Wroclaw, Poland: The Phoenix Rises

“O King, seems to me the present life of men on earth, in comparison with that time which to us is uncertain, as if when on a winter’s night you sit feasting with your ealdormen and thegns, – a single sparrow should fly swiftly into the hall, and coming in at one door, instantly fly out through another.”

(The Venerable Bede, 673 – 735 A.D.)

The Venerable Bede’s sparrow symbolizes birth and death for human life. However, while visiting Wroclaw, I realized that sacred metaphor could have just as easily described the continued rebirths of the Eastern European country of Poland. With no natural protective barriers across her east-west axis, Poland lies vulnerable to historical invasion routes. Because of this fact, the war-weary country has been partitioned three times. During her recent invasion by Nazi Germany in World War II, one-in-five of the country’s population perished under circumstances too barbaric for the human mind to even contemplate.

About Wroclaw

To look across the landscape of Poland’s ancient city of Wroclaw (pronounced by the Polish as VRAHTS – wahv) is to travel back in time. Tall elegant church spires dot the skyline, calling the faithful to prayer; gargoyles stare menacingly down at passersby from vine-covered Medieval walls; and sacred Gothic architecture beckons curious travelers to enter into holy places resplendent with richly ornate interiors that depict Christ, the Virgin birth, and the saints. The city, built upon twelve islands linked by 127 bridges, has endured fascism, communism, and invasion by Germans, Hungarians, Bohemians, Austrians, Prussians, Mongols, and Russians. Thus, it is a place of such historical significance that one must experience it in order to even begin to understand its unique ambiance.

 

???????????????????????????????

 

Statue of Pope John Paul II

Statue of Pope John Paul II

 

Located between the branches of the Oder River, the wonderful old city of Wroclaw originally served as a historical trade route connecting Eastern and Northern Europe with Western and Southern Europe. Since 1000 A. D., when Boleslaw the Brave constructed his bishopric, it has experienced constant and violent turbulence. Wroclaw is the capital of Lower Silesia and the fourth largest city in Poland.

 

Wroclow Market

Wroclaw Market

 

Wroclaw Market

Wroclaw Market

 

Old City Wroclaw Market

Old City Wroclaw Market

 

Location of Ancient Slaughter House

Location of Ancient Slaughter House

 

The Spiritual Roots of Wroclaw

The deep devotion of Wroclaw’s citizens to Christianity can be clearly seen in the city’s coat of arms, which includes a picture of the beheaded skull of St. John the Baptist, Wroclaw’s patron saint. The citadel of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, which evolved from the ancient Romanesque architectural designs. Its flying buttresses, pointed arches, and ribbed vaults denote a time of long, long ago. Accessible by cobblestone streets surrounded by beautiful lush gardens, the cathedral is a stunning Medieval achievement located on Cathedral Island, or Ostrow Tumski.

 

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist

 

Bridge to Cathedral Island

Bridge to Cathedral Island

 

Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski)

Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski)

 

Wroclaw’s Market Square

One of the most beautiful Medieval market places in Poland,  Wroclaw’s Market Square is known for its colorful gabled burgher houses and the magnificent Medieval Ratusz, which was at one time used as the city hall. With architecture that combines late Gothic with Renaissance elements, the building, which began construction in 1299 A.D., took 250 years for completion.

 

Wroclaw's Medieval Square

Market Square

 

Ratusz (Wroclaw City Hall)

Ratusz (City Hall)

 

Wroclaw

 

University of Wroclaw Library

 

Wroclaw Architecture

 

A Tale from Wroclaw

One of the more interesting stories one who visits Wroclaw will hear is that of Henry II The Pious, Duke of Silesia and member of the Piast Dynasty. Born with six toes on his left foot, he was defeated and killed by the Mongols during the Battle of Legnica. Left naked and decapitated upon the field of battle, his wife could only identify his body by the unique number of toes on his foot. Henry II, who was supported during the Mongol battle by King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, the French Knights Templers, and the Hospitallers, is remembered by today’s Polish citizens as an example of the perfect Christian knight.

Just as the Venerable Bede’s symbolic sparrow continues to fly, displaying no weakness as it darts in and out through the windows of birth and death, the enchanting country of Poland, with her picturesque old world charm and gorgeous forests, always seems to reawaken to life, no matter the damage and trauma she experiences as a pawn in the deadly games between Eastern and Western European powers. Today, she stands tall and proud, one of the most resilient countries on the face of the earth. In contemplating that fact, I finally understand. Poland and Wroclaw, her city that is built upon the islands of the Oder, are no tiny sparrows. Rather, they display the strength and courage that personify the greatest of all winged creatures, the mythical Phoenix who refuses to die but continues, again and again, to arise gloriously from the smoldering ashes of history.

 

Welcome Committee

Suggested Resources

Welcome to Wroclaw

History of Wroclaw

Henry II: Duke of Silisia

 

Return to homepage