I did not write a column yesterday because, following my arrival in Krakow in early afternoon, the rest of the day was nonstop. I checked into the Grand Hotel (more about this historic building, great rooms and terrific staff at a later date) about 2:30, unpacked and checked email to see about pending appointments and, as I always do in a new city or one I already know, I went out to explore the neighborhood.  I actually knew this one from my time here last June – I’m just a block off one of my favorites squares in the world, the famous and very beautiful Market Square, Rynek Glowny.

At about 5:20 I went into the basilica of St. Mary and, after a brief visit to this church that stuns the senses, almost putting them into overdrive, I spent an hour in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and then attended Mass. I later discovered that the 6:30 pm daily Mass is a student Mass: the young people provided the music and Mass was very well attended by adults as well.

Signs are all over asking people not to take photos but I did take two – which I posted last night on FB – of the overwhelmingly beautiful main altar chapel as soon as I saw some of the students taking photos. I’ll try to get permission to take more pictures as this church was very important in Pope John Paul’s life.

Here is the official website of St. Mary’s:

Known by all here as St. Mary’s Church, the full name is Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. It is a brick Gothic church, originally built in the early 13th century by Bishop Iwo Odrowaz of Krakow and re-built in the 14th century. It is most celebrated for the wooden altarpiece carved by one Veit Stoss. The choir stalls in the altar area are stunning as well.

One of the favorite stories about the basilica is that of the trumpeter: Every hour a trumpet signal comes from the top of the taller of St. Mary’s two towers. However, the sound is cut off half way through, a break commemorating the famous 13th century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before an attack on the city by the Mongols. It is said that the noon-time trumpet sound is heard across Poland and abroad broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station. This was made famous in Eric Kelly’s book, “The Trumpeter of Krakow.”

By the way, I learned that St. Mary’s Basilica has served as an architectural model for many of the churches built by Polish migrants to America and other countries. One of these, by the way, is St. John Cantius in my hometown of Chicago.

Today was my first full day and Krakow and it has been nonstop activity to this moment.

In preparation for this trip, I’ve been in touch with friends in Poland and friends who have friends in Poland, asking to meet people who knew John Paul. One of those contacts was Fr. Wojciech Zyzak, rector of the John Paul II University. As he planned to leave for Warsaw tomorrow, he invited me to the university for a brief meeting and conversation and then a conference on Father Walerian Kalinka (1826–1886), who was a founder of the Polish Province of the Resurrectionist Fathers in 19th century.

The conference began at 9:30 and lasted until 1:30 with a morning coffee break. I did not understand a word but I was able to write a bit for my book as I listened to the speakers and, during the break and later at lunch, I met some fascinating priests and professors and heard some great stories about the man who brings a smile to everyone’s face in Poland as soon as it is mentioned, Pope John Paul.

I want to go to St. Mary’s again for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Mass so shall close for now. I’ll try to post photos in FB whenever I can. I tried doing a FB Live yesterday but the connection in Market Square was not strong enough. I’ll try again at some point.