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Jun 16 2015

Sampling Monastic Life in Wadowice

At some point during my stay in Poland, I had to visit to Wadowice, the town where Pope Saint John Paul II was born and brought up.  So, one Saturday, once I had finished work, I packed my stuff up, and went on my way.

When I arrived at the tiny bus station in Wadowice, I wasn’t sure where to go.  I hadn’t seen any signs on my way in for ‘wolne pokóje’ vacant rooms, or any hotels, so I headed to the rynek (market square).  I didn’t see any accommodation, but I did a sign for the Tourist Information Office. I wasn’t expecting it to be open on a Saturday afternoon, but to my surprise it was.

The helpful member of staff there had a list of accommodation in the area.  It was the first one that caught my attention – a monastery.  I like unusual accommodation, and staying in a monastery had been on my list for quite a while.  This was my chance, so off I went.

It’s very close to the market square and, thankfully, not high on a hill as many of them are.  I walked up the steps to the Pilgrim’s House, not sure what to expect, and rang the doorbell.  The woman who came to the door was calmness and serenity personified, and it was contagious.  I suddenly felt a sense of calm wash over me as she welcomed me in and guided me to the reception desk.  I normally book for just one night, but I found myself booking for two, not worried about the fact that they probably didn’t have WiFi.  To my amazement, I later found out that there was WiFi throughout.  Once I had paid, she showed me where to get breakfast, the terrace, and then I took the lift (yes, it even has a lift) up to the top floor.

The Pilgrim's House in Wadowice

The room was en-suite and looked very comfortable.  It wasn’t at all what I was expecting.  My room was bright with two dormer windows, but the corridors were dimly light with no natural light.  It was very quiet and tranquil.  Outside was very green with an abundance of flowers.

After I had settled in my room, I decided to go out and explore Wadowice despite the rain.  As I was walking down the stairs, I saw a picture of St. Teresa of Avila.  Being as this is one of the saints I was named after, I stopped to look at it.  At first, I didn’t understand the connection between St Teresa and the monastery until I realised it was founded by the Barefoot Carmelites after their arrival in Wadowice in the 19th century.  She founded the Order of the Barefoot Carmelite Nuns in the 16th century, during the time of the Reformation.  They weren’t actually barefoot, by the way, they wore sandals.  It was an interesting coincidence to end up staying in a monastery for the first time that had a link to St Teresa.  Not only that, but this year marks 500 years since her birth.

The place where I was staying is actually a complex with a church, monastery, and pilgrim’s house.  The church’s status was elevated to St Joseph’s Sanctuary by the Pope.  It’s a great place from which to explore Wadowice and learn a bit about its history and Pope Saint John Paul II.

A Little Bit of History

Wadowice dates back to the 14th century.  It was destroyed by fire in the 15th century, but rebuilt soon after.  In the 16th century, it became known as The Royal Free Town of Wadowice.  Wadowice was the centre of crafts and trade, although more than one plaque and a number of fires put a stop to continued growth and prosperity.  During the first Partition of Poland, Wadowice became part of Austria and was renamed Frauenstadt.  Once a road linking Vienna to Lviv was built, there was a surge in its prosperity.  After World War I, Wadowice rejoined Poland only to be annexed again during the Second World War by Nazi Germany and renamed Wadowitz.  Its status as a centre of commerce and transport lasted until the late 1980s when most of the industries went bankrupt.  This has been replaced by a surge in tourism since it is the birthplace of Pope Saint John Paul II.  Apparently, over 200,000 people visit Wadowice every year.

Apart from the monastery that I stayed in, most of the places of interest, unsurprisingly, are based around Wadowice’s most famous resident.

The Minor Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Minor Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wadowice

The basilica, built in the 15th century, dominates the tiny market square (John Paul II Square as it is now called).  Pope Saint John Paul II was baptised there, served as an altar boy, and prayed there daily.  In 1992, Pope Saint John Paul II elevated the status of the church to Basilica Minor.

Pope Saint John Paul II’s Family Home

Pope Saint John Paul II's Family Home, Wadowice

Pope Saint John Paul II was born in a rented apartment in this 19th century building.  Now, the whole building is a museum dedicated to him.  If you are interested in visiting, you need to reserve a ticket in advance.

Church of St Peter the Apostle

St Peter the Apostle Church, Wadowice

This church was built as an offering for Karol Wojtyła’s election to Pope, and for having saved him after an assassination attempt in the early 80s.  It was built in the 1980s and consecrated by Pope Saint John Paul II in the early 90s.

Kremowka

Kremowka in Wadowice

A popular food that people tend to sample while they are in Wadowice is Kremowka.  It is a Polish cream cake made with puff pastry filled with sweet, rich cream and the top is dusted with powered sugar.  It became known as Kremówka Papieska, the Papal Cream Cake, because it was his favourite dessert.  Of course, while I was there, I had to try Kremowka.  It’s sweet, but perfect with a coffee on a rainy day.

Park Miejski

Park Miejski in Wadowice
I spotted the city park when I went for a walk around the city.  It’s close to the monastery.  If you have children, or just want a bit of peace and quiet elsewhere while you are in Wadowice, this could be worth visiting.

Walking Trails

Walking Trails in Wadowice

There are a few walking trails you can take.  The weather wasn’t great for walking, so I didn’t try any of the routes.  As you can see, you can even walk to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a nearby town which also has a monastery complex.  I didn’t walk it, though.  I took a bus.

My thoughts

I would definitely stay in a monastery (Pilgrim’s House) again if I had the option, although I think I might have been spoilt with my first experience of monastic life.  I have a feeling that I might have stayed in the five-star version since I had my own en-suite and the WiFi was good enough to use Skype without any problems.  It’s a cheap place to stay.  It only cost me 116 zl for two nights with breakfast.  To be honest, I would skip breakfast.  You’d be better off going down the road to the rynek for that.

Location 

If you are going from Krakow, you can get regular minibuses to Wadowice which take just over an hour.

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Have your say

Have you stayed in a monastery?  What’s the most unusual accommodation you’ve ever stayed in?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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