THE MARIAN SANCTUARY IN LICHEN: ARCHITECTURE AND ART AS AN INSTRUMENT OF HISTORICAL, RELIGIOUS AND NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION IN POST-COMMUNIST POLAND (Sanktuarium Maryjne w Licheniu:.. instrument identyfikacji .. w postkomunistycznej Polsce)
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The Marian sanctuary in Lichen is one of the most impressive phenomena associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary in Europe. Today, it is the second most frequented pilgrimage site in Poland after Jasna Gora in Czestochowa - an immense architectural-town planning-garden premise which emerged in slightly more than thirty years, centred around a gigantic millennial basilica, the largest church in Poland, the seventh largest in Europe and the eleventh in the world, erected in 12 years thanks to voluntary donations. For all practical purposes, the Lichen basilica violates every canon of architectural design.. The basilica's architecture demonstratively refers to the past but at the same time disavows it by applying a strategy of pretence, characteristic for the category of kitsch. The basilica's architect, Barbara Bielecka cherished a profound belief that she correctly deciphered and applied Biblical directives concerning the erection of temples. An essential fragment of the project involves an attempt at evoking Polish national tradition by referring to associations with local nature, art and crafts. The gigantomanic architecture, the interiors, full of marble, gilding and crystal chandeliers, thus turning Lichen into a Catholic Las Vegas; equally justified are associations with Romanian socialist realistic architecture from the 'late Ceausescu' era. The phenomenon of Lichen's popularity consists in the fact that it ideally corresponds to the expectations harboured by droves of pilgrims from all over Catholic Poland. The popularity of Lichen is supported by a well-devised marketing strategy. The donors are commemorated by means of marble plaques (17 000 are featured on the walls of the lower church!). In accordance with the opinion voiced by Ms. Bielecka, claiming that 'one simply cannot offer the Lord God something modernistic on His birthday', the basilica has been planned as a postmodern work. It lacks, however, one of the most postmodern features, namely, a 'light-hearted' treatment of architecture. In his reflections on national identification Edensor defined the concept of the evocative site of popular culture and gatherings. In accordance with his definition, the Lichen sanctuary became a consciously meaningful site and, simultaneously, a place of popular culture created for Polish Catholics and enabling their identification with historical-messianic and Marian-religious myths, in this case treated as an indissoluble conglomerate and providing an unambiguous cultural source, making it feasible to reinforce national identity. By referring to folk religiosity suffused with a belief in miracles, Lichen is to act as an antidote against the contemporary world; at the same time, it is to turn the pilgrim away from that world by creating an enclave of Catholic religiosity and genuine Polishness envisaged as a remedy capable of curing all global ills. Lichen lacks anti-European Union propaganda or the obnoxious anti-Semitism so typical for Radio Maryja, and prefers a model of anachronistic religiosity. Its patriotism is intellectually and religiously enclosed, devoid of reflection and cramped; sadly, it corresponds to the predilections of a great number of the faithful and the clergy, thus abusing trust in the value of 'folk Catholicism'.
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