2015 | 2 | 143-152
Article title

Uwag kilka o dekoracjach i praktyce nawiedzania Grobów Pańskich w nowożytnej Polsce

Title variants
Some remarks about decorating and visiting Holy Sepulchres in early modern Poland
Languages of publication
One of traditional practices related to celebrating Paschal Triduum in Poland is visiting symbolic Holy Sepulchres. Set up since medieval times, they have taken a permanent place in our cultural landscape. Our domestic Sepulchrum Domini, probably of Italian descent and already listed in 11th-century sources, represented a background for a dramatised celebration of the burial of Christ, visitation of the sepulchre and resurrection and took on various forms over centuries. At first, a tent or a cyborium was erected from curtains on an altar; inside, a tomb chest was installed. It contained a cross, sometimes a figure of Christ with moving arms taken out from a crucifix, while in the early 16th century – the crucifix and the Host. Since the late 16th century, the Holy Sepulchre was at the same time a place of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and its adoration. In response to the reformation movement, the Council of Trent (1545-1563), apart from internal modernisation of the church and development of a new synthesis of the Catholic doctrine, made necessary arrangements of the liturgy. Among other changes, the conclusion of the Good Friday ritual was significantly reduced. In comparison to an economic liturgical form, the folk piety was facing an exuberant growth. Devotions related to visiting Sepulchrum Domini flourished, ardently practised by kings and representatives of all strata. Tombs were arranged in all churches, therefore a custom of visiting at least some of them fossilized. The lack of detailed recommendations as to the appearance of Sepulchrum resulted in taking over nearly all forms of previous tombs in the early modern era, developing them in accordance with fashions of the day. Therefore, the Baroque Holy Sepulchres were marked by richness and diversity. A popular type included niches hosting a figure of Christ, usually with a rich sculpted decorations (Kraków, Toruń Podgórze). Another form was represented by winged decorations, locating a monstrance against the realistically painted architecture comprising a number of arcades (Toruń, Stary Sącz). Over time, the tombs gained a more developed artwork and transformed, especially in 17th and 18th centuries, into huge theatrical shows enriched by passion music. Apart from a Calvary or Christ, the tombs contained figures of the Mother of God, accompanying women, Jews, Roman soldiers and sometimes characters or entire scenes from the Old Testament, symbolising passion and resurrection of Christ: Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Joseph thrown into a well by his brothers, Daniel in a cave full of lions, Jonah swallowed by a sea creature. The dramatisation was enhanced by imitating cracking rocks, strangeness – by imitating weather phenomena, arranging a game of lights and movable elements. Figures from Baroque decoration of tombs can sometimes be found in museums and churches (among others, Boćki, Kalwaria Pakoska, Działoszyce, Henryków). A special type of decoration presented a character or a scene (mostly painted) with a circular opening to present the Host placed in a monstrance behind a decorative board to the faithful. Placing Corpus Christi in an image of Christ (Pieta from the church of Norbertines in Imbramowice, Ecce homo from the parochial church in Babice) was to prove the truth about the real presence of the Saviour in the form of Eucharistic Bread, which was disputed by infidels. Decorations hosting an opening in the body of the Mother of God (Lublin, Tum near Łęczyca) or Daniel the prophet – figures of Christ (Vilnius) have survived. The Council of Trent reminded the faithful about didactic and pedagogical tasks of the sacral art, which in the Baroque era became a special tool for propagatio fidei in Catholic countries. Its task was mainly to revive the spirit of Catholic faith through a visual presentation of contents of dogmas negated by the Protestants. Expressed in artistic form and combined with their presence in the liturgy, they appealed more strongly and in a more accessible manner to the faithful. Good Friday tombs were a perfect catechesis instrument and an element of stimulating piety in Poland. Intended for public exposure, they suited best to proclaim truths of the faith, since their form influenced broad parts of the society, appealed to the simple folk, even to children. The 19th century decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rituals and subsequent regulations ordered such a reduction of Sepulchrum Domini decorations, so that a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament constituted an artistic and ideological centre. Remainders of decorations, testimonies of a rich Baroque passion piety, stored in treasuries, sacristies, belfries are destined to extinction, if not already destroyed. Given the popular character of erecting Sepulchrums Domini, their number is surprisingly small in inventories of non-museum objects on the territory of today’s Poland. Probably the sole character of decoration, assumed as temporary and occasional, has influenced this state of affairs. Moreover, the decoration of Sepulchrum Domini, which often bore catechetical contents in the Baroque era, must have given space to the exposure of the Blessed Sacrament in the light of subsequent liturgical regulations. Strengthening of primacy of liturgy over folk piety made the works of art that constituted expressions of this form of piety and background for its practising, did not take root in the sacral space and, apart from a few exceptions, are subject to slow degradation. Most often wooden, improperly stored, exposed to changes in temperature, humidity and activity of pests. This article attempts at drawing attention to these ever more scarce, nearly extinct testimonies of Catholic religiosity and culture of the past epochs, which fully deserve protection, conservation and a decent place in ecclesiastical museum collections.
Physical description
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