This unique religious and cultural site is visited annually by more than 1.5 million pilgrims. It all started in the early 17th century. According to legend, one day, Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, Voivode of Kraków, saw three flaming crosses floating towards the sky on the Żar Hill. On this site, he founded a church in 1602 and gave it into the care of the Bernardine Order. Over time, thanks to the Zebrzydowski family, the complex began to grow. A Baroque church was built, housing the miraculous image of Our Lady of Kalwaria, followed by the Bernardine Monastery. Both buildings were designed by the architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni and the Flemish architect and goldsmith Paul Baudarth. Almost all of the chapels along the Kalwaria Way of the Cross, known as the Kalwaria Paths, as well as the hermitage of the Five Polish Brothers and the chapel of St Mary Magdalene, also came from his hand. The model for their construction was the Way of the Cross of Jesus in Jerusalem.
The Baroque basilica houses the venerated miraculous painting of Our Lady of Kalwaria, donated to the Sanctuary in 1641. During Holy Week, the Passion Play is performed here, culminating on Good Friday, which attracts thousands of pilgrims to the Sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
Saint John Paul II visited the Sanctuary in 1979 and raised it to the rank of a minor basilica. The Pope paid visits here while still a layman and then as the Bishop of Kraków. This one of the most important Polish sanctuaries was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List in 1999.