The Miracle of the Holy Cross Wood Relics in 1649
A dozen or so yearsago, the Dominican Basilica in Lublin lost in a sacrilegious robbery its greatest treasure – the Holy Cross Woodrelics. The city has badly suffered this tremendous loss, as the reliquary played a vital role in its history throughout the centuries.
1420 – Holy Cross Wood relics are brought to
The Dominican monastery in Lublin
The Dominicans in Lublin
The Dominican Friars arrived in Lublin most probably around 1253. Their benefactor was the Duke Bolesław the Chaste who managed to regain control of Lublin in the same year. However, it is the King Casimir the Great who is considered to be the founder of the church and the monastery of the Dominican Friars. In 1342, he built the brick Churchof St. Stanislaus (a bishop and a martyr) and the monastery.
A note from 1586 informs about a school which prepared clerical students for the priesthood. Another school, Studium Generale, authorized to confer the degrees of a lecturer and abachelor of philosophy and theology, operated from 1644 to 1686. Thus, it was the first institution of higher education in Lublin. Its first rector was the renowned Father Paweł Ruszel. The school was closed due to financial reasons.
According to the monastic tradition, it was here, in the Gothic refectory on the ground floor of the monastery, where the Union of Lublin of 1569 was signed. The crucifix on which the oath was sworn has been preserved until today. This crucifix was probably seen by Jan Matejko before he started his painting “The Union of Lublin.”
The Holy Cross Wood relics
The Novgorod Duke Vladimir, having converted to Christianity in 988, married Anna, sister of the emperors Basil II and Constantine IX. When she was leaving Constantinople with her husband, Anna asked her brothers for Holy Cross Wood which was kept in the emperors’ treasury since it had been found by St. Helen. This is how the relics arrived in Kiev,where they were stored in the dukes’ treasury for 400 years. In 1415 the King Ladislaus Łokietek appointed a Dominican friar Andrzej from Cracow to be the bishop of Kiev. "When the Tatars, encouraged by the Teutonic Knights, robbed the Kievcathedral and burned the whole city, bishop Andrzej took away the Holy Wood toprevent its seizure by the Tatars." "Thus, Bishop Andrzej was fleeing to Cracowin a hurry, not telling anyone about the holy treasure he was carrying, and on the way he stopped in Lublin, in the monastery of his brothers. However, a few days later when he wanted to continue his journey – his horses refused to move from their place. The bishop recognized God’s will to leave the Holy Wood here and he gave the precious treasure to the superior of the order to place it in the Lublin church forever." This is how the relics reached Lublin, and the Dominican church became one of the most popular temples in the country since 1420.
Bishop Andrzej had been considered a half-legendary figure until the years 1994/1995, when his grave was discovered in the Dominican Basilica vault during research and inventoryworks.
The relics were kept in the ciborium placed in the great altar; then since the beginning of the 17thc. in the chapel founded by Eleonora Krasicka; next in the monastic treasury, and finally in St Dominic chapel, especially adapted for this purpose thanks to the priest rector Kłopotowski.
The great fire of Lublin in 1575 ruined the church. The rebuilding and extension of the Dominican complex took place in the16th and 17th c. The relics were temporarily kept in thetreasury, and then in the Firlej family chapel. The newly erected Tyszkiewicz family chapel was intended as a permanent place to store the relics. The new altar had a special hiding – place for it, placed on the side of the chapel.
The Miracle of 1649
The relics made Lublin an important destination of pilgrimages from around Poland. According to historians, in the 16th c. the Dominican temple in Lublin was one of the biggest Polish sacred places, apart from Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa and Corpus Christi church in Poznań. It was also visited by clerical and secular dignitaries coming to Lublin.
The biggest piece of the Holy Cross Wood in the Catholic world caused a number of miraculous events, commemorated in the church paintings.
There are many accounts of the miracles "caused by the power of the Holy Cross in Lublin",described in official records throughout the centuries. When the plague, which took a heavy death toll, reached Lublin in 1592, the Dominican Friars – fearingthat in case of their death the Holy Wood may be profaned or taken away –bricked the relics up in the monastery, leaving a written note for their successors. However, to their great astonishment, when the priests entered the church on the following day, they saw the Holy Cross standing on the altar and surrounded with light!
Nevertheless, it has been believed that the biggest miracle caused by the Holy Cross was the rescuing of the town in 1649 from the invasion of Bohdan Khmelnytsky. The official document, drawn up at the Dominican Friars’ on 25th March 1649, signed by all members of the town council and by "prominent citizens," gives an account of the miraculous rescue of the town, besieged by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in autumn 1648. Having no hope for defending the town, scared inhabitant scommended themselves to God and conducted a propitiatory service to the Holy Cross. The Prior commanded a procession with the Holy Cross Wood in the Town Hall. "Then, outstanding signs in the shape of arrows and swords appeared above the Dominican church, among dazzling brightness," and frightened enemies left the walls of Lublin in panic.
Miraculous interventions throughout the centuries
Another reminder of those times can be seen in the picture painted in the church vestry. It shows the Holy Cross Wood in the altar, worshipped by the King John Casimir on hisknees, surrounded by the court and knights. The inscription under the paintingsays: "In the year 1649, when the Polish King John Casimir, departing with his army, was worshipping the Holy Cross Wood here, miss Eufemia Wolicka, who was blind, came ex voto to the Holy Cross and regained her sight in no time. It was witnessed by John Casimir himself who praised the power of the Holy Crossgreatly and piously".
Furthermore, when thecolonel Daniel Neczaj set off with the Cossacks against the Polish army in 1651,the pious and joyful King John Casimir entrusted the battle under themiraculous protection of the Holy Cross Wood. After the conclusive victory near Vinnytsia, Krzysztof Tyszkiewicz, voivode of Chernihiv, made a votive offering of Neczaj’s mace and seven captured banners at the Dominican Friars’ in Lublin,on the King’s order.
In the long series of "piousrecollections" two other miraculous events attributed to the Christ’s Cross are worth mentioning. During the Great Fire of Lublin in 1719, the flames suddenly started receding, when desperate inhabitants went out in procession with the reliquary. In 1853, "the cholera epidemic which affected Lublin, disappeared completely after a service to the Holy Cross had been celebrated.
The relics today
In the 20th c. history of Lublin there were not any spectacular, directly revealed, miraculous interventions of the Holy Cross Wood. However, it is mentioned that during Luftwaffe bombing in September 1939, fire and bombs brought about thousands of victims, reduced to ashes a part of the town centre and industrial districts, did not spare the Old Town and the adjacent cathedral, but they did not affect the nearby Dominican church with the relics. The temple did not sustain any loss during fights for Lublin in July 1944.
Almost 600-year history of the Holy Cross Wood in Lublin ended in 1991. The relics were stolenat night on 9/10 February. However, the Lublin monastery still has two other reliquaries. Since 2005 these relics have been kept in a new reliquary which has the shape of the Latin cross with roundedends of arms. The body is made of black oak wood, hundreds years old, and is surrounded with gilded frame and set in the profiled base. The Cross Woodrelics are placed at the crossing of the arms, in a special frame which has the form of a nimbus. On the arms there are golden medallions with symbols of the four Evangelists. Wooden parts are covered with the amber layer. The body canbe detached from the base, and then on the lower arm we can see an inlay presentingthe characteristic mosaic from the Chapel of the Tyszkiewicz Family.