Sea of Sanctuaries in a Polish Forest

Among the many lovely shrines of Poland, the sanctuary of Kalwaria Paclawska stands out for its beauty and uniqueness. The story of the shrine's founding is among the most unusual in Catholic history. And, unlike most places of pilgrimage which tend to consist of one sanctuary, this shrine features a large majestic church and more than 40 chapels scattered throughout the nearby fields and woods.

A popular destination for the Catholic faithful, the shrine lies in the far eastern reaches of the country near Ukraine.

Upon entering the small village one is immediately greeted by the grand twin-towers of the Franciscan monastery and church. Once inside the sanctuary, one is engulfed in a sea of art and architecture. So splendid are the decorations that the shrine is routinely ranked as one of the most beautiful in Eastern Europe. Outside the extraordinary sanctuary are more than three dozen chapels dedicated to Our Lord and his Blessed Mother.

According to legend, the shrine's origin is the result of an event that occurred in 1665. While hunting one day in the forest, the local administrator allegedly saw a deer running in the forest with a brilliant cross between its antlers. After seeing this incredible sight, the town official decided to work to place a monastery and church at the site in commemoration of the event. His desire was fulfilled when, three years hence, the Franciscans moved to the region and a wooden church was constructed at the site.

As the area resembled that of the Mount of Olives in the Holy Land, the friars chose to dedicate the shrine to Our Lord's passion and death, naming it the Calvary (Kalwaria) of Paclawska. To encourage the faithful to meditate on the suffering of Christ, they placed crosses on the hillsides. Over time, small chapels began to replace the crosses. Eventually, more than 40 little sanctuaries filled the fields and forests on both sides of the Wiar River.

In 1775, the Franciscans consecrated a new and grandiose church with a miraculous image of Our Lady of Calvary enshrined above one of the side altars. The image is of the Mother of God as Queen, sitting on clouds with a scepter in her right hand, and the Child Jesus on her left arm.

The image quickly became known as an instrument through which God and Our Lady desired to work wonders of healings and other favors. The shrine received a great honor in 1882, when the miraculous picture was crowned.

Today, the sanctuary remains one of Poland's prominent places of pilgrimage. The most important of its many annual celebrations takes place from Aug. 11 to 15 — a five-day solemnity in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The ceremonies include a procession that transports a statue of Our Lady's Dormition to a “burial cottage.” The cortege stops along the way at seven small chapels dedicated to Mary. This moving celebration is witnessed each year by thousands of pilgrims.

Located in southeastern Poland near the city of Przemysl, the shrine of Kalwaria Paclawska is open daily and receives pilgrims throughout the year. With its numerous chapels and a beautiful guesthouse, the sanctuary offers visitors a fitting place for prayer and retreat.