Spirit of Place: The Roadside Shrines of Poland
“They are works of art that speak to the creative spirit that once stirred within a heart to carve a statue, to gather stones to build a foundation, or gather words to form a poem or mix colors for a painting; they are messages from the past telling what at one time was important to this person, to this village, to a city block.”—from the author’s Introduction
It is said that every country has its own genus loci or “spirit of place.” Poland’s distinct character can be found in the tens of thousands of roadside chapels, crosses and shrines that dot both its cities and countryside. A thousand years of Christianity, and the Polish Catholic tradition in particular, have left their mark on the country’s landscape. It is impossible not to notice the religious statues and little chapels that seem to be everywhere. Enter a courtyard in Warsaw or Kraków and discover a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary mounted on a pedestal with fresh flowers at her feet. Drive through a small town, and you’ll spy a niche under the eaves of a home containing a figure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or a little wooden box on a tree holding a small image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. All of them seem to blend harmoniously with the environment and beautify it. What are these objects? What do they mean? How did they come to be in this particular place? Why are they important?
Acclaimed Polish-American author Sophie Hodorowicz Knab explores the origins and purposes of these roadside shrines, examining the different types of shrines and the significance of the various religious figures represented in them to the people of Poland. Additional chapters are devoted to the artists and sculptors who created the shrines, the role these local shrines played in the annual holidays, customs and traditions of the community, and their role in everyday life as well as death. Color photographs throughout depict the artistry and local setting of these shrines.
This exploration of Poland’s roadside shrines is a unique lens through which the reader can learn about Polish history and culture. For anyone interested in Polish history, religious traditions, art and ancestry, this book offers much to explore.