Most information about the life of Saint Stanislas (Stanislaw in Polish) has come from the first Polish chronicler Gall, who was probably of Italian origin. Gall wrote his chronicle at the court of Wladyslaw I Herman (1079 – 1102) and was almost a contemporary of the Saintly Bishop.
Saint Stanislas, a Polish nobleman, was the son of Wielislaw, of the clan Turzyna. Wielislaw was the possessor of Szczepanow and Raba near the old Polish capital of Krakow. Wielislaw’s wife Bogna, was of the clan Nowina (of the same Polish noble clan as the current Grand Master of the Order of Saint Stanislas). St. Stanislas was born in 1035 and from his very early years devoted himself to the service of God and to the poor. In December 1071, Stanislas was elected 9th Bishop of Krakow.
At that time in history, Poland was ruled by King Boleslaw II, nicknamed “The Fierce” (1058 – 1079). It was the time of the wars of investiture between the German King and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1056 – 1105); and Pope Gregory VII (1073 – 1083). Boleslaw sided with the Pope while his brother-in-law, Wratislaw of Bohemia, sided with the Emperor. Boleslaw was crowned in 1075 by Saint Bogumil, Archbishop of Gniezno, another great ecclesiastic of the XIth century Poland. Boleslaw was a successful ruler, as far as making war was concerned. He twice took Kiev, restoring his brother-in-law, Iziaslav I, to the Russian throne, but as Gall pointed out, he was sometimes over generous in rewards, careless in battles, fierce, proud and extremely cruel.
Sometime in 1078, the King and Bishop Stanislas came into conflict. History does not know the exact reasons, but what is known is that there was a discontent amongst the population because of the constant wars and expeditions, that took most of the men away from their homes for many years. This situation was no doubt exploited by the King’s younger brother, Wladyslaw Herman, who ruled Masovia as his principality. It is known that Wladyslaw was a friend of the Bishop, whose sympathy was with him rather than the King. Early in April of 1079, the conflict between the King and the Bishop neared its’ tragic end. The Bishop was siezed by the King’s friends of the Jastrzebiec clan and brought over to him for his judgement, which took place on the hill of Skalka above the church of Saint Michael. The King sentenced Stanislas to the punishment known then as “truncatio membrorum,”which consisted of cutting off the hands, legs, nose, ears, and poking out the eyes, but not cutting off the head, and therefore not always equal to the sentence of death. However, the sentence was carried out by the King’s friends of the Jastrzebiec clan with such violence that it resulted in the death of the Bishop on 11 April 1079.
Within two months revolt spread, headed by the King’s younger brother Wladyslaw Herman from Masovia and supported by the invasion of the Czechs under King Wratislav. Most of the Polish people, horrified by the deed of the King, abandoned him. By July 1079, Boleslaw “The Fierce” had lost his throne. He was a refugee in Hungary but still a proud and unbroken man. When the Hungarian King Saint Ladislas came in person to greet him on the frontier, Boleslaw would not dismount his horse, treating him as a vassal. Within two years, Boleslaw died at the age of 41 in the lonely monastery of Osyak now in Slovenia. His grave there is marked only by a stone slab depicting his last faithful companion, his horse.
As Boleslaw left the country, Wratislaw I of Bohemia marched to Krakow in July 1079. There he married Svatava (Boleslaw’s sister) and was recognised as the King of Poland in Krakow. Wladyslaw Herman, Boleslaw’s younger brother who already ruled Masovia, now took also Greater Poland and accepted the division of the country with Wratislav. He was fat, indolent and not at all warlike as his brother was. However, Boleslaw “The Fierce” left a young son in Hungary, Prince Mieszko. In 1085, the Hungarian King Saint Ladislas, who was at war with Wratislaw of Bohemia led a successful expedition into Krakow, expelled Wratislav and then placed the 17 year old Mieszko as ruler in Krakow. Wladyslaw Herman accepted this division of the country this time with his nephew, but in 1089 the young Prince Mieszko and his new bride died of poison administered to them in their drinks, on the order of his uncle Wladyslaw Herman. It was Wladyslaw Herman who then reunited Poland under his rule, with the help of the powerful and friendly (to him) clans, such as the Turzynas the Nowinas and the Sreniawas.
Wladyslaw Herman took Krakow in July 1089, and one of his first acts was the political rehabilitation of his friend, Bishop Stanislas. Already miracles were reported at his grave in the Church of Saint Michael on Skalka. The remains of the martyred Bishop were taken from Saint Michael’s church on Skalka, placed in a silver coffin and taken to the Royal Castle in Krakow, the Wawel Castle. This ceremony took place on 27 September 1089.
During the next one hundred and fifty years, many miracles occurred around his tomb, especially the healing of the sick and the crippled. Hundreds of pilgrims came from not only Poland but all over Europe to touch his tomb and to pray to be cured. On 8 May 1253, Pope Innocent IV proclaimed Bishop Stanislas a Saint and a second patron of Poland after Saint Wojiech, who was martyred in 997. The 8th of May was established as the feast day of Saint Stanislas.
As the years and centuries passed, so the veneration and the fame of Saint Stanislas, Bishop and Martyr grew. The silver coffin of the Saint is still in the Royal Castle, where it hangs suspended above his altar, but most of his bones were used as relics and were divided through the ages between many churches, especially those that bear the name of Saint Stanislas.
SZCZEPANOW – BIRTHPLACE OF THE SAINT
The history of Szczepanow is strictly associated with the cult of St. Stanislav.
The village is located on the Carpathian plateau, on sandy soils, which in the past was surrounded by forests. The name of the village Szczepanow is derived from the name Szczepan who was the owner of these lands, also from the name Stefan (popular polish name). Others derive Szczepanow from the word “szczapa” that is pine wood saturated by resin. This village is associated with the legend of St. Stanislav Szczepanowski, bishop of Krakow who was born here in the year 1030. In the place where the later bishop was to be born there is a chapel in which relic is kept – an oak trunk – under which St. Stanislav was to be born.
According to the tradition his mother Bogna delivered him under this tree, as she was coming back from the field. Later she washed him in the water from the spring. Today there is a well in place of the spring, with the water which is supposed to be miraculous.
According to some historians the first church was erected by Stainislav’s parents as a votum to God for the child’s birth in the extreme old age. Others (like W. Sawicki) think that the church was funded by the bishop Stanislav himself. The Cracow canon, polish priest Jan Dlugosz in 1470 built a brick church in place of the crumbling wooden church and surrounded him bay walls.
Above the main entrance to the church is inserted coat of arms of Dlugosz (Wieniawa).
This is a gothic church, which before 1914 was covered by shingle, was destroyed in the time of the first world war and rebuilt in 1920-1921 under the invocation of St. Magdalena. The church has one aisle, a narrow presbytery closed on three sides. Near the aisle there is a small chapel (before it was a vestibule) in which one of the walls there is a board embedded with the heraldic arms of Prusy, Wieniawa, Debno and Leliwa.
The presbytery has a ribbed-groined vault that was constructed in 1921, underneath it there are stone cantilevers shaped like shields with heraldic arms of Wienawa. In the aisle is a caisson ceiling. In the southern part is a visible entrance to the unpreserved choir. Outside is Ogrojec (dated 1883) with visible excavations of gothic paintings.
At the beginning of the 20th century parish priest W. Kosecki commenced the construction of a new neogothic church with two aisles made from brick and stone. After the destruction of the northern wall of Dlugoszowski church this represents a whole sacral harmonic structure. Looking from the front a five floor tall spire rises toward the sky. The ceiling is ribbed-groined. A stone portal (17th century) is near the entrance to the vestry, it was taken from the old church (coat of arms of Ostaoja and Debno). On the outside there are visible buttresses arcade framings and rich detail of neogothic and eclectic architecture. The church was consecrated on 26th may 1930 by bishop Komar. During 1959-1961 was painted by M. Makarewicz
The main altar was constructed according to the design of Sas Zubrzycki who also designed the church based on the triptych. In the main part there is a painting of St. Stanislav, close to the statue of Saints Peter and Paul, on the sides scenes from his life, above the main painting piast’s eagle. In the base of altar mense, four scenes from the Bible (theme: gifts sacrificed to God). Neogothic pulpit (dated 1920) with four bas-reliefs of the Evangelists (designer Sas-Zubrzycki).
Altars: main (late baroque dated 18th century) taken from a parish church in Bochnia. The second alter- The heart of Jesus Christ is dated 1923, neobaroc. In the Dlugoszowski church the main alter in the shape of painted triptych is dated 15th century. In the center Virgin Mary with the child, St Stanislav with Mary Magdalene on the sides scenes from the Bible and the life of the saints (Mikolaj with daughters). The gothic font (from 1534) moulded in bronze was incorporated to the baptismal alter in 1970. Stals, benches and confessionals are dated 1920-1930. Feretrums are dated 17-19th century, on the walls of both churches there are several epitathies. In the fencing looking from the southern side there are remains of the Dlugosz wall which were raised in 18th and 20th century. In the wall there is a forged gate, on the sides stone sculptures of St Stanislav and St Adalbert. The remaining fencing was built in the years 1955-1960 according to the design of B Kulka with four chapels which were constructed thanks to priest W Mendrala.
In the cemetery the St Stanislav’s church was built in place of the residence of the bishop’s family. In the same place where the first wooden church was build around the middle of the 13th century there was a second brick church constructed. The board in the front of the church has the following inscription ” This chapel was built from wood in 1601 in the same place where St Stanislav Szczepanowski has seen daylight where due to the old age it turned to decline. Stanislav Lubomirski the prince of the roman empire the great marshall of polish kingdom and the lord of Szczepanow to keep such great remembrance of the bishop martyr built the church from the base in 1781. This is a classicist structure made from crick, plastered with one aisle and vestry and the gallery (organs from 18th century). It was consecrated by bishop Zinger in 1824.
The chapel has three bricked alters: main St Stanislav (16th century) and two on the sides with scenes from his life. The free standing pulpit is dated 1879. In the vestry there can be seen paintings: St Stanislav-reviver of Piotrowin. Close to the church there is a stone mission cross from 1879 and the epitaphs of the family of the parish priest Kosecki. The chapel of the birth of St Stanislav is on the other side of the road. In the beginning it was wooden (1596) later due to the efforts of priest Bobka since 1861 it is bricked the 19th century altar presents the scene of the birth of saint it is decorated by wooden framing with a vegetation theme.
Behind the altar is a framed tree trunk (oak) under which as tradition recalls St Stanislav was born (Bogna who was coming back from the field has delivered him under that tree, washed him in water – today in this place there is a well with water which is supposed to be miraculous)
On the western side there can be seen a stone obelisk with the figure of St Stanislav (from 18th century) it is a votum of the Sczepanow parish for the protection from the hail storm.
In the center of the main square in Szczepanow we can see an 900 year old lime tree, inside it is totally decayed but every year its green. Some people say that when Stanislav was a small boy he was to plant this tree with the roots upside down. Nearby the road we can see a statue dedicated to St Ziomek which was exhibited for remembrance of priest Stanislav Stojakowski ” a rebel of people’s laws” On the premises of the parish we can find many statues associated with the live cult of the saint. One of the signs of deep faith is a weekly church fair attended by thousands of pilgrims in may each year. A large number of ministries of priests and monks give proof to the worship. Szczepanow is considered a Saint’s sanctuary on polish grounds.