Underground Church Cut Out Of Salt

The most amazing thing about this underground church is not its gigantic nave but that fact it was cut out of the huge block of salt. Chandeliers, crosses, bas-reliefs, handrails and sculptures - all is made of rock salt.

Many years ago, in the 13th century, Kunigunda (the only daughter of Hungarian king Bela IV) got married the Polish prince. As the father doted on her, she got a salt mine as a dowry from him.
For some reason, she threw her engagement ring into the mine (maybe she was disappointed with its caratage?). The future husband then got on the horse and left the future princess. So she had to move to the husband's house without his help.
On the way to Krakow Kunigunda ordered her servants to dig a well to change the water in her mobile swimming pool. But instead of the water they discovered a salt layer. And the very first taken out block of salt contained her ring... 
Later she was canonized and since that moment has been considered a patroness of all Polish salt miners. Pictured: the moment when the servants pass the ring to Kunigunda. All the figures are cut out of single salt blocks.

Some details are usually omitted in this story though. For example, at the moment of marriage Kunigunda was only 5 years old and her groom was 13. And as she was mad about religiosity she naturally refused any attempts of her husband to make her pregnant. 

The first mention about these salt mines appeared in the documents of Casimir I in the 11th century. At that time salt played a very important role in the economics of the country as the profit from its sale made up more than a third of the budget of Poland. Though the conditions in which miners had to work were really awful. Till the 14th century they dragged sacks and boxes with salt upwards by their own forces. And only later, when the wheel was invented, they started to use carts and horses.  

By that time the salt mines had already been a very large net of mines, galleries and drifts where simultaneously worked thousands of miners. That's why kitchens, relaxation areas, different playgrounds and even stables soon appeared here. 
As for the horses, once got to the mine, they never left it anymore. Some will say it's not humane to keep horses in such conditions during all their life. But there is another point of view on this problem. Salt air is very helpful for their health, and thus they usually live longer here. Besides, it's not very different from their "upwards" life - they quickly get used to the lack of light.
Nowadays tourists pay good money for spending at least a week in an underground health resort located in these mines.
But in spite of all the advantages, the underground life is fraught with some dangers as well. One of them is methane being constantly collected under the ceiling of the rooms. The more methane there is, the greater chances are that a tiny sparkle will turn a cosy working room into a cosy crematorium. That's why some centuries ago there existed a risky profession called a "twisted firestarter" (In the picture above). The principle of the job was very simple and deadly at the same time: they crawled down the galleries holding a long torch in their hands and burnt down the collected methane.
That was the first reason for building some churches here - it was easier to perform a funeral service right in the place.

At the beginning of the 15th century only a royal family and some privileged guests could attend the mines as tourists. However, later it became opened for those who had a written permission from the king himself.

Casimir the Great. One can see many sculptures on his way while walking down the mines. Some of them are quite outlined, while others are very detailed and realistic. 
When being on excursion one can ask the guide to turn off the light and feel that desperate fear that one feels when being at 200 m underground with no light but thousands tons of various rocks above. They say, many interesting thoughts come to your mind at that moment. And any miner can confirm it.

Many thousands tons of salt are still obtained in these mines annually. Now several churches are located here. But the largest and the most famous one is Blessed Kinga Church named after the devout medieval princess we already spoke about.

Its chapel amazes with its size - about 50 x 20 m and the height is more than 10 m. Pay attention to all the details.

Everything is made of salt here! Gigantic salt chandeliers, sparkling salt floor, three sanctuaries and two small chapels on each side. If you are in Poland, you surely must visit it. A very interesting and charming place indeed.

via estranic


Post a Comment