I saw this story a few years ago, and put it aside until today – the fortieth anniversary of the dedication of the more unusual Catholic churches in the world, Kosciol Arka Pana in Novy Huta, Poland.
Which is interesting in and of itself; Nowy Huta is a district in Krakow that was built as a “Socialist Realist” experiment, an entire community built from the ground up to reflect the ideals of Stalin-era communism.
Including absolute, suffocating atheism.
Poles are, of course, obstreperously Catholic – so the battle between Socialist Atheism and Faith seesawed across the city. In 1960, a wooden cross was erected with aa permit, prompting police response; violent demonstrations ensued. The future pope, then-bishop Karol Wojtyla, who began holding annual outdoor Christmas Eve Masses in Nowy Huta in 1959 – and saw to it that ever time the cops removed the cross, another one replaced it.
It took seven years to secure a permit – and, literally, nothing else. In a society where all resources were officially allocated by the government – picture a government where everyone is Alondra Cano – they did it all with volunteer labor and scrounged material.
With no outside help it was down to the locals to mix cement with spades, and find the two million stones needed for the church’s facade. The first corner stone was laid in 1969 by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who would later assume fame as Pope John Paul II, but the discovery of a WWII ammunition dump delayed work, as some 5,000 mines and shells had to be carefully removed. Finally, on May 15th 1977, the church was consecrated. Built to resemble Noah’s Ark, with a 70 metre mast-shaped crucifix rising from the middle, the church houses an array of curious treasures, including a stone from the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican, a tabernacle containing a fragment of rutile brought back from the moon by the crew of Apollo 11, and a controversial statue of Christ that shows him not on a cross, but about to fly to the heavens. If you think that’s odd, check out the statue dedicated to Our Lady the Armoured – a half metre sculpture made from ten kilograms of shrapnel removed from Polish soldiers wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino. In the early 1980s, the church became a focal point during anti-communist protests, not least for the shelter it afforded the locals from the militia. Protesting during the period of Martial Law was dangerous business, as proven by the monument dedicated to Bogdan Włosik opposite the church. Włosik was shot in the chest by security services, and later died of his injuries. His death outraged the people, and his funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners. The monument commemorating the site of his death was erected in 1992 and is a tribute to all those who died during this period. As recently as September 2012, Kraków City Council awarded Arka Pana the ‘Cracoviae Merenti’ silver medallion for its significance to the city’s history.
Apropos not much, other than historical interest.