“We want God!” sang inhabitants of Nowa Huta, who gathered at the cross on a corner of Majakowski and Marks streets on a Wednesday morning of April 27, 1960 The words of this song seem to truthfully reflect the spirit of the district inhabitants in those days, who, by not agreeing with a refusal to build a parish church, emerged as an active driving force shaping their reality.
The Nowa Huta cross is more than just a religious symbol. The same cross also symbolises a fight for man’s freedom and dignity within the system of Communist power in Poland.
In its fight for the cross, the local community manifested for the first time its subjectivity in the objective treatment of the citizens by the state. Direct consequences of that objection not only include construction of the first church in Nowa Huta – the Church of the Mother of God, the Queen of Poland (the Lord's Ark), but also construction of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the monument of the Nowa Huta Cross.
The Nowa Huta Cross has become, and definitely still is, one of the most widely recognised symbols of the district, forming a part of its history and gathering around it people not only devoted to their faith, but also to universal values of man’s dignity and observance of human rights, including a respect for freedom of conscience and religion.
Since 1951 a team of architects and urban planners lead by Tadeusz Ptaszycki developed a general design for a spatial layout of Nowa Huta and individual smaller designs for specific districts and public utility buildings.
However, the architectonic plans did not include a design of a church Both old and new citizens of Nowa Huta used a network of parish churches existing before 1949, frequently of Medieval origin.
A lack of a church in the urban layout of the new city was also justified by the ideology of the new authorities, who wanted to create a new type of man – a secularized working man.
On June 15, 1952, Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak established a parish in Bieńczyce. At that time, a chapel of the former house of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul, who lived and worked in Bieńczyce before the First World War, was used for religious worship. A small chapel could hold about three hundred people at one time, while a number of new inhabitants in fast growing Nowa Huta increased with every year.
Already in 1952, nearly 57 thousand people lived in Nowa Huta. With a growing number of parishioners, a number of Sunday masses also had to be increased. Despite help from priests from outside the parish and construction of a temporary wooden canopy, the majority of people participated in religious practices outside the chapel, regardless of the weather.
After all, the village of Bieńczyce was located within the Raciborów parish. I still remember well this village of Bieńczyce as one of places belonging to this parish, where the parish priest or his coworker went on Sundays with a mass, to a small chapel there [...], at which the nuns worked.
In the wake of the “thaw” of 1956, the authorities agreed to the request of Nowa Huta inhabitants to have a church built. On November 6, 1956, the Office for Religious Affairs issued a letter informing that there were no contraindications to building of a church in Nowa Huta.
On January 23, 1957, the Design Agency “Miastoprojekt” prepared an initial location for the new church on an undeveloped lot near Teatr Kameralny in the C-1 housing estate, at a crossing of Majakowski and Marks streets. Details of the location together with the church design were to be identified on a basis of an architectural design competition. On March 2, 1957, the Church Building Committee established by the parishioners received a letter informing about the transfer of the ground for construction of the church.
On March 17, 1957, the construction site was officially consecrated. A large wooden cross was carried by the parishioners in a procession from the chapel in Bieńczyce to the construction site, where it was consecrated and set in the ground in the presence of Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak.
On August 31, 1957, The Association of Polish Architects announced the results of the national architectural design competition, which was won by Zbigniew Solawa with a design “Golgotha”.
At the beginning of 1960, the authorities withdrew from their promises. On the pretext that the parish failed to obtain a title to the lot, the Presidium of the National Council of the City of Kraków decided to build a school on that site. On April 19, 1960, the parish received a letter from the Directorate of the Enterprise for Construction of Workers’ Settlements, ordering it to remove the cross from the construction site by April 26, 1960. During a mass held on Sunday, April 24, 1960, the administrator of the parish Rev. Mieczysław Satora informed the parishioners about his refusal to remove the cross. As the parish priest refused to obey the order, the authorities planned to remove the cross on April 27, 1960 at 9.00.
At 8.30 workers start to dig the cross up, and this was noticed by women from blocks of flats in the neighbourhood. The women started to defend the cross, first by arguing with the workers, but later, when the cross started to tilt, a fight broke out. The tilted cross was resettled in the ground, becoming a centre of events. In the morning there were about three hundred people gathered at the cross, around 11.00 a.m. that number had swollen to a thousand. After 2.00 p.m., workers from the steel mill coming from the first shift joined the gathering, and a number of people in the construction site alone was estimated at about two thousand. The people lit candles, prayed, and sang religious hymns at the cross.
The events proceeded dynamically. Plain clothes officers of Milicja Obywatelska and the Security Service caught individuals from the crowd. Subsequent skirmishes took place around 4.00 p.m. at the District National Council, and at 7.00 p.m. at the Centralny square. The conflict escalated at the evening hours: the militia used truncheons to disperse the demonstrators, the Riot Forces of Milicja Obywatelska with water cannons were also brought.
In April 1964, Rev. Józef Gorzelany became the parish administrator (and later parish priest) of the Bieńczyce parish, and he started anew the efforts to construct the church by expanding of the existing chapel. The first initial permits to construct the church were obtained in 1965, and the official construction works started on October 15, 1967. Citizens of Nowa Huta and workers of the Lenin Steelworks, who worked at the construction site after completing their shift at the steelworks, actively participated in construction of the church. Money donations for construction of the church came from all over Poland and from the Polish diaspora in the United States.
On May 18, 1969, Archbishop Karol Wojtyła laid the foundation stone – a gift of Pope Paul VI – for the church. Eight years later, on May 15, 1977, at high noon, the official consecration of the church took place. Then the parish in Bieńczyce became the largest pastoral centre in Kraków (in 1972, a number of parishioners was estimated at 70 thousand).
The church in Bieńczyce also became a role model for other parishes: Mistrzejowice, Wzgórza Krzesławickie, Azory and Krowodrza, which were striving to have a church built. Every year, from December 24, 1959 to December 24, 1969, Cardinal Wojtyła held outdoors the Midnight Mass for the parishioners. These Midnight Masses of Cardinal Wojtyła held at construction sites of new churches had become a tradition. In subsequent years they were held, for example, in Mistrzejowice and Krowodrza.
Probably, there is no other parish in the Archdiocese [...] which I have visited so frequently as your bishop, like this Nowa Huta parish in Bieńczyce.
In practice, everybody who wanted to work, did. A hundred or even more than a hundred people came to the construction site every day. A work had to be prepared for them, and tools, if possible, so everybody could feel they were doing something important.
Our presence here today, and not only today, but constant and persistent, has also other meaning. It is meaningful in a context of our times. My dear Brothers and Sisters, as long as I have been a bishop, each year I celebrate the Midnight Mass under an open sky! Only the locations change. It had began in Nowa Huta-Bieńczyce, followed by Mistrzejowice, then by Wzgórza Krzesławickie, and by Azory, and now the time has come for Krowodrza.
From the very beginning, the cross – a religious symbol around which a community of Nowa Huta inhabitants was founded – had been a centre of all events. The symbol in its physical form also became a valuable monument of one the breakthrough events in the history of this district.
The initial wooden cross caught fire from candles and grave lights placed around it. On May 1, 1972, it was replaced with a new metal one, and parts of the old cross were embedded in the suspended cross-anchor of the “Lord’s Ark” being under construction at that time. Later, the metal cross was replaced once again with a wooden one. In 2007, a monument of the Nowa Huta Cross, designed by Stefan Dousa, was installed on that site, and the cross surroundings were designed by Krzysztof Ingarden. The monument was officially unveiled and consecrated by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz on November 10, 2007. The previous wooden cross was moved several dozen meters. Currently, it stands at a fence of the parish, on a side of the Obrońców Krzyża street.
In his homily of June 9, 1979 in Mogiła, John Paul II referred to Nowa Huta crosses in these words: “The Nowa Huta history is also written by the cross - first this old one, of Mogiła, inherited after centuries, and the other, new one... installed not so far away from this place”.
The lights went off at 9.00 p.m. [...] We went to our neighbour, who, slightly ironically, said: ‘Your cross is burning, your cross is burning. Go to extinguish the fire’. Nobody set fire to the cross, as some say. It caught fire from thousands of candles lit around it by Nowa Huta inhabitants. Then I said to my husband: ‘Bolek, we should go there with buckets’.
[...] And that’s all, my dears, about the first cross and the oldest church. And now this new one. This new cross that was placed near the ancient relics of the Holy Cross in the Cistercian Abbey, announced a birth of a new church. [...] This new cross appeared when new people, who were to start new work here, arrived to the area of former villages near Kraków, which later become Nowa Huta. Previously, people worked hard here, tilling the land, and the soil was fertile – so everybody worked willingly. Several dozen years ago, the industry began: great industry, heavy industry. And people who arrived here – from many different parts – arrived to work in the industry. Steel workers. And it is them who brought this new cross here. They set it here – as a sign that they would build a new church in the former village of Bieńczyce.
It is said that the history moves in cycles. Efforts to have a church built, which started in 1952, brought fruit only in 2001. In 1986, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski established the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 2001, on a part of the construction lot promised by the Communist government, at the corner of former Marks and Majakowski streets (today, Ludźmierska and Obrońców Krzyża streets) a church under the same name was constructed.
In their design of the church tower, the authors of the church design, Krzysztof Ingarden and Przemysław Gawor, referred to the design of Zbigniew Solawa from 1957. Above the presbytery, the architects placed the cross from the field altar in Kraków Błonie, on which John Paul II concelebrated a mass on August 18, 2002 during his eight and last pilgrimage to Poland.