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Church in Haczów

Wooden, framework (erected using horizontal wooden beams fixed together in the corners with carpentry joints) catholic churches on the Polish land are a worldwide phenomenon, a unique wonder strongly linked to the European spiritual values and the local building tradition. In 2003, the churches in Binarowa, Blizne, Dębno Podhalańskie, Haczów, Lipnica Murowana and Sękowa were inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Selected temples have exceptionally beautiful interiors which reflect the transition in the European art from the Gothic to the late Baroque and modern times and appeal to us with their complete and homogeneous designs from the epoch. The temples' attractiveness is also inextricably linked to their location in picturesque mountain valleys surrounded by woods and fields. Polish wooden churches are a unique combination of two cultures, namely the Orthodox church of the East and the catholic church of the West. These buildings had a special meaning. They were elite, but commonly seen in the countryside. They derive their spatial structure from the canonical requirements taken over together with Catholicism and they have all served a liturgical and cultic function for ages. They manifest local identity of communities but they also serve as a representative facility on which the ambitions of founders and creators were once focused. It should be reminded that the Polish wooden architecture dates back to prehistoric times. A long time ago, all structures in Poland, including residential and sacral buildings, were built in wood. However, wood was less and less frequently used as a building material. Today, wooden architecture is vanishing and the most notable examples thereof gain respect and admiration.

Among those magnificent buildings, special attention is paid to St. Mary's Assumption Church and St. Michael Archangel Church in Haczów near Krosno (Voivodship of Podkarpacie). The Haczów village was established by Casimir the Great around 1352 as a royal village. The parish was mentioned in historical sources for the first time in 1388. The parish church in this village is one of the greatest and the oldest wooden temples in Europe and is deemed the oldest wooden framework temple in the world. The Gothic church was erected in the mid 15th century. At first it was believed to date back to approx. 1624 and be erected during the reconstruction of the village after the Tatar invasion. The church's establishment date was changed to the 15th century following the discovery of original Gothic polychrome decoration. The church was erected in the historical centre of the village on the high bank of the Wisłok river. Its tapering form dominates over the village panorama. The church was made of fir wood on the stone foundation. At the beginning of the 17th century, it was surrounded with an earth bank, which also served as a rampart. The church tower, added in 1624, is crowned with the upper floor and the roof with a small tower and an onion-like dome. The church is surrounded with arcades, the so-called "soboty" (Saturdays) - low arcades surrounding wooden churches in Silesia, Moravia and in Małopolska. The Saturdays are supported by poles and covered with a roof. Due to considerable distances, some members of the congregation would come to a Sunday mass already on a Saturday evening and wait till the morning gathered around the church. The Saturdays gave them shelter from rain, wind, etc. - the name comes from the day of the week - Saturday). The church is covered with a single-ridge roof and there are wooden attachments in the shape of human faces under the roof eaves. The roof of the church was damaged in the warfare in 1914 and was reconstructed one year later. The church's roof, arcades and walls have been shingled. It is a single-aisle church and, on the north side, the presbytery is adjacent to the sacristy. The treasury and the Mother of God chapel dating back to the end of the 18th century adjoin the aisle. The pointed-arched portal and the door with decorative fittings dating back to the end of the 15th century can be seen in the entry to the aisle.

Walls and ceiling of the temple in Haczów are covered with polychrome from different epochs. The oldest are the paintings of consecration crosses on the edge of the walls (the so-called zacheuszki, i.e. the places anointed by the bishop during the consecration of the church), coming from the mid 15th century. A monumental figurative decoration completed around 1494 covers the walls of the aisle and the presbytery and initially covered the ceiling as well. A series of paintings depicting the Passion can be seen in the presbytery, whereas scenes of the murder of St. Stanislaus, the coronation of Our Lady and the image of Michael Archangel are displayed on the northern wall of the presbytery. Illusionist draperies are seen in the bottom part of the decoration. The walls of the aisle have been covered with figurative decoration depicting, inter alia, St. Helena, St. Maria Magdalena, St. Margaret, St. Sophie and St. Sebastian. The northern wall of the aisle is dominated by a monumental image of St. Christopher. A Gothic polychrome decoration in the ceiling depicting the image of Christ, discovered in the form of 11 detached boards in the church's attic, has been preserved.

Movable furnishings of the church were removed in connection with research and restoration works. Its splendour is now being restored. After they have been restored, three Baroque altars from the 17th century are now back in the church. The Gothic Pieta famous for its grace from around 1400 and the Baroque crucifix of iridescent beam can be found in the new church. One of the Baroque altars is also in the church. The contemporary main altar in the wooden temple contains the late Gothic monument of the Mother of God with the Child, dating back to the early 16th century. The altar of the Merciful Christ from the end of the 17th century, the work accomplished by the Krosno workshop, has been brought back to the chapel adjacent to the church. The workshops of Krosno have also produced the Baroque confessionals, benches with painted parapets and the pulpit. The church's furnishings have been complemented with the marble epitaph of Anna Trzebińska nee Wybranowska, who passed away in 1763 and the portrait of Ignacy Urbański (guardian and benefactor), passed away died in 1824.

The church in Haczów is an impressive example of the Polish cultural heritage. Combined for ages into the highland countryside, it continues to remind us of the fact that wooden architecture is an inseparable element of the Polish, also spiritual, landscape.

Roman Marcinek,
Regional Centre for Research and Documentation of Monuments in Kraków