Krakow's old Catholic heart

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As Poland's leading city and its ancient capital, Krakow has much more to offer me than a glimpse of the late Pope's plastic pen. It is home to some of the greatest architecture in Eastern Europe and to one of the most beautifully created city squares in the world – Rynek Glowny.


The Poles have been Catholic since the 10th century, and Krakovians appear to have celebrated their faith by building churches at the rate of about one a week ever since. The extraordinary number of churches reminds me that trumpeting one's faith has been a Polish priority; a little to the east broods Orthodox Russia, and no red-blooded Pole would wish to be thought a friend to the Bear's faith.

All of Krakow's important churches are among the finest examples of their architectural styles to be found anywhere. Within an hour's walk through the streets around the market square, I gaze at gothic, romanesque, renaissance and baroque exteriors. I'm broadening my education in the romantic strain of Eastern European Catholicism simply by wandering about Krakow, building on knowledge and experience gained in other Eastern European countries.

Krakow is the subject's showcase. It's here that Catholicism survives in its unreconstructed state; full of rich red blood; heroic, primitive, haunted, almost pagan. Searching for nuances, I step inside St Marys, where one of the narrative masterpieces of European devotional art ornaments the altar. Carved in wood by Veit Stoss of Nuremberg over a 12-year period in the 15th century, the immense central panel shows Mary at her death, while the side panels narrate scenes from her life and that of her son.


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