At the heart of the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Kraków-Łagiewniki stands the chapel where the miraculous image of Merciful Jesus and the tomb of St. Faustina are to be found. This small church, consecrated in 1891 and dedicated to St. Joseph, was built within the complex of the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and once served only the Sisters and their wards. This chapel has since witnessed the prayer of the Apostle of The Divine Mercy and the extraordinary graces (including the revelations of Jesus and the Blessed Mother) received by her in this place. With her death, the message of God’s Mercy, which by the will of Christ she gave to the Church and the world, was deposited in this place. For this reason the Łagiewniki Shrine became the centre of devotion to The Divine Mercy, the place from which this message is spread throughout the world and the place to which people from every continent come on pilgrimage. They come asking for many graces, to which the votive offerings in the display cases around the chapel bear witness.
The miraculous image of Merciful Jesus painted by Adolf Hyła is placed above the side altar on the left side of the chapel. It was blessed by Father Józef Andrasz SJ (Sister Faustina’s spiritual director) on 16 April 1944, on the first Sunday after Easter. Copies and reproductions of the image have spread throughout the world, thereby fulfilling the words of Jesus spoken to Sister Faustina at the first of His revelations: I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world (Diary 47).
A white marble coffin with the relics of St. Sister Faustina rests on the altar below this image, and one relic has been placed in a marble prie-dieu before the altar, for the convenience of pilgrims wishing to venerate her and ask for her powerful intercession through prayers to The Divine Mercy.
By the main altar there is a statue of Our Lady of Mercy – the patron of the Congregation, and in recesses to the side of the altar are statues of St. Stanisław Kostka – the patron of youth, and of St. Mary Magdalene – the patroness of women-penitents. At the side altar on the right there is a picture of St. Joseph with the Child, the image originally chosen as the patron of this chapel and the entire property, which was once named “Józefów” in its honour. On the side walls there are pictures: St. John Paul II, St. Ignatius – the patron of the Congregation, and Bl. Father Michał Sopoćko – spiritual director of St. Sister Faustina.
In 1968, on account of the large number of pilgrims who visited the final resting-place of the Servant of God Sister Faustina, this chapel dedicated to St. Joseph was entered by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła on the list of sanctuaries in the Archdiocese of Kraków; and on 1 November 1992, the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski issued an official decree raising the chapel to the rank of The Shrine of the Divine Mercy.
1. Łagiewniki – history
The Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki is located in the southern part of Kraków. The name Łagiewniki comes from łagiewnicy – the name given to the residents of settlements involved in producing łagwie, i.e. vessels of wood or skin, and possibly fired from clay, these being used to store and carry drinks. The first written mention of the village comes from the fourteenth century, although traces of settlement in this place date back to Roman times, and even to the Neolithic period, as confirmed by archaeological excavations. The people in these areas were farmers, small producers and traders, because the old royal trade route (via regalis) from north to south ran through the village. Łagiewniki was initially a subordinate settlement of the Kraków castle and the ducal court, then (in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) it became the village of agriculture and trade, which from the fifteenth century was owned by the Castellan of Kraków and after the Polish partitions passed into various ownerships. The centre of Łagiewniki consisted of farm buildings alongside the manor house.
In the seventeenth century the first factory, a paper mill, started to function in Łagiewniki. But the development of factory industry, which completely changed the nature of the settlement, occurred in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This industrial development was connected with the discovery in this area of clay, shale and gypsum – raw materials for the construction industry. During that period, Łagiewniki village saw the construction of: a plaster and clay mine, a mill for grinding these materials, brickyards, tile and stove tile factories, and over time, a steel mill, a fittings factory and a machines factory. Besides this very intensive development of the construction industry, other factories also emerged, such as a candles and soap factory and a furniture factory, and some small craft enterprises. In the neighbouring village of Borek Fałęcki in 1901 a factory of ammonia soda was established, the famous Solvay, which rapidly increased the range of production and employment and became one of the largest industrial companies in Kraków. This factory was adjacent to the convent in Łagiewniki. Karol Wojtyła worked there during World War II.
With the development of industry in Łagiewniki the population also increased and the nature of the architecture changed. Rural wooden cottages vanished, and suburban brick buildings arose, that is free-standing houses surrounded by greenery, villas and tenement buildings. The old village was transformed into a suburban industrial centre, with the largest factories in the region, employing hundreds of workers.
During World War II (1941), by order of the Governor General, Łagiewniki was included as a district of Kraków. Even before the war, during the Great Depression small brickyards began to be shut down. After the war, large factories were nationalized, then a proportion of them were converted into other factories, and some were closed, including Kraków Solvay. New housing developments, routes and two parishes were created in Łagiewniki. Currently Łagiewniki, together with the former village of Borek Fałęcki, belongs to the ninth district of Kraków.
2. The convent complex in Łagiewniki
At the end of the nineteenth century, Cardinal Albin Dunajewski channelled through a large sum of money for the construction of the convent including facilities for carrying out the work of educating girls and women in need of profound moral renewal. The money came from funds provided by Prince Aleksander Lubomirski, the financier and philanthropist, and was sufficient to buy a dozen hectares of land from Samuel and Bernard Wohlfeld and from local farmers. The entire property, on a hill in the village of Łagiewniki, was surrounded by a wall and was called “Józefów” in honour of St. Joseph, to whom the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy attributed this answer to their prayers. The construction was directed by the architect Karol Zaremba and builder Ignacy Miarczyński. On 20 August 1891, Cardinal A. Dunajewski consecrated the chapel, dedicating it to St. Joseph, and also one wing of the convent buildings designed for carrying out apostolic work.
In the convent buildings the Sisters were engaged in educating “fallen girls” – as they were called at that time. Because of the delicate nature of this “work of mercy” carried out by the Sisters, the convent was kept closed to outsiders. The work with girls and women was based on respect for human dignity, nurturing Christian values and preparation for their professional work and a self-reliant, dignified life in society. Work played an important role in the educational process, and was also a source of livelihood for the Sisters and their charges. In “the House of Mercy” (as apostolic institutions were called in the Congregation), under the direction of the Sisters, the following workshops were run at a very high level: embroidery and weaving service workshops, a bindery, and a laundry; horticulture and farming were also taught. Each day was filled with work and prayer.
During the First World War, part of the monastic property was seized for use as a military hospital, where soldiers of different nationalities, suffering from infectious diseases like typhus, cholera, dysentery, smallpox and scarlet fever, were treated and nursed. During the years 1914-1915 alone, a total of 2400 soldiers were treated in the hospital. Those who died were buried in the cemetery behind the wall of the convent.
During the Nazi occupation, Łagiewniki (or Józefów) was treated as the property of the Germans, as a result of which the Congregation had to provide the Germans with a certain quantity of vegetables. The sisters continued to run “The House of Mercy”, to which Germans, for disciplinary reasons, directed women caught smuggling. The Sisters helped the displaced, were active in “underground” teaching and in charitable works including a kitchen for the poor.
In 1962, Communist authorities took away from the Congregation the educational institution and most of the property. Several years later (in 1969) the Sisters organized, in the convent, an open care centre for socially difficult youth called Źródło (Source), which ran until 1991. After the collapse of communism, in 1989, the state authorities gave back to the Congregation the facility for girls. Today it is called Młodzieżowy Ośrodek Wychowawczy (Youth Educational Centre), and is a closed centre, a rehabilitation facility for socially maladjusted girls. Here the Sisters run a dormitory, one secondary school for ages 12-15 and three secondary schools for ages 16-19, in addition to a 3-year economic and administrative secondary school course, and 2-year vocational schools teaching catering and hairdressing.
It was in this convent that St. Sister Faustina Kowalska, through whom Christ gave the great message of Mercy, lived and died. The message was to remind people of the biblical truth of God’s merciful love for every human being, and to call them to proclaim it with new power by their life witness, in deed, word and prayer. Today the Sisters belonging to the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where St. Sister Faustina is recognized as their spiritual co-founder, proclaim the message of Mercy, not only through prayer and the witness of their lives and their work of mercy for girls in need of moral renewal, but also by word (by serving the pilgrims; by forming the Apostles of The Divine Mercy in the “Faustinum” Association; through the publications of the “Misericordia” Publishing House and the quarterly “Message of Mercy”; through the mass media).
3. The Chapel of the image of Merciful Jesus, famous for its graces, and the tomb of St. Faustina
The chapel of St. Joseph, which joins the two wings of the convent buildings, was consecrated by Cardi- nal Albin Dunajewski on 20 August 1891. A statue of Our Lady of Mercy (made by an unknown sculptor of Przemyśl), she being the Patron of the Congregation, has the central place at the main altar, while on the left side stands St. Stanisław (patron of young religious) and on the right St. Mary Magdalene (the patroness of penitents). The altar to the left of the chancel has the miraculous image of Merciful Jesus, covering the image of the Sacred Heart originally placed there. On the right of the chancel is a picture of St. Joseph with the Child (painted by Father Krudowski).
During World War II, the convent building in Łagiewniki (previously closed to people from outside) was opened for refugees and people seeking to visit the tomb of Sister Faustina, as the fame of her saintly life grew alongside an ever increasing devotion to The Divine Mercy. On 7 March 1943, Father Joseph Andrasz SJ, the Kraków confessor of Sister Faustina, blessed the first image of the Merciful Jesus painted by Adolf Hyła, and initiated solemn services in honour of and devotion to The Divine Mercy, these attracting crowds from Kraków and the surrounding area. The second image of Merciful Jesus (by A. Hyła), which corresponded in size and shape to the recess at the side altar, was blessed by Father Joseph Andrasz on the first Sunday after Easter (the Feast of Mercy) on 16 April 1944 and quickly became famous for its miracles and the graces bestowed there. Copies and reproductions of this image spread throughout the world, fulfilling the command of Jesus to Sister Faustina, that the image of His mercy be venerated first in the chapel of the Congregation and then throughout the world.
Historic paintings on the walls were designed in the interwar period (1934) by Zdzisław Gedliczka. They were renovated during the general renovation and restoration of the chapel in the years 1981-1990. At that time, stained glass windows, the work of Wiktor Ostrzołek, were set in the side windows of the chapel and in the porch. The only earlier one is that of St. Cecilia, in the round window in the choir. On the walls around the chapel there are display cases containing artistically arranged votive offerings testifying to the graces petitioned for and received by pilgrims praying here.
In 1968 the chapel was entered on the list of sanctuaries within the diocese of Kraków, and on 1 November 1992 the Cardinal Archbishop of Kraków, Franciszek Macharski, issued a formal decree establishing it as the Shrine of The Divine Mercy. In front of the chapel there is a bas-relief bust of Pope John Paul II (designed by Prof. Czesław Dźwigaj), commemorating the Pope’s first papal pilgrimage to the Shrine in Łagiewniki (on 7 June 1997), and on the other side there is a plaque (designed by Andrzej Zaradkiewicz) commemorating the pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI on 27 May 2006. On the convent building (at the entrance to the chapel), there is also a plaque designed by Czesław Dźwigaj, which points to the cell (the former convent infirmary), where St. Sister Faustina was called home to the Lord.
Sr. M. Elżbieta Siepak OLM
The text uses excerpts from the article: Sr. M. Elżbieta Siepak OLM, Jan Paweł II pielgrzym łagiewnicki i sługa orędzia Miłosierdzia (John Paul II, a Łagiewniki Pilgrim and Servant of the Message of Mercy), in: Przyroda, geografia, turystyka w nauczaniu Jana Pawła II (Nature, Geography, and Tourism in the Teaching of John Paul II), edited by Fr. Maciej Ostrowski and Izabela Sołjan, Kraków 2007, pp. 113-126.
Translated by Orest Pawlak