Full-text resources of CEJSH and other databases are now available in the new Library of Science.
Visit https://bibliotekanauki.pl


2012 | 60 | 2 | 330-354

Article title

Wyposażenie grobowe zmarłych od średniowiecza do XVIII wieku z cmentarza przy kościele p.w. św. Katarzyny na warszawskim Służewie

Title variants


Languages of publication



In 1996-2001 St Catherine’s church in Służew in Warsaw was the site of archaeological exploration undertaken in connection with conservation works. Due to numerous cracks in the elevation, caused by the rapid development of urban infrastructure and changes in the structure of the ground, the church had to be renovated, which was also a chance for archaeological excavations in the temple itself and around it. St Catherine’s church is one of the oldest in Warsaw. The first temple built in this place by canons was probably wooden; the stone church was erected in the 15th c. Despite damages and reconstructions the church survived until our times in basically unchanged size and form, preserving many characteristics of the Masovian gothic style. The surroundings and the inside of the church served as burial ground since the parish was established until 1840. The excavations revealed 621 burials – 285 inside the church and 336 around it - as well as 16 mass re-burials. The mass graves contained loose bones from graves destroyed in the course of various reconstructions of the church and dug out while preparing new graves. This indicates that in fact the area explored was the interment place for many more bodies, especially that it proved impossible to delimit the precise boundaries of the cemetery. The bodies were buried, depending on the social status and affluence of the dead, in box coffins, coffins made of hollowed tree trunks or without coffins, wrapped in shrouds. The most elaborate burials, with coffins placed in stone tombs, were found in the presbytery, which was traditionally reserved for the founders and benefactors of the church. In about 15% of the 621 explored burials more sepulchral accessories were found than was required by the funeral convention of the epoch. They were classified into three groups. The first group comprises ornaments: earrings, temple rings, beads, parts of necklaces, rings and wreaths. The second group are devotional items: medallions, crosses, holy pictures, plaques, scapulars and rosaries. The third groups are coins, given to the dead in accordance with an ancient tradition as “Charon’s fee”. Each group is loaded with different meanings. Ornaments were certainly tokens of the devotion of the living and their commemoration of the dead person’s likings. Devotional items marked the person’s belonging to a religious community, while coins should be treated as a proof of ancient traditions and beliefs still being remembered. In the case of St Catherine’s church the finds come from a span of several centuries - from the mid 13th c. to the mid 19th c., which helps in interpreting the significance of sepulchral accessories. The largest group were ornaments; among the oldest ones are temple rings dated to the 2nd half of the 13th c. (fig. 4, 5a) and a ring with a viper’s head (fig. 8). This group also includes wreaths, of which only fragments survived (wires, sequins, dried flowers). Wreaths were found in burials dated to the 17th-18th c. Most numerous among the ornaments were beads of various shapes and sizes. The oldest ones, 2.5-3 mm in diameter, are dated to the second half of the 13th c., while the newest, mass-manufactured ones probably come from the 18th c. (fig. 7). Ornaments also comprise rings; notable among them are rings with painted-glass stones showing Our Lady of Częstochowa (fig. 11). Other notable finds of this class are golden earrings from the 19th c. and a golden ring with an inscription inside, reading “A friend’s gift”. Devotional items included bronze crosses and medallions showing saints, as well as medallions painted on glass (one- and two-sided). Notable among them medallions showing Our Lady of Częstochowa (fig. 16-18). The Madonna is shown wearing a crown as the Queen of Poland, which is a detail important in dating. Most of the coins found were low-value coins from the times of Sigismund III and John Casimir, but there was also a coin from the times of Alexander I, issued in 1823, and a coin issued under the rule of Frederic Augustus, which was in circulation until 1840. The excavations reveal two periods marked with sepulchral accessories: the late Middle Ages, from which only ornaments have survived, and the period from the 17th to the 19th c., when the accessories were more varied, including headgear, jewellery, devotional items and coins. Their material value was insignificant, but they certainly carried a huge emotional load








Physical description


  • Instytut Archeologii i Etnologii PAN, Al. Solidarności 105, 00-140 Warszawa


Document Type

Publication order reference


YADDA identifier

JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.