The towering edifice of St. Mary’s Cathedral, at over 260 feet tall, dominates the landscape of Rynek Glowny, the vast open space of Old Town Square in Krakow.
Originally built in the early 13th Century, St. Mary’s was rebuilt in brick Gothic style in the 14th century and completed in 1347 during the reign of Casimir III the Great.
As impressive as the exterior is, it’s when you step inside that St. Mary’s reveals its greatest glories. Take a couple of minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darker interior and then let them feast on the most splendid, ornately decorated cathedral interior you’ve ever witnessed. Virtually every square inch is painted, carved, frescoed, tiled, draped or otherwise covered in the most fabulous and colorful decorations imaginable. Words truly cannot do it justice.
The most famous piece is the main altar, carved from wood by a man named Veit Stoss. The altarpiece is done in a triptych, or three-panel design and is, in fact, the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world at 40 feet wide by 34 feet tall when fully open and extended. It’s covered in richly detailed figures carved from oak and linden wood depicting various Biblical characters and events, most prominently the Assumption of the Madonna, which makes sense for a church named for that event. Side panels depict other scenes from Mary’s life, mostly with Jesus, including the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
Know Before You Go
One more notable thing about St. Mary's that you don't want to miss is the "hejnal mariacki." Every hour on the hour, a trumpeter plays a tune called the hejnal mariacki, a plaintive melody which stops abruptly midstream in commemoration of the bugler who was killed by Mongols as he warned the city of their attack.
Standing in the square below and hearing this tune rollout is a special treat that will send chills down your spine. No matter where you are in the square or what you are doing or how noisy it is, the sound of that lone trumpeter playing from the church tower is a sound you won't forget.