Holy Cross Church, Warsaw, Poland

One of the most historic churches in Warsaw, this is not immediately apparent from its appearance.

The first structure, a wooden chapel, dates to the 15th Century. This was demolished in 1526 and a new church built, but once Warsaw became Poland's capital in 1596 it became apparent that the church was too small.

In 1656 the Swedish invaded Warsaw and the church was damaged to such an extent that it could no longer be used. Jan III Sobieski decided to rebuild and the old church remains were cleared and a new structure started. This forms the basis for the current structure.

The majority of the church was completed by 1696, although the façade and tops of the towers were altered in the 1720s and 1750s.

From 1765 it became the Royal Church of Warsaw and it began to take a pivotal part in local life. In 1861 a demonstration against Russian rule was held outside the Church, this was brutally put down by Cossack troops sparking off the 1863 Uprising - which was, sadly like most Warsaw uprisings, doomed to a bloody end.

Christmas Day 1881 saw another terrible historic episode. A cry of "fire" went through the packed church and the ensuing stampede killed 29 people. The cry was a false alarm and anti-Semitic factions in Warsaw politics managed to pin the panic on the Jewish population and a pogrom occurred before the end of the year.

The following year a more prestigious occurrence at the Church was the burial of the heart of Frederic Chopin in a pillar in the Church, this started a trend and a number of other renowned Polish artists also have their hearts dotted around in the Church. Chopin's "pillar" in one of the main draws for tourists visiting the Church today.

Unfortunately, being culturally important was a reason to be on the Nazi hit list and after the Warsaw uprising two massive bombs were detonated at the Church, destroying the façade and much of the interior including the high altar and side altars. In January 1945 the retreating German Army did even more damage leaving only a shell standing.

It took around 10 years to rebuild the exterior, and the high altar was not completed until 1972.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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