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Religious heritage

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Churches built from wood or Protestant ones made from clay, gigantic abbeys or churches with a roof resembling a coffin, chapels on water or a basilica built in the middle of nowhere. It is impossible to count the number and variety of sacred architectural treasures in Poland.

It cannot be determined exactly when the first Christian church was built in Poland. Perhaps it was the remnants of the chapel, founded more than 1000 years ago by Dabrowka, the wife of Mieszko I, which was discovered in May 2006 beneath the walls of St. Mary's Church on Ostrow Tumski in Poznan.

Ostrow Tumski in Poznan belongs to the to the Polish church elite, as do the Ostrow Tumski in Wroclaw, the Pauline monastery complex at Jasna Gora with its image of the Black Madonna, the Cathedral in Gniezno where the first five Polish kings were crowned, the Gothic cathedral on Wawel Hill and St. Mary's Church in Krakow with its altar carved by Veit Stoss.

Polish religious monuments delight with their beauty (the Church of St. James in Sandomierz), astonish with their wealth of decorated features (the Chapel of the Holy Trinity in Lublin), their striking size (The Basilica in Lichen), amaze with their history (the Church of St. Elizabeth in Wroclaw) and even dazzle......with the number of lights used to illuminate the entire structure (the Basilica in Wambierzyce).

But some fill us with terror. The macabre chapel that is lined with nearly 3000 human skulls in Czermna or the Gothic church built by the Carthusian Order in Kartuzy with its roof in the shape of a coffin lid are like a reminder, memento mori or remember about death.

Others are deeply moving, like the small wooden churches that are hidden away in the villages and towns. There are more than 2000 of these in Poland. The oldest one, from the 14th century, can be found in the village of Tarnowo Paluckie. Many of the wood-constructed temples are included in open-air museums where they are looked after properly and occasionally, during the traditional Christmas midnight mass for example, are filled with the faithful.

Six wooden Gothic churches have been entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They were added to the list that already had the clay Churches of Peace in Swidnica and Jawor as well as the complex of Passion Shrines on Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the oldest religious complex in Poland.

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