Woodcut of Krakow from Herman Schedel's Weltchronik (Nurnberg 1493), f. 264v-265 (public domain)


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Piotr Kołpak
Contact: pd.kolpak@uw.edu.pl
Web site: https://uw.academia.edu/PiotrKo%C5%82pak
Institution: University of Warsaw
ORCID: 0000-0002-8601-4811
Initial publication: November 2022
Licence: If not stated otherwise Creative Commons License
Media licences: All media rights belong to the authors unless stated otherwise.
Last check of all references : 22.11.2022
Recommended citation: Kołpak, Piotr: The Social Role of Saints’ Processions in 15th Century Cracow, in: MEMO 9 (2022), Material Culture in Central European Towns, pp. 23–38, Pdf-Format, doi: 1025536/20220902.


The concept of „sacred geography” refers not only to the spatial depiction of the sacrum – it also embodies the phenomenon of celebrating the cohesion of Heaven and Earth in accurately defined spaces. Throughout this ideological construct some historical narratives can be better understood, for example Jan Długosz’s story (15th c.) about vision of a townswoman Weronika. She was dreaming of a miraculous procession of saints Adalbert and Florian heading the Krakowian march to the Wawel cathedral in order to visit saints Stanislaus and Wenceslas – „their famous fathers and fellow citizens”. These four patron saints were considered as a group of patron saints of the Polish Kingdom. The sense of patronage in Długosz’s tale has been illustrated by the words of Adalbert, who accuses Poles of oppressing the poor, dangers on the routes and simony. The same saints participated in the processional ritual that unites the community of the capital city of Krakow and determined the actual points of the sacred’s and profane’s convergence. A comprehensive view of the topographic location of the objects associated with the state patronage, their hagio-toponymy and the processional rite within these spaces allows to understand the functioning of the sacred geography of medieval Krakow.

Abstract (German)

Der historiographische Begriff der „Heiligen Geographie“ bezieht sich nicht nur auf die räumliche Verteilung von Kirchen und Kapellen. Es geht auch um die Vereinigung von Himmel und Erde in einem liturgischen Theater, das im Stadt- oder Dorfraum stattfindet. Dank dieses ideologischen Konzepts ist es einfacher, die Erzählungen alter Chronisten zu verstehen – zum Beispiel eine sehr interessante Vision der Bürgerin Weronika, die der Chronist Jan Długosz im 15. Jahrhundert beschrieben hat. Weronika träumte von einer wunderbaren Prozession, die durch die Straßen von Krakau ging. Es wurde von den Heiligen Wojciech und Florian geleitet, die beabsichtigten, die Heiligen Stanisław und Wenzel – „ihre heiligen Väter und Mitbürger” – zu besuchen. Diese vier Schutzheiligen galten als eine Gruppe von Schutzheiligen des polnischen Königreichs. Das Gefühl der Patronage in der Geschichte von Dlugosz wurde durch die Worte von Adalbert illustriert, der die Polen der Unterdrückung der Armen, der Gefahren auf den Straßen und der Simonie beschuldigt. Dieselben Heiligen nahmen an dem Prozessionsritual teil, das die Gemeinde der Hauptstadt Krakau vereint, und bestimmten die tatsächlichen Punkte der Konvergenz des Heiligen und des Profanen. Ein umfassender Blick auf die topografische Lage der mit der staatlichen Schirmherrschaft verbundenen Objekte, ihre Hagio-Toponymie und den Prozessionsritus in diesen Räumen ermöglicht es, die Funktionsweise der heiligen Geografie des mittelalterlichen Krakau zu verstehen.

Table of contents


By combining the experiences of time and space, processions were always a form of liturgical ritual in which the urban form met the prevailing culture. In the Middle Ages, processions played an important role, connecting the formalized Church liturgy with various forms of spiritualism. Priests were followed by representatives of all social strata.1 It was a kind of liturgical performance set in a specific urban setting, and the elements of the city’s form participating in it were purposefully chosen. The coupling of hagio-toponymous elements of the urban environment with liturgical processions gave sacral geography a certain mobile and dynamic ‘concentration of holiness’. Halina Manikowska, in her research on sacral geography, emphasized the perception of space and time by showing that such manifestations “celebrate the unity of heaven and earth in precisely defined places – real, concrete points of convergence”.2

The following review of the processional forms present in the lives of the 15-century townspeople of Cracow focuses on processions honouring the cult of saints revered as patrons of the city and the Polish Kingdom. The most prominent is the cult of St. Stanislaus, the Bishop of Cracow who was killed by King Bolesław II the Bold’s knights in 1079 in St Michael’s Church in what became Kazimierz, a southern suburb of Cracow. Shortly afterwards, in 1138, the Kingdom of Poland was divided into districts, which, according to the 13th-century authors of hagiographic narratives, was punishment for murdering the bishop. At the end of the 13th century, St. Stanislaus became the patron saint of the unification of the state. However, even before his canonization, the local Church community was wrestling over larger relics of the martyred bishop. That is why, in 1184, Gedko, the Bishop of Cracow – together with the Duke of Cracow, Kazimierz the Just – brought the body of the holy Roman martyr Florian from Italy, who was then worshipped in what became Kleparz, a northern suburb of Cracow. It was supposed to counteract the strong pull of the cult of St. Adalbert who was revered in Gniezno, Greater Poland, since the clergy of Gniezno competed with the clergy of Cracow in various spheres. Soon, however, efforts were made to recognize the sanctity of Bishop Stanislaus, temporarily inhibiting the development of the cult of St. Florian.

The mysterious dream of Veronica

The story of mysterious dream by a woman called Veronica, recorded by chronicler Jan Długosz in the Annales seu cronicae incliti regni Poloniae (1438), is a testament to the significance of processions among the 15th-century Cracow burghers. According to Długosz’s account, the heroine of the story fell asleep and then:

It suddenly occurred to me that I was taking part in a mass at St. Florian’s Church outside the Cracow city walls [in Kleparz]. As I stood there in a place intended for the common people, a very venerable procession with two white banners at the head began to come out of the sacristy. The amount of people increased so that it filled almost the entire church. Among them were some dignitaries dressed in bishop’s robes, others in knight’s garb distinguished by the red and white, and all of them wore choir vestments.3

Veronica and the crowd left the chapel and stopped outside the collegiate cemetery fences. There she was confronted by a tall woman dressed in white robes, who pointed Veronica towards a small house where she was to find her master. The oneiric atmosphere of the strange three-story building was completed by the meeting of two women: one in white and one in yellow. As it later turned out, they symbolize the good and bad sides of the clergy and the common people. After exiting the house, Veronica met the procession returning to Kleparz:

Everyone stopped except two of them seemed to be heading for me. One of them had an infula and chasuble like a bishop, and the other, girded with a golden belt, was wearing a knight’s cloak. When they came closer I was trembling, and the one who seemed to be a bishop spoke to me thus: “Daughter, what are you doing?… Behold, I and my dearest companion whom you see, the holy and famous martyr Florian, visited our famous fathers, our fellow citizens: St. Stanislaus and St. Wenceslaus, and their church was placed on the castle mount… For the four of us, namely the three aforementioned holy martyrs, Adalbert and myself, were given to this homeland as special helpers and patrons. We persistently stand before the face of the Most High for the salvation of this people… And know that in this homeland, and in the surrounding territories, there are many who grieve on this day, your brothers and sisters, some seriously injured, others deprived of their arms, legs and eyes, others in captivity, others robbed of their property and possessions.”4

St. Adalbert added another sentiment, this time relating to the state:

About the oppression of the poor, the highway robbery of travellers, especially by those who should be their defenders, and how much they gain with public money, offices and excellent positions that demand virtue and righteousness. Such people inevitably lead the state poorly… And at the end of his speech, he had two remarks for me. One, that in order to atone for God’s wrath, processions should be held in the churches, the other, that I should go to the one who is currently holding the office of bishop in the Cathedral, that I should report all this to him, and that I should encourage him to make an urgent effort to fulfil it.5

In this heavenly vision of a procession, there are a few elements worthy of attention. The tale reminds us of the liturgical provisions of Bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki, who was the chronicler Jan Długosz’s mentor. In 1436 – one year prior to Veronica’s vision – the bishop called together a council of the Cracow diocese during which the article De horis was announced, formally equating the liturgical cult of St. Florian with the cult that “the other holy patrons of the kingdom have enjoyed until now: Adalbert, Stanislaus and Wenceslaus.”6 Although the decision referred to above concerned only the Diocese of Cracow, there is no doubt that it reflected much broader trends relating to the promotion of a concrete, Cracow-based vision of the pantheon of the Kingdom’s patron saints. Oleśnicki demonstrated in every possible manner that the Cracow Church was taking the initiative in state actions away from the kings.7 That is why the saints were not named here as patrons of the capital city or cathedral, but of the whole Kingdom. The cult of these four patrons, as a concrete idea carrying religious and propagandistic significance, was formalised in the first half of the 15th century by the Cracow Cathedral council. The aforementioned article included in Bishop Oleśnicki’s statutes was one of the clear points of this programme, and Długosz’s story about the burgher Veronica’s vision reflects Oleśnicki’s intentions and serves to develop them into a narrative.

In addition, St. Florian’s Collegiate Church, located outside the city (in Kleparz), is highlighted as the site where the revelation begins, and not in, say, the Church of St. Adalbert on Cracow’s Main Market Square, since St. Adalbert was appointed as Veronica’s visionary advisor. The Kleparz chapel gained considerable importance in the 15th century. At the beginning of the century, patronage over the Collegiate Church was given to Cracow University by Władysław Jagiełło. In the years 1418–1423, its praepositus was none other than Zbigniew Oleśnicki, who later became Bishop of Cracow. These facts certainly influenced Oleśnicki’s decision to add St. Florian among the patrons of the Polish Kingdom.

St. Adalbert, who led the march, approached the terrified Veronica and explained the meaning of her vision, and at the same time gave a clear interpretation of the cult of the Polish Kingdom’s patron saints. A group of intercessors – Adalbert, Florian, Stanislaus, and Wenceslaus – were given to the homeland as special helpers and patrons (singulares coadiutores et patronos), who are ceaselessly before the face of God for the salvation of the people (qui incessanter assistimus ante conspectum Altissimi pro salute gentis huius), and who pray for the welfare and salvation of the homeland (nos pro bono et salute huius patrie incessanter nostris precatibus ad Deum intercessimus). These phrases almost exactly correspond with Oleśnicki’s statute, in which the same four saints were described as patrons of this kingdom (huius regni patronos insignes), interceding before the face of the enthroned God (ante faciem sedentis in throno intercessores). The interaction between them and their charges took place in the streets of greater Cracow, between the Wawel Castle Hill and the Kleparz suburb. Saints Adalbert and Florian walked away from Kleparz and headed towards Wawel, crossing the streets of Cracow to visit their glorious fathers and fellow citizens (gloriosos patres concives nostros).

Even the term concivis (co-inhabitant or co-citizen) directed the reader’s attention to the Cracow agglomeration. The recipient of the Annales would immediately come to the conclusion that all the Polish Kingdom’s patrons ‘resided’ in Cracow, as it was expressed by St. Adalbert, who was associated with Gniezno and not Cracow. The sacred relationship between Kleparz and Wawel can also be seen in the first edition of the Translatio sancti Floriani in the words of St. Florian, who wanted his body to rest beyond the northern gates of the city, in order to protect Cracow from invaders. From south of the walls, the city was already guarded by another patron, St. Stanislaus, whose cult was focused not only at Wawel, but also at Skałka. “Ego a Prutenis hanc partem civitatis tuebor; veniet enim adhuc patronus huius regni, qui in ecclesia sue sedis requiescet et ipse ab alia parte a paganis ac aliis nacionibus defendat hanc civitatem”.8 Both cult centres constituted the axis of protection along which the urban agglomeration was spread. The reality was more mundane. Both Kleparz and Kazimierz, to the south, had roads leading to Cracow, so both towns were buffer zones, the first line of defence against potential invaders.

St. Adalbert’s statement displays all the characteristics of a true guardian of the homeland: care for matters of national importance, as well as the reliable and honest exercise of power. According to the patron, representatives of the highest spheres gained their position out of greed, which resulted in disastrous management of the state, and the young king should retain his noble characteristics: patience, humility, modesty and gentleness (which also determined the model of a good ruler). But the holy patrons were not only defenders of the king and institutions of power – as Długosz demonstrated many times – the saints also cared for the common people. St. Adalbert therefore made accusations of a scandalous social policy, recalling the absence of charity for the poor, the severely injured, and those who were being held captive by slave drivers. Finally, he rejected the debauchery spreading even among Church circles, the oppression of the poor, and the state’s inactivity in the face of dangers lurking in wait for travellers; dangers all the more shameful because they were guardians of law and order. He threatened Cracow and the whole country with severe punishment if the situation did not improve. At the end of his speech, he added two recommendations, the first of which concerned the celebration of processions in churches to placate the wrath of God (ad placandam iram Dei fierent in ecclesiis processiones).9

In the context of the entire vision (the saints’ processions and St. Adalbert’s advice), it was through processional forms that this hierophany of the Kingdom’s patrons was to be completed, and the pilgrimage carried out by people in the streets of the city would participate in the work of redemption and could count on God’s mercy. Significantly, it was most probably during the times of Bishop Oleśnicki (Długosz’s mentor) that the rites of the most important processions were written, in which all local inhabitants participated, including: the richest patricians and the urban poor, lavish hierarchs and begging monks, the servants and officials of the royal court, and local craftsmen and merchants.

The space of the cathedral on Wawel Castle Hill

The processional rite of late medieval Cracow was closely connected with the space of St. Wenceslaus and St. Stanislaus Cathedral on Wawel Castle Hill; the tomb of the latter patron became a marker of the spiritual position of the chapel and figured prominently in the local processions. However, the centre of gravity of the folk cult of St. Stanislaus in the 15th century finally moved from Wawel Hill to Skałka in Kazimierz where – legend has it – the saint was murdered in 1079 by King Bolesław II the Bold’s knights.10 Although wider society and the Church’s elite continued to participate in the hierophany taking place in the cathedral space – such as during the solemn display of saints’ relics – this was already taking place with the tomb of St. Stanislaus located in the middle of the church, which became an inseparable element of the Polish political body and an ideal symbol of the monarchy, regardless of which dynasty was in power.11 The tomb, in which the ashes of St. Stanislaus have been since his exaltation in 1254, has been called the beating heart of the cathedral and the Altar of the Homeland (Ara Patriae) by Agnieszka Rożnowska-Sadraei and Michał Rożek respectively.12

The cathedral space was connected with the processions that were part of the intertwined powers of ceremony and monarchical propaganda. The entrance of kings (adventus regis) in the capital city of Cracow took on a sacred form. The detailed descriptions of Jan Długosz and Oleśnicki’s instructions addressed to participants of the official welcome, provide rich sources for the reconstruction of the entry of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, into Cracow in 1447. The future king was met by:

“… all the processions of the city, including the university with its members… in a large crowd, the important people entered the city of Cracow, and all the processions were ahead of him. And going up to the castle, he entered St. Stanislaus Cathedral, and after honouring the relics of the saints and making a sacrifice of fifty florins, he headed towards the palace. ”13

“… all the processions of the city” consisted of – as Długosz explains – representatives of Cracow University, and the collegiate, conventual, and parish churches of the three towns in the Cracow agglomeration. These institutions were to form processions that would gather in front of St. Mary’s Church in the Main Market Square to the sound of the great cathedral bell and together they would set out to greet the future leader.14 The religious welcoming procession passed through the city to elevate the moment of unification of the estates into one body of the state, which Ernst Kantorowicz called the corpus regni.15 The ceremony was crowned with the celebration of the saints’ relics in ecclesiam maiorem sancti Stanislai – understood, above all, as the reliquary of St. Stanislaus in the Cathedral. A similar ceremony accompanied the farewell. Before leaving the city, the king went to the Cathedral to honour the saints’ relics, made a donation ad sepulchrum sancti Stanislai, and participated in a votive offering for a successful journey at the holy bishop’s tomb.16

More spectacular versions of the royal entrance took place after major military victories. These were triumphant processions, modelled on Roman victory parades, which consisted of a ceremonial march through the city and a thanksgiving offering of some of the war booty to the Capitol. The oldest, and likely best described, entrance of this type in Cracow was the procession of 25 November 1411, when Władysław Jagiełło returned after the Teutonic campaign of 1410. After 15 days sojourn in Niepołomice, the ruler set off on foot towards the capital city to visit the “sanctorum Venceslai, Stanislai et Floriani limina”.17 The principal element distinguishing this procession from other adventus regis ceremonies, was the laying of flags won during the Battle of Grunwald in the Cathedral. By hanging several dozen flags in the Wawel Cathedral on both sides of the reliquary of St. Stanislaus, Jagiełło clearly linked his military victory with the role of the Kingdom’s patron, and initiated the practice of placing ornate flags as a votive offering. Długosz also emphasized that “Poles should guard [the flags in the cathedral] and keep them as a perpetual symbol. As they age, they should be weaved anew, so that there would be proof of the enormous and incredible battle and victory, and that those same flags, in part, would be visible”.18 The space of the main nave, together with the tomb of St. Stanislaus, thus acquired a commemorative character of national importance. However, Jost Ludwik Decjusz – in his work De Jagellonum familia ­– was the first to literally link the laying of the flags with this confession. There is no doubt that this place was chosen purposefully and with reference to the saint’s role as patron of the Kingdom.19 In the following years, the practice of depositing souvenirs of victory in the same place only confirms that the Jagiellonian dynasty created a particular tropaion for the Polish Kingdom out of this holy grave, a symbol of the power of the state and a site of memory in the nation.20

Jaigiełło’s triumphal parade, along with its finale in the cathedral, combined the ideas of the corporis Reipublicae mysticum and corporis Ecclesiae mysticum into a processional rite and united them into one body: the corpus regni. For Długosz, both mystical bodies could not exist without the other, they merged into one: the state ceremony was fulfilled in the Church, and the liturgical rite performed state functions.21 Such was the message conveyed by the ruler’s official entrance into Cracow, taking on the shape of religious processions. The long-winded description of Władysław Jagiełło’s entrance into Cracow in 1432, after his victory over Fedek Nieświcki near Kopestrzyn, provides further evidence of the crystallisation of a uniform ritual of welcoming the ruler in this way. In a similar manner, in 1411, the king descended from his horse and entered the city on foot. Before heading to the Wawel Castle residence, he visited numerous churches in the surrounding agglomeration.22 In 1432, the victorious king was met by processions from all the churches, a situation analogous to when Cracovians welcomed Kazimierz Jagiellończyk in 1447. Perhaps the absence of any mention of a “…procession from all the churches” in the account of the parade celebrating the 1410 Teutonic campaign, suggests that they these traditions were not introduced until after Zbiegniew Oleśnicki – who was responsible for the formation of the march – became Bishop of Wawel. This would certainly have been part of the bishop’s political and propaganda activity.

Thus, the grand entrance ceremonies were a thoughtful elaborate message, to be repeated and embedded into a particular public space. The staging of this spectacle showed the power and majesty of the ruler, before whom the flags of victory were sometimes carried, and also demonstrated his piety so that he may appear to represent the ideal pious ruler. The procession put the harmonious society of the capital and its surroundings on display, dominated by the sanctuaries of the patron saints, the most important of which were St. Wenceslaus and St. Stanislaus towering above the city. Finally, the march through the city was an expression of the unity of the most important elements of the kingdom – the regnum and the sacerdotium – complementing each other before the tomb of St. Stanislaus. The dynamic of the events resulted from an attempt to achieve a triumphal entrance based upon an appropriately modified processional rite in which the hierophany of sanctity was combined with the interests of the state, eliminating the proud ancient character of victory celebrations.23

Skałka – the kingdom’s greatest

As mentioned above, Cracow’s tradition has connected the history of St. Stanislaus’ martyrdom with Skałka south of the city walls. The society of the 15th-century honoured Skałka as the site of the kingdom’s greatest drama in their history up to that point. According to Długosz’s historical narrative, it was there that events occurred that divided the country and led to the extinction of the Piast dynasty in 1138.24 Situated on a flat plateau above the Vistula River in the city of Kazimierz, the hill was another clear geological landmark around Cracow.25 There was a second chapel, dedicated to St. Stanislaus, in addition to the older section dedicated to the Archangel Michael. In Długosz’s view, Skałka was a distinctive place, famous for the glorious martyrdom of St. Stanislaus, forever associated with Cracow, the capital of the bishopric and the Kingdom, afflicted simultaneously with the disgrace of murder and the honour of martyrdom.26

Aside from this special place of theophany, there were also other places and chapels dedicated to Bishop Stanislaus of Szczepanów. The chronicle Rocznik Traski from 1270 describes a great flooding from the Vistula River, covering the area under the St. Stanislaus mount, “totum campum et spacium a monte sancti Stanislay”.27 Moreover, in keeping with late medieval hagiographic tradition, a fountain in honour of St. Stanislaus had already appeared by the early 15th century.28 According to the author of the Notae Cracovienses, the water in the fountain miraculously turned into wine in 1426, and he connected this event with the birth of Kazimierz, the second son of Władysław Jagiełło who perished after only a few months.29 The myth of the fountain was expanded further by Długosz who introduced an etiological legend, likely based on a similar theme in the hagiography of St. Adalbert.30 While the bishop’s body was being dismembered, the index finger of his right hand fell into a nearby pond, where it was swallowed by a fish, but ultimately caught by fishermen. Through contact with the holy body, the water in the fountain became a de facto reliquary and obtained miraculous healing powers.31

Sources from the 14th-century mention a St. Stanislaus Street (platea sancti Stanislai), and Kazimierz city council accounting books indicate a St. Stanislaus Gate (valva sancti Stanislai), a St. Stanislaus Bridge (pons sancti Stanislai), as well as a platea minor sancti Stanislai connecting the street with Skawińska Gate (St. Stanislaus Gate).32 St. Stanislaus Street is undoubtedly today’s Skałeczna Street, and the aforementioned bridge and gate may have been located near Skawińska Gate, allowing for residents to cross a tributary of the Vistula River at the foot of the hill.33 Therefore the whole northwestern part of late medieval Kazimierz can be described as the St. Stanislaus hagio-toponymous zone, where the chapel, hill, fountain, street, gate, and bridge were all named after the holy bishop of Cracow.

As the sacred heart of Kazimierz, Skałka – with its commemoration of St. Stanislaus – was connected to Wawel Castle Hill by a diverse processional rite.34 The liturgical records of Jan Konarski and successive bishops of Cracow provide sources for the reconstruction of the early 16th-century annual processions from Wawel to Skałka, celebrated around St. Stanislaus’s feast day in May and September.35 Despite the fact that this information comes from a slightly later period, we may safely assume that there were also processions connected with the pantheon of the Polish Kingdom’s patron saints during the time of Zbigniew Oleśnicki and Jan Długosz, who put words into St. Adalbert’s mouth about the importance of celebrating these processions.36

Thus “in die competenti infra octavam sancti Stanislai”, after the solemn mass in the cathedral, a procession formed, joining the two hills and places of worship connected with St. Stanislaus: the first of importance for the state, the second for the common people. While chanting a Cross and Holy Trinity responsorium, they passed through the Grodzka Gate, the town of Stradom and Gliniana Gate toward the St. Stanislaus hagio-toponymous zone in the area of St. Catherine’s church. At the same time, in the minds of the faithful, there had to be a lively conviction that they themselves participated in the history of martyrdom, traversing the route that – they estimated – was the same the holy bishop took escaping the king’s wrath. Participation in the May procession was therefore both a performance of the drama, the backdrop of which was the history of the events, and historical continuity that identified and united the local community through commemoration.37 In the liturgical guidelines, the church’s role is noted as “ecclesia sancti Stanislai in Rupella”, although in the temple itself antiphons were sung mentioning the two patrons of the building, St. Stanislaus and St. Michael, as well as St. Adalbert. On the way back they entered the church of St. Catherine and St. Hedwig in Stradom with the song Hedvigis sancta inclita and the prayer Da pacem. In accordance with the ritual practice of Cracow processions in honour of the saints, after returning to the cathedral, the ceremony was concluded with a prayer through the intercession of St. Wenceslaus with the song Beatus vir Wenceslaus. The presence of St. Stanislaus, St. Adalbert and St. Wenceslaus in the above ritual appears to be an element of the design that was crystallizing from the times of Bishop Oleśnicki.

The May and September processions were attended by residents of the entire Cracow agglomeration. Dominic of Prussia, recalling his student years in Cracow, wrote at the beginning of the 15th century that Poles fasted on the eve of St. Stanislaus’s feast day, and while celebrating they donned their best clothing, which was the reason why some Germans suggested that Poles consider St. Stanislaus their God.38 Most likely this was informed by Konrad Celtis Harmann Schedel at the end of the 15th century. He also mentioned that large crowds visited and worshiped at the body of St. Stanislaus, “patron and leader of the whole of Sarmatia”.39 These words are indirectly in line with the ban – passed on 11 May 1534 – on vicars carrying a reliquary of the head of the holy bishop from the sacristy for the faithful to kiss.40 Canons probably pointed out that the folk forms of worship were not worthy of honouring, since they were guided by the fact that “the holy glory of the saint should be preserved and the silver should not be allowed to be damaged”. On the same day, the General Chapter decided that the relics could only be removed by “extraordinary persons, and only in the presence of the prelates and canons”; and during the ceremony to commemorate St. Stanislaus and its octave, a guard should also be appointed to protect the patron’s head.41 The crowd of beautifully dressed Cracovians was therefore a threat to the preservation of the sanctity of the place. St. Stanislaus’s relics must also have been a serious temptation for potential thieves; as early as two years after the above regulations were issued, the statue of St. Stanislaus was stolen from the church vault at Skałka, in which part of the body of the holy bishop was likely kept.42 The annual celebrations were naturally organized by the Cracow Cathedral Chapter, including the distribution of jubilee prints for the occasion. On 21 April 1536, one florin was paid for printing 150 such prints on the occasion of the May celebrations.43 The feast of St. Stanislaus, together with its octave, therefore mobilized the inhabitants of the entire agglomeration and became an opportunity for a special celebration, during which the liturgy commemorated the patronage of the saint and the important role of Cracow.

Since the beginning of the 16th century, kings-elect followed a similar route in accordance with Zbiegniew Oleśnicki’s decrees on coronation (Ordo coronandis).44 The importance of this ceremony was quite different from that of the May processions.45 While the annual celebrations were enlivened by the dynamic story of the saint and commemoration, the expiational procession of Polish kings from Wawel Castle to Skałka on the eve of their coronation was a pilgrimage of penance, a rite of passage, albeit also a commemoration, but with a different meaning than the May processions. It also had a profound meaning for society more widely. Through the expiational pilgrimage, the people were given the opportunity to participate in the initial stage of the royal ritual, and transformed the hitherto closed coronation into a truly public act of communion.46 The rite of passage marked the beginning of a monarchical spiritual transformation for the secular heir to the Lord Christ. It was a melancholy journey leading to the dark past of the Polish nation and its monarchy. After all, the future king followed the path that St. Stanislaus used to flee the king’s wrath; the same path was to be followed, in the consciousness of the participants of the ceremony, by his murderer, the elect’s predecessor, Bolesław “the Bold”. This time, however, the path led not to transgression, but to humility before the majesty of the holy bishop. This important reminder of history and its symbolic reversal was a perfectly orchestrated performance, aimed at reminding the future monarch of the crime burdening the ‘body of the Polish king’ and established the king’s relationship with the Polish – or rather Cracovian – Church. Ernst Kantorowicz’s concept of the two bodies of the king – the idea that the eternal body of the monarchy coexists in the physical body of the king – is inscribed in the historiosophy of St. Stanislaus’s hagiographers, especially Jan Długosz, according to whom, the murder of the bishop committed by King Bolesław the Bold weighed upon the entire Piast dynasty and their successors, the Jagiellonians.

Kleparz – the Polish Florence

It was not without reason that the townswoman Veronica’s vision of the heavenly procession in Długosz’s account, started at the St. Florian Collegiate Church in Kleparz.47 This scene is closely connected with the process of creating the pantheon of the Polish Kingdom’s patron saints in the first half of the 15th century by Bishop Oleśnicki. The desire to increase the number of Polish holy intercessors was probably not the only reason for including the patron saint of the Collegiate Church in Kleparz in this elite group. As mentioned above, before taking over the bishopric of Cracow, Oleśnicki was the prefect of St. Florian’s Church. Perhaps then the ambitious politician hatched the idea of reactivating the cult that Bishop Gedko failed to initiate in the second half of the 12th century. After taking the helm of the bishopric in 1423, Oleśnicki’s reference to the ecclesiastical policy of his 12th-century predecessor became even more justified. Later Jan Długosz further emphasized its merits for the Cracow Church. The chronicler described with appreciation the transfer of St. Florian’s body in 1184 from Italy to Cracow in his Annales and in the Catalogue of Polish Bishops. In the latter work, Długosz emphasized another characteristic feature of Gedko, who, seeing the oppressive taxation falling on the people under Mieszko III’s rule, stood up for the downtrodden, imitating his holy predecessor St. Stanislaus.48 Gedko gained further significance in history through this comparison to the saint standing up against the monarch. In a similar manner, Bishop Oleśnicki, often in open conflict with rulers, enjoyed comparing himself with St. Stanislaus.49 Thus, the renewal of the cult of St. Florian was, at the same time, a personal task resulting from his past function as a prefect of the Collegiate Church, and the culmination of the work begun by his predecessor Gedko.

The evolution of the name of the Kleparz settlement was closely linked with the invocation of the Collegiate Church. In a document from Bolesław the Chaste dated 1258, the land north of Cracow was to be purchased from the Tyniec monastery and incorporated into the city. The area apparently did not yet have a name of its own, but was referred to in relation to the church, “terre, que circa ecclesiam beati Floriani”.50 This settlement was similarly named in documents from the first half of the 14th century.51 The city charter published by Kazimierz II the Great on 25 June 1366, is the next step in the evolution of its name. From that time, by the will of the ruler, the suburb located near St. Florian’s Church was to be called Florence (“Florencia”), in reference to the chapel.52 The new term had been promoted for some time already, since the Cracow city charter issued by King Kazimierz in 1358 mentioned the name “Florencia” as in “hoc est circa sanctum Florianum”.53

Apart from the name of the church and the town, two other elements of urban space can be located in this part of the agglomeration, which have been named after a holy martyr. The first of which was the Florian City Gate Tower, mentioned as early as 1307, and was an integral part of the city’s defences. One of the city’s most important arteries, St. Florian’s Street (platea sancti Floriani) led from the gate to the Main Market Square, rounding out the sacred area.54 Just as the annual processions in honour of St. Stanislaus went from the holy tomb in Wawel Cathedral through St. Stanislaus’s Street to St. Stanislaus Church, so it was with the 4 May processions in honour of St. Florian, which began at the holy tomb in the Cathedral, up St. Florian’s Street, through St. Florian’s Gate and into St. Florian’s Church in Florencia. On the way back, the procession entered St. Mary’s Cathedral and then went to Wawel Hill, where “Beatus vir Venceslaus” was traditionally sung.55

Participation in annual and ornamental processions, served the function of enforcing particular cults, but also imagined a historical continuity, sometimes by presenting a dramatic story, such as the ceremony of the king-elect’s pilgrimage to Skałka on the eve of his coronation. Past events were evoked by the fact of walking through places associated with the history of saints, and the urban framework was the setting for this performance. As the city dwellers walked along paths purposefully chosen by the organizers, they could identify themselves more fully with the territory and its authorities: both Church and state. The processions united the Cracow agglomeration at last by crossing the gates and bridges dividing the area, though the Wawel Cathedral always served as the site of each ceremony’s culmination. The capital city of Cracow and the Polish Kingdom’s holy patrons’ prominent position in the processions, accentuates the cohesion of the Kingdom. In Veronica’s vision, St. Adalbert recommended that the city celebrate processions between churches, providing evidence of the deep meaning contained in the Church leadership’s agenda in the 15th century. Długosz and Oleśnicki realised how important the processional rite was for burgher piety and how it could be exploited.


  1. Brooks 1933, pp. 141–142.
  2. Manikowska 2010, p. 52; Manikowska 2008, p. 96.
  3. Długosz 2006, p. 215.
  4. Długosz 2006, pp. 217–218.
  5. Długosz 2006, p. 219.
  6. Zachorowski (ed.) 1915, p. 47: “Inter ceteros regni huius patronos insignes, videlicet Adalbertum, Stanislaum, Wenceslaum martyres”. See also Dobrowolski 1923, pp. 92­–93.
  7. Rowell 2005, p. 12.
  8. Kętrzyński (ed.) 1884, p. 758.
  9. Długosz 2006, pp. 195–196.
  10. Witkowska 2008, pp. 136–137.
  11. Rożnowska-Sadraei 2008, p. 293.
  12. Rożek 1979, p. 452.
  13. Długosz 2006, pp. 45–46. See also Gieysztor 1978a, p. 159; Borkowska 1995, p. 199; Starnawska 2008, p. 423.
  14. Koczerska 2006, pp. 479–482.
  15. Kantorowicz 2007, pp. 167–187.
  16. Borkowska 1999, p. 83.
  17. Długosz 1982, p. 186.
  18. Długosz 1982, p. 187.
  19. Decjusz 1521, p. xli. See also Piech 2001, p. 382, fn. 84.
  20. Borkowska 2011, pp. 423–424; Rożek 1979, pp. 455–456.
  21. Walczak 1992, p. 27; Borkowska 1981, p. 292; Borkowska 1983, p. 70.
  22. Długosz 1982, p. 76.
  23. Fałkowski 2010, p. 100.
  24. Jan Długosz, Catalogus episcoporum Cracoviensium, see: Polkowski/Pauli (ed.) 1887, pp. 62–68. See also Walczak 2001, pp. 399–410.
  25. Krasnowolska/Kmietowicz-Drathowa 1997, pp. 209–210.
  26. Przezdziecki (ed.) 1864, 3, p. 114.
  27. Bielowski (ed.) 1872, p. 841.
  28. Wyrozumska (ed.) 1996, no. 580. See also Skiernia 1997, pp. 595–625; Starnawska 2008, p. 126.
  29. Kętrzyński (ed.) 1888, p. 906.
  30. Witkowska 1984, pp. 83–84; Starnawska 2008, p. 93.
  31. Polkowski/Pauli (ed.) 1887b, pp. 73–74. See also Karłowska-Kamzowa 1976, p. 34.
  32. Piekosiński/Szujski (ed.) 1878, pp. 154, 156, 177, 254; Krasnowolska/Kmietowicz-Drathowa 1997, p. 237.
  33. Laberscheck 2005, p. 20; Laberscheck 2008, p. 144.
  34. Jagosz 1979, pp. 603–614; Jagosz 1997, pp. 39–126.
  35. Missale Cracoviense 1509, fol. CCXXVIIv; Missale Cracoviense 1510, fol. CXCVv; Missale Cracoviense 1515, fol. CCV; Missale Cracoviense 1516, fol. CXCVv; Missale Cracoviense 1528, fol. CCv; Missale Cracoviense 1532, fol. 226.
  36. Goetel-Kopffowa 1964, p. 66.
  37. Reynolds 2000, pp. 135–138.
  38. Nowak 1995, p. 64; Rożnowska-Sadraei 2008, pp. 311–312.
  39. Schedel 1493, fol. 269. See also Wyrozumski 2010, pp. 35–44; Pieradzka 1937, p. 191.
  40. Przybyszewski (ed.) 1987, no. 1093.
  41. Przybyszewski (ed.) 1987, no. 1094.
  42. Przybyszewski (ed.) 1989, no. 6.
  43. Przybyszewski (ed.) 1989, no. 32. See also Przybyszewski (ed.) 1997, no. 1513.
  44. Kutrzeba (ed.) 1909–1913.
  45. Rożnowska-Sadraei 2008, pp. 325–334. See also Gieysztor 1978b, pp. 13–14; Gieysztor 1990, pp. 152–164; Crossley 2002, pp. 61–64; Crossley 2005, pp. 103–123.
  46. Gieysztor 1978b, p. 14; Rożnowska-Sadraei 2008, p. 329.
  47. Dobrowolski 1928, pp. 14–46.
  48. Polkowski/Pauli (ed.) 1887, p. 394.
  49. Długosz 1982, pp. 102–103, 207–209.
  50. Kętrzyński/Smolka (ed.) 1875, no. 21. See also Dzikówna 1932, p. 13.
  51. Chmiel 1909, p. 149; Dzikówna 1932, p. 15.
  52. Wyrozumska (ed.) 2007, p. 38.
  53. Wyrozumska (ed.) 2007, p. 34.
  54. Piekosiński/Szujski (ed.) 1878, no. 47. See also Muczkowski 1911, p. 32.
  55. Missale Cracoviense 1509, fol. CCXXIIII; Missale Cracoviense 1510, fol. CXCII; Missale Cracoviense 1516, fol. CCII–CCIIv; Missale Cracoviense 1532, fol. 224.


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