Cemeteries in Małopolska as a reminder of our history

An old tomb in the rays of the sun breaking through the tree
Where can you light a candle for Wisława Szymborska or Sławomir Mrożek? Where are outstanding Poles laid to rest such as Stanisław Wyspiański, Adam Mickiewicz, and Kornel Makuszyński, who was loved not only by children?

In Zakopane when entering the cemetery in Pęksowy Brzyzek, you pass the wooden church of Saint Clement, branchy trees and a plaque on which you can read:


"Ojczyzna to ziemia i groby.
Narody tracąc pamięć, tracą życie.
Zakopane pamięta."
(A homeland is land and graves. 
Nations lose their lives by losing their memories. 
Zakopane remembers.)


It remembers those whose names have gone down in history, as well as those whose names have been written in the hearts of their loved ones. Death does not distinguish, it does not choose, we are all equal before it. This is what characterises the necropolises of Małopolska; where in some of the quarters you can find the tombs of famous Polish citizens and the graves of those who did not find their way into history textbooks. Situated in various places, next to forests, on hills, and by main roads, they remind us that life does not last forever. They remind us of this especially now, before November 1 and All Saints' Day, when we direct our thoughts and steps there – when we light a candle and remember.


They mark a trail where you can find the most important events and people who made it onto the pages of the history of Poland. They tell about moments of great victories, fires, famines, epidemics, times of war and peace. It is impossible to list them all, because each person will be touched by a different necropolis. For some, this will be the Bronowice cemetery located on the gentle slope of Pasternik, where the heroes of one of the most famous Polish works of art – "Wesele" by Stanisław Wyspiański – are buried. For others, it will be the  Royal Tombs of the Wawel Cathedral, where not only the kings are laid to rest, but also Tadeusz Kościuszko, General Władysław Sikorski, Marshal Józef Piłsudski and the bards – Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Below are some of the cemeteries selected by us:


Rakowicki Cemetery. Tombs as works of art


18-year-old Apolonia Bursikowa, who died of tuberculosis, was the first person to be buried at the Rakowicki Cemetery. Today, it is not known exactly where her grave laid, and only a commemorative plaque remains. It was January 1803. The necropolis, built on a former farm, on the road to Rakowice, was named after the city that the road led to. The municipal cemetery covers 42 ha and over 75,000 graves. In 1976, it was entered into the register of monuments. It was here that for years, apart from the city's citizens, people of merit for art and science, representatives of the greatest Kraków families, politicians and soldiers were buried. Many tombstones that can be admired today in Rakowice are true works of art, among them there are the sculptures of: Xawery Dunikowski, Antoni Madeyski, Franciszek Mączyński, Stanisław Odrzywolski and Bronisław Chromy.


At this municipal necropolis, many people of merit were laid to rest, such as: Jan Matejko, Józef Dietl, Ignacy Daszyński, Lucjan Rydel, Henryk Jordan, Karol Olszewski, Helena Modrzejewska, the Estreicher family, Tadeusz Kantor, Marek Grechuta, the Wojtyła family (the parents and brother of Pope John Paul II), Piotr Skrzynecki, Jerzy Nowosielski, Wisława Szymborska, Walery Goetel, Józef Rostafiński, Józef Szujski, Jerzy, Juliusz and Wojciech Kossak, Józef Mehoffer, Piotr Michałowski, Henryk Rodakowski and Zbigniew Wodecki. Participants of national uprisings, soldiers of World War I and Polish Legionaries are buried in separate quarters.


Crypt of Merit at Skałka. Great murder and great Poles


The Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel, also known as Skałka in Krakow looks beautiful from the Vistula River, as befits one of the most important churches in the history of Poland. A great tragedy was supposed to happen here, when on the order of Bolesław Śmiały, Stanisław of Szczepanów, the Bishop of Kraków was murdered, and the cult of the Saint began here. Krakow's "Skałka" witnessed many celebrations during which kings and princes came here. And as the legend of Saint Stanislaus and the miracles he worked became more and more popular over time, there were never shortages of pilgrims from all over the world.


From 1880, in the crypts of the vaults of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Stanisław the Bishop, burials of the distinguished for Poland and Krakow take place here. The initiator of the crypt of merit was prof. Józef Łepkowski. The arch of the crypt is inscribed with the Latin inscription Credo, quod Redemptor meus vivit ("I know that my Redeemer liveth"). Among others, Jan Długosz, Wincenty Pol, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Adam Asnyk, Stanisław Wyspiański, Jacek Malczewski, Karol Szymanowski, Ludwik Solski, Tadeusz Banachiewicz and Czesław Miłosz have their tombs there.


Panteon Narodowy (National Pantheon) in Krakow. Skarga and Mrożek


It is located in the catacombs at Grodzka Street. The idea of the Panteon Narodowy in the crypts of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul was created by prof. Franciszek Ziejka, the long-time rector of the Jagiellonian University. The opening of the first section took place on 27 September 2012, on the 400th anniversary of the death of Father Piotr Skarga, who also has his grave in the church's crypt. The Panteon Narodowy in Kraków is meant to be the resting place of the most outstanding creators of national art, culture and science, regardless of their views and beliefs. The first person to rest in the pantheon was the great writer Sławomir Mrożek, and recently an urn with the ashes of the poet Adam Zagajewski was placed to rest there.


During the archaeological works that were carried out on the site of the Pantheon, among others, a malt kiln, ceramic plates, arrowheads, as well as coins and figurines were discovered.


Cmentarz na Pęksowym Brzyzku w Zakopanem (Pęskowy Brzyzek National Cemetery in Zakopane). A small cemetery of distinguished people


Cmentarz na Pęksowym Brzyzku stretches along the Cicha Woda stream and it is as its name says; quiet and pensive, but with a Zakopane character. This character created by, among others, Władysław Hasior, Antoni Rząsa, Urszula Kenar and Michał Gąsienica Szostak, creates one of the most beautiful galleries under the Tatra Mountains. Under this sky, among the rustle of the trees, both Zakopane citizens and people who chose this city with their hearts found their rest. The cemetery at the Church of Saint Clement, on the land donated by Jan Pęksa, was established by the parish priest Józef Stolarczyk. It was 1851. The word "brzyzek" in the highlander dialect simply means a cliff. It immediately became the burial place for the inhabitants of the city and its vicinity, victims of mountain expeditions and those suffering from tuberculosis.


In 1889, the first person of merit for Zakopane, Dr. Tytus Chałubiński, the "discoverer" of a village near the Tatra Mountains, was buried there. When you look at the tombstones, you will read many distinguished names, including musician Jan Krzeptowski Sabała, writer Kornel Makuszyński, artists: Antoni Kenara and Antoni Rząsa. After many years, the ashes of some people who died far from Zakopane were moved here: Stanisław Witkiewicz, Władysław Orkan, Karol Stryjeński, Kazimierz Dłuski and Kazimierz Tetmajer, and symbolic graves were made for: mountaineer Maciej Berbeka, ethnographer Bronisław Piłsudski, composers Karol Szymanowski and Mieczysław Karłowicz, general Mariusz Zaruski, writer, painter and playwright Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz Witkacy, and Olympian and mountaineer Bronisław Czech.


New Cemetery in Zakopane. Here lies the legendary Klimek Bachleda


The New Cemetery in Zakopane located near Gubałówka, surrounded by mountains and forests, has become the eternal resting place of many famous and important people in Zakopane. The first grave that was most likely dug here was that of Józef Fabian Słowik, on 31 December 1907. At times, there have been enormous crowds that have gathered here. A crowd of thousands of people appeared in 1910 to say goodbye to a Tatra guide and a rescuer who tragically died trying to save a man – Klimek Bachleda. In this crowd, people such as Count Władysław Zamoyski and Henryk Sienkiewicz could be found. 14 years later, the tragically deceased guide Jan Gąsienica Daniela, and 2 years later Bartłomiej Obrochta, were buried here. Here, the mountain climbers Lidia and Marzena Skotnicówne, as well as Stanisław Krzeptowski are also laid to rest. On the tombstones of the Nowy Cemetery you will also find the names of: Józef Oppenheim, General Helena Sikorska, General Andrzej Galica, Marian Januszajtis, Mieczysław Boruta-Spiechowicz, Andrzej and Olga Małkowski, Ziza Halama.


Old Cemetery in Tarnow. The mysterious girl with a braid


They say that the Cemetery in Tarnów is one of the most beautiful in Poland. The more than 200-year-old necropolis situated in a picturesque landscape among trees was built around 1787. It was erected on the outskirts of the city in the Zabłocie district, next to the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, around which there already was a small cemetery. The necropolis grew, and over the years, more and more graves were added. Among those that still impress is the grave of a mysterious girl with a braid who died at the age of 18. The mysterious Helena Kulpińska was one of the first modists in Tarnów. Among the most valuable tombstones is Tekla Richter née Skolska, the daughter of a nobleman, mother of sixteen children, owner of Bistuszowa near Tuchów and a great patriot. The oldest tombstone in the Stary Cemetery is probably the tombstone of Anna Maria Radziwiłł, the first wife of Karol Radziwiłł, who was known as "Lord Lover", a great patriot and muse of romantic novels by Jaques de Saint Pierre.


The Cemetery in Łowczówek. A souvenir of the bloody Christmas Eve of the First Brigade


During the Battle of Łowczówek, the last in the great legionary epic of 1914, in which the Poles stopped the Russian counterattack, some reports tell of a dramatic event. On Christmas Eve, in the trenches on the front lines, they heard an echo of the same Christmas carol that they were singing: “Bóg się rodzi” (God is born). It was also sung in Polish, but by soldiers fighting for the Tsar. Soon thereafter, they had to point their bayonets at each other.


The Battle of Łowczówek was the first after the Cadre Company was transformed into the 1st Brigade of Polish Legions composed of two regiments. Legionnaires who were stationed in Nowy Sącz after several battles were already dreaming about Christmas, when suddenly the order came to go to the nearby Łowczówek – here the Russians unexpectedly launched an attack, which could have thwarted all of the difficulties of the great Limanowa operation in which they had participated in the last weeks. The fight was extremely dramatic, and victory was teetering between the two sides. Poles saved this part of the front several times from breaking and being encircled by the Austro-Hungarian troops. One of the most dramatic fights took place on Christmas Eve 1914, on hill 360, strategically important for the entire stretch, when Poles once again showed their bravery. The Russians were pushed back. The fight was over. Darkness fell. There was an informal ceasefire. It was then that an unusual situation occurred.


Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski recalled that moment:


“On that night of Christmas Eve, our boys in the trenches began to sing Bóg się rodzi (God is born) ... And here, from the Russian trenches, Poles, of whom there were many in the Siberian divisions, heard the melody and the two hostile trenches joined together in song! When our people, after singing Christmas carols together, shouted: “Poddajcie się tam, wy Polacy! " (Surrender there, you Poles!), there was a moment of silence, and then a reply in Russian: Sibirskije strielki nie zdajutsia” (The Siberian shooters will not give up).


The battle, though not formally resolved, brought strategic advantages to the Austro-Hungarian side. The Russians no longer continued their attack near Łowczówek, moving their basic forces elsewhere, without success. The front froze in this place until May 1915, until the great Gorlice offensive.


128 legionnaires died near Łowczówek, and 342 were wounded. Fifty of them rested in the Cmentarz Wojenny (War Cemetery) no. 171 on the nearby Kopaliny hill. It is one of the 400 World War I cemeteries in the former Galicia, and shows the culture of the time of treating war victims with respect. It is a contemplative  place with views that reach several dozen kilometres.  The war cemetery is especially taken care of by local governments. This place is still alive, as a memorial centre has been built here, and anniversary meetings are held. 


Cmentarz Wojenny (War Cemetery) in Limanowa-Jabłoniec. In memory of the heroic Hungarian hussars


Małopolska has the largest number of war cemeteries from those times. You can see them on the Szlak Frontu Wschodniego I Wojny Światowej (Trail of the Eastern Front of World War I). Cmentarz wojenny (War Cemetery) no. 368 in Limanowa-Jabłoniec is located on a hill above Limanowa, where a great battle was fought in December 1914. It was bloody and ended with the success of the Austrian troops, which stopped the Russian offensive towards Kraków and Silesia. Jabłoniec hill was conquered on December 11, 1914, mainly thanks to the fight of the Hungarian hussars. After the battle, hundreds of bodies lay in the surrounding meadows. The commander of the Austrian army ordered their burial to the head of Stara Wieś, and with the help of peasants, they were laid to rest on the hill which they died for without coffins and shoes, with only cloaks wrapped around them. The Austrian, Hungarian and Russian soldiers were all laid to rest separately. A year later, work began on the erection of the cemetery. It was supposed to be impressive. Built according to the design by Gustav Ludvig, its objective was to commemorate the victory and fighting spirit of the soldiers. Situated on a hill, it attracts attention with an observation deck and an obelisk topped with a Maltese cross. There are 31 single and 34 collective graves in the necropolis. The octagonal chapel, now overgrown with trees, used to catch the eye with its ball and cross, which for many years dominated the surrounding landscape. 


The Cemetery in the Przełęcz Małastowska. Many nations and many faiths


The Cmentarz Wojenny (War Cemetery) no. 60 is located among the hills of the Beskid Niski. Architect Duszan Jurkovicz built it mostly from wood from local forests. Some time ago, bloody battles were fought here, and today the graves of those who died in World War I are tightly nestled into the forest. In the very centre of the cemetery there is a chapel crowned with a structure made of connected crosses. There is a copy of the painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa on the chapel, and an inscription plaque underneath it (trans.): "Remember in your happy days / That a fierce battle was blazing on this earth / That thousands were wounded here, / So that the blessing of the sun may flourish around you". 174 Austro-Hungarian soldiers of various denominations are buried here. Above their graves there are, among others, openwork crosses on which you can often find ribbons in various national colours.

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