Sunday, August 19, 2012

Polish Pilgrimage

Most of yesterday was uneventful.  I went again to the pirogi festival for lunch, which was excellent.  The variety of pirogi there is just amazing!  There are the traditional ones: meat, cottage cheese, cabbage, blueberry, etc., but there are also ones that I had never heard of.  Included in the latter category are kielbasa and potato, "Mexican" (beans, meat, onion, and some seasoning), chocolate and something (I don't know the word), salmon, duck, and others.  I could eat there every day for a week!

In the evening, my friend Aamri from Oman hosted a get-together at his apartment.  It was largely the same group as the language club, and thus I knew most of the people there.  At one, point, though, the conversation took an interesting turn.

Aamri is considering going to the nearby mountain town of Zakopane, and found a hiking group that was going to go on a 7-hour, 22.5 km hike.  That's longer than a half-marathon, and it's not at all flat.  As we were pondering how onerous this hike would be, one of the ladies from the group perked up and said that it wasn't much of a hike - she had hiked the entire north-south length of Poland (700 km).

This revelation caught me off-guard.  I thought, "Wow!  This must have been for some special charity event or athletic contest!"  I asked her about it, and she said this was not unusual.  There is a town in southern Poland where Poles pilgrimage, on foot, to in the summer.  From Kraków, it's about a 5-day walk, but from the north of Poland is more like 3 weeks.  People help them out along the way, since they're on a religious journey.

How could I have not heard of this?  To the internet!  It turns out, the town is named Częstochowa and the Poles pilgrimage there to see a famous painting called (in English) "Black Madonna of Częstochowa".  Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on it.  The Poles credit this painting with saving the monastery it was housed in during the Swedish invasion of the 17th century; it also marked the turning point in that war.

But wait, that bit sounded familiar to me.  Yes, sure enough, James Michener wrote about that story in his book Poland, which I'm reading through.  However, Mr. Michener neglected to mention some important items:

  1. The painting has a Black Madonna, making it very distinct, and
  2. Poles pilgrimage there to this day.
He mentioned the modern-day incarnation of the hejnal when he wrote about the invasion of the Tatars in 1241, why not this?  OK, enough of my literary critique - this was still completely unexpected.

Back at the party, the conversation went on and the moment quickly passed; this was not an unusual circumstance in the life of a Pole.  I've been here seven weeks now and things still surprise me.


ReadingMama said...

Next task: perfect COOKING pirogi so us Americans can get a taste of this bliss you describe. :)

Laurel Blough said...

I heard someone else one time reference the Black Madonna! Now I know what that was about. I also think Poles might do more than one pilgrimage. Sarah told me one time that a pilgrim group was passing through Krakow (near her apartment) on their way to a special city for the Assumption of Mary holiday (you know, that day Andy got off work on August 15).

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