While I was in Wadowice last weekend, a local told me to visit Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. The thing is, she didn’t say it once, she said it a couple of times. I took that as a big enough hint, so I decided to check it out for myself. I find that recommendations from locals are always worth following up, and this proved it. As it turned out, I was very close to a UNESCO World Heritage Site I hadn’t heard of. If she hadn’t told me about it, I would have left Wadowice without visiting Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. So, thank you Agnieszka for the recommendation!
The Basilica of St Mary that you can see in the photograph is one of 42 churches and chapels in this small town. So, unsurprisingly, like Czestochowa, it is a place of pilgrimage. Well, that is why it was originally constructed.
It all started in the 17th century. While looking out over the hills and valleys, the ruler of Krakow at the time, Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, had a vision of building a calvary – a version of Calvary (Golgotha) just outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. Apparently, this kind of shrine was popular at a time when people were unable to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem because it was under Turkish rule. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was the first of its kind in Poland.
In the foreground of the photograph, you can see a statue of Pope Saint John Paul II. He was born and brought up close to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and was a frequent visitor.
The town, originally called Zebrzydowski, was established to house the vast number of pilgrims visiting the site. In the 18th century, when the Habsburg Austrian Empire annexed the town, it became known as Kalwaria. At the end of the 19th century, it was renamed Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. At the end of World War I, the town came under Polish rule once again.
I would like to go back and spend a bit longer there because there are a couple of walks you can do that will take you past all the churches and chapels that are nestled in the surrounding hills and woods. I was only there for a few hours because it was late in the day when I found out about Kalwaria; it had been raining which meant the slopes of the hills were very muddy and extremely slippery (I know that from almost sliding the whole way down one of the slopes on my backside!); and I had to rely on the local buses on a Sunday which also happened to be a Holy Day. I spotted a Pilgrim’s House in the monastery, so you can stay there. Alternatively, you can stay in Wadowice or Krakow and visit for the day.
I was staying in Wadowice, so I know there are frequent buses from Wadowice to Kalwaria even on Sundays and Holy Days, although they aren’t as frequent. Just to manage your expectations, the buses are small minibuses, which is pretty standard in Poland. It’s only about a 10-minute bus ride from Wadowice. As you can see from the map below, it isn’t too far from Krakow either. It’s about an hour by bus on one of the minibuses. When you reach Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, get off at the bus station, and it’s a 10-minute walk uphill to the basilica. You will see the basilica and there are signs, so you can’t miss it.