The Sanctuary of Divine Mercy
Trip Start Apr 09, 2010
19Trip End Apr 26, 2010
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Where I stayed
After I moved over to the hotel for my last night, I took the tram out to a more suburban area to visit the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, a new church built in 2002 in honor of the 20th c. Polish Saint/mystic Sister Faustyna. I wanted to see how a new, post-Communist church would be designed. The sanctuary is stunning and a good conduit for the numinous - I went in, sat down, and immediately felt a strong sense of peace.
The sanctuary is shaped like a truncated oval cylinder with a slanted top surface that rises away from the apse so that there is a sense of outflowing towards the congregation. The ceiling beams also ray out from the front towards the congregation. The main focus of the altar area is a painting of Christ as he appeared to Sister Faustyna, and below it a globe-shaped tabernacle for the reserved sacrament. These are framed by wind-swept branches. (If you scroll down in this link, you will see a photo of the apse - photography was not allowed for visitors so we'll have to rely on the web for images.)
There were about 50 people visiting the sanctuary. As I sat there, every so often footsteps would die down for a few moments and everything would become very quiet as people prayed. Some people would kneel almost immediately after entering the sanctuary. The sensation upon entering is different from that of entering a gothic or baroque cathedral. The older cathedrals sweep your eyes inwards and upwards towards the front of the church. Sometimes there is a dome over the altar that draws your eyes higher towards heaven. In this church, the effect is the opposite: the visible energy flows towards the entrant as both an outpouring and a challenge.
It is not surprising that the Poles would know what they are doing in designing new churches, since the country is very religious: to the point that many maintained their religious activity and their church buildings throughout the communist years.