Folk shrines: churches, boxes and canopies

Shrines are a material expression of popular piety, so characteristic of the Polish landscape. Among their various forms, we can find both churches and shapes and finally different types of canopies.
The shrines were located in the centre of the village, on its borders, in fields, in the forest, along roads leading to a settlement, and especially at their intersections, in places of tragic accidents, battles, and extraordinary events. In the nineteenth century, the custom of hanging them on the walls of houses and setting them up in front of farmsteads became widespread. In Małopolska, including Podhale, shrines used to be hung from almost every cottage.
Shrines intended for hanging often had original forms, referring to the local sacral architecture. They served as a cover for the statues of the saints placed inside them, which were believed to guarantee safety and prosperity.
In Podhale, they were mostly depictions of Christ: Pensive, Crucified, Falling under the cross, The Holy Trinity, the Mother of God with the Infant Jesus, Pieta as well as the figures of saints, especially John of Nepomuk and Florian. The authors of the sculptures were local carpenters and woodcarvers who knew well various types of wood and the principles of its processing, and crafted them for the needs of the village community or a family circle. They found patterns in rural churches; they also obtained them from roadside figures or pictures brought from pilgrimage sites.
The theme of the sculptures depicting the Passion of the Lord, which were popular in Podhale, was influenced by the pilgrimage centre in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where, in 1602, Michał Zebrzydowski funded the first Polish Calvary. Since the seventeenth century, people from Podhale, Silesia, Slovakia, and Hungary made pilgrimages to that sanctuary. Religious experiences related to the participation in the mystery of the Christ’s Passion on Good Friday, the opportunity to observe images of saints, and devotional pictures brought from the place of worship were often a source of inspiration for the folk artists from Podhale.

Read more about the shrines erected among lilacs and lime trees, roadside crosses and shrines, and about the iconography of the Pensive Christ: what troubles the Christ from the shrine.

Elaborated by Anna Kozak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved