On our recent trip to Warmia and Mazury our son had lots of hidden secrets that he wanted to share with us. There was one magical building and its frescoes that he knew I would love and to reach this fairy tale secret he took us on a forest track from our accommodation which was situated in the back of beyond. The route from our temporary home for the weekend was a bumpy one; we hit a couple of heavy boulders, sharp edged stones kept jumping up and one of these must have cracked the windscreen but we didn’t notice until the last day of our trip.
Arriving at the end of the forest trail, we drove into the small hamlet of Święta Lipka (Holy Lime Tree). Lo and behold, in front of my eyes stood the most magnificent Baroque church I have ever seen. The car park was immediately in front of the church, we didn’t have to pay which I found amazing and even more amazing the entrance to the church complex was free too. A few drops of rain fell from the skies making the overall canvas a little dull but the two towered, cream and pink church shone out like a candy coloured star. My granddaughter, aged 4 was very excited. I wasn’t sure whether it was because she wanted to use her brand new, purple, cat umbrella with sticking out ears or she liked the building too. My son lifted our grandson on to his shoulders and off we went down a long path that had a slight dip in it, to the magnificent jade coloured wrought iron gates.
The gates in themselves are an amazing piece of work decorated with fine leaves threaded together. These are leaves from the holy lime tree and have been beautifully interwoven through both of the gates. On top of the gates is a gold emblem featuring two angels and a crest, higher up, a golden sun bearing a cross and a figurine of a child. Once through the gates you can turn to the left or turn to the right to walk through the cloisters or you can walk across the large courtyard to the church.
We chose to take the left turning, it was the correct choice. After the first few steps up into the long, cool stone corridors we were enveloped by Baroque frescoes. I could see straight away that the artist who had painted the frescoes had been influenced by Italian painters. Maciej Mayor, a painter from Lidzbark, was the painter responsible and he had indeed studied in Italy. I loved the artwork as did my granddaughter. Every time I took a photograph, she pretended to focus her imaginary camera to get the best shot; even my grandson tried to get in on the act and started copying. We were lucky as there weren’t too many people walking through the cloisters at this time, I think they were all in the church which we did go in but I will tell you about that experience another time.
One of the reasons I fell in love with these frescoes is because they are flowery but not too overwhelming. Most of the colours used are pastel shades rather than bold colours, the images show signs of sophistication and were fashionable at that time, displaying trompe l’oeil images, a French style of painting, in which the artist painted in fine detail giving an illusion of reality, as if the image had been made by a photograph. These images are portrayed on the vault and columns. I noticed that work was in progress, some of the frescoes are being touched up where colours have faded and other frescoes in the western cloister seemed to be painted by a different artist or artists. I could definitely tell the difference. It wasn't until later that I found out that Mayer didn't complete his work, he died before the job was finished.
The overall colour of the inside walls is pale amber which had a cooling effect as did the large marble floor tiles. There are many arches which I love; I was able to look through the arches to other parts of the complex which had statues in the garden and able to see the sides and back of the peachy, pink church.
As we turned the corner to walk through the second series of cloisters my granddaughter suddenly said she was desperate for a wee. Unfortunately, there are no toilet facilities for the public inside the complex but there is a toilet block outside the complex so I gave the camera to my husband to take the photos of the remainder of the frescoes and off we ran to the loos. By this time the rain was heavy so we ran as quickly as we could. The toilet block is quite a walk for a small child but she enjoyed running in the rain with her umbrella. There is a small fee to pay to use the toilets of 2 zloty but seeing that only my granddaughter used the facilities we didn’t have to pay. The lady let us off. They are beautifully looked after with flowers in the washrooms, sparkling mirrors and shiny floors.
Walking back to the church complex I did wonder why the church had been built in such a low lying area on damp ground between two lakes. Usually, great churches and convents are built on a hill so the building rises above the town or village. I did find out the reason but I am going to keep you guessing and will tell you in another story about the church and its legend.
It took us quite a while to reach the gates where my husband, son and grandson where waiting. They had been inside the church and beckoned me to make a visit. Just as I was about to take my granddaughter inside the beautiful Baroque building she realised she had lost her hair slide and all her golden locks were blowing in the rain and wind. She started to get upset so her Dad and brother backtracked through the cloisters to look for it, Granddad took a walk to the loos to search for it and I went inside the church.
My story about Świętolipska Basilica church coming up shortly!