burial place. Just after death she was burried on the left side of the main altar. In 1949 her bones were taken to a beautiful, white sarcophagus made by Antoni Madeyski. Now the sarcophagus is empty.
The twin monuments present the kings of 17th century Poland. Both were made by Francisco Placidi. The first one shows symbolical coffin and obelisk with the royal couple Michael Korybut Wiśniowiecki and Eleonora. On the symbolical coffin the battle of Chocim in 1673 was presented. The second one presents the couple John III Sobieski and Maria Kazimiera, and below the coffin decorated with presentation of the battle of Viena in 1683. As the battles were waged against the Turkish, both coffin are hold by Turkish captives.
The Sigismund Bell is the biggest bell in Krakow. It was made by Hans Behem from Nuremberg in 1520 by the order of the king Sigismund the Old. It weighs 9 tons and the clipper of the bell weights 365 kilograms. This is the most famous bell in Poland. It rings only during the most important religious celebrations like Easter, Christmas, st. Sigismund's day, st. Stanislaw's day and when happens something that one cannot predict like catastrophe, death of some noble person or important event. Until today it is run by 12 men - members of Brotherhood of the Wawel Bells. One says that touching the clipper of the Sigismund Bell with left hand gives luck and one wish will happen. The historians calculate that it took one hour to place the bell in the tower. Nowadays is the second large bell in Poland.
At the entrance to the tower there is the old clipper and copy of the painting by Jan Matejko 'Hanging Sigismund's Bell'.
In the tower there are four bells more. They are so called dead bells, it means they are not in use. All bells got names: Stanisław, Wacław, Urban and Cardinal.
This is the oldest part of the Wawel cathedral. The crypt is a part of not existing cathedral of Władysław Herman from XI century. In the crypt the oldest grave of the bishop Maurus was found (1118).
In the crypt the prince Joseph Poniatowski rests. One legend says that a which gave a prophecy that he will be killed by a magpie. Indeed, he was fighting with anti-Napoleon troops, shoot, fall down his horse and drown in Elster river. Elster in German means magpie.
Next to him another famous Polish - Tadeusz Kościuszko is burried. Kościuszko is a hero for both Polish and American, as in Poland he waged war for independence, after collapsing the uprising he escaped to the United States where he fight for independence of the US.
In the cript also Władysław Sikorski is burried. He died in a plane in Gibraltar. It was or an accident or asessment by order of British who did not let the information about Katyń to be known.
In the cript another Polish are burried. The king John III Sobieski is buried next to his wife Maria Kazimiera. And next lies the king Michael Korybut Wiśniowiecki. He lies alone because he died as 33 years old man and his wife got married for the second time with Karol V of Lorraine and now her remnants are next to her second husband.
This chapel was made by order of the king Sigismund the Old after the death of his first wife Barbara. The king employed an architect Bartolommeo Berecci who erected the chapel as the king’s burial temple. Indeed, Sigismund the Old is burried in the chapel basement and his statue adorns its right wall. Next to Sigismund the Old's monument, there are monuments of his children – Sigismund August and Anna Jagiellon. Anna dedicated about 50 kg of gold to cover the chapel and founded an altar, today staying on the left side of the chapel.
This chapel was erected by Sigismund the Old's grandson - Sigismund III Vasa as the place of his ethernal dream. Indeed, here, in the crypt below the chapel the king, his second wife Konstancja, his son John Casimir and Ludwika Maria Gonzaga are burried. The walls are decorated with black marble and epitaphs of the kings from the dynasty: Sigismund, Władysław and John Casimir. Above the entrance door there are rests of blessed Jan Prandota, bishop of Krakow living in 13th century. The altar is decorated with painting presenting st. Pedro and Pablo. Worth mentioning are beautiful door decorated with angels holding baners with inscription ''memento mori' and Vaasa's coat of arms and Golden fleet below.
This chapel was made by order of the king Casimir Jagiellon as his burial chapel. The king employed Russian painters from Psków who decorated the chapel in Byzantic style. One entering the chapel feels like in an orthodox church. The polychromies are the oldest preserved in the cathedral. They come from 1470.
On the left side Casimir Jagiellon is burried. His cenotaph was made by Veit Stoss, creator of the main altar in the Our Lady Church. Being in Krakow, Veit Stoss made such beautiful monument to the monarch.
On the right side Elisabeth Habsburg is burried. Her sarcophagus doesn’t exist. She is called ‘Mother of the Kings’, because four of her sons became monarchs.
The chapel was erected by order of the queen Sofia Holszańska, the fourth wife of Władysław Jagiełło, as her burial chapel. At the beginning of 20th century the chapel was painted by Włodzimierz Tetmajer. The artist presented the queen Sofia twice, first getting married with Władysław Jagiełło, second, as a widow, together with her sons Władysław of Warna and Casimir Jagiellon. Besides, the artist painted Virgin Mary four times, as Mary of Częstochowa, Mary of Vilnius, Mary of Berdyczów and Mary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. On the vault Tetmajer painted Polish heroes, saints and people of culture. On the vault he painted Polish saints, kings, heroes and artists. We can see: Tadeusz Kościuszko, Jan Matejko, Adam Mickiewicz, saint Stanisław, Nicolaus Copernicus, Piotr Skarga, and almost all the kings.
Small chapel, its name comes from the protectors - Czartoryski's family. The most precious monument here is an altar made by the order of the queen Elisabeth, mother of John Albert. Here, in the altar, the king presents his real face. Next to him stays st. Stanislaw and st. Peter.
The crypt is a basement of the Silver Bell Tower. Here in 1937 marshal of Poland, Józef Piłsudski was burried. For Polish Piłsudski is one of the most important heroes. Due to him Poland got independence after the I World War in 1918.
In 2010, after the airplane crash in Smoleńsk, Maria and Lech Kaczyński were buried. In the eastern wall names of all pasangers of the flight are mentioned.
• Miezian Maciej, Krakow's Old Town. Retracing Kings, Artists and Alchemists, Krakow 2004, chapter 6 'Wawel', p. 119-132.