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Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa

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Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa - Vatican Grottoes

Following the Clementinian peribolos (semi-circular corridor) on the right side, just past the Chapel of the Patron Saints is the Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The Chapel is behind an iron gate, made by Alberto Bisello di Perugia (1958), with two crowned eagles that are the emblem of Poland.


On May 3, 1953, the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Queen of Poland, Pope Pius XII received a request from the Polish Archbishop Joseph Felix Gawlina and His Eminence Casimiro Papee, the Extraordinary Ambassador and Plenipotentiary of Poland to the Holy See, to "build an altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin close to the sepulcher of Peter."

Mr. Francesco Vacchini, the technical director of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, was responsible for the elaboration of the project. After preliminary research, the work started in 1956 and the project involved not just the construction of an altar but of a proper chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa to be built next to the Irish chapel.

The project was realized with the generous support of Rev. Alfonso A. Skoniecki, an American prelate of Polish origin, the parish priest of the church of SS Peter and Paul of Three Rivers, Massachusetts (cf. the small plaque to the right from the entrance). The donation was made on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of priesthood.

Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the Vatican Grottoes
Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa
Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the Vatican Grottoes beneath St Peter's
Polish Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa

On January 14, 1958, in his apartment Pope Pius XII blessed the mosaic of the Madonna of Czestochowa to be placed above the altar which, at the time, sat against the wall. On Sunday, June 3, 1958, the feast of the Holy Trinity, Cardinal Federico Tedeschini, Arch-priest of the Vatican basilica, in a solemn rite blessed the chapel and consecrated the altar.

On February 23, 1982, on the 6th centenary of the Marian sanctuary in Czestochowa, John Paul II inaugurated the prolonged chapel with a wider presbytery and new altar. The work in the chapel was supervised by Prof. Giuseppe Zander and was realized thanks to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus (cf. small plaque to the left from the entrance). The Pope belssed the new image of the Madonna that is a faithful copy of the original and was painted on three panels of lime wood by the Polish artist Anna Torwirtowa.

Our Lady of Czestochowa altarpiece in the Polish Chapel
Our Lady of Czestochowa image
Pope John Paul II Coat of Arms on the floor of the Polish Chapel
John Paul II Coat of Arms

The chapel is divided into spans by pillars and brick arches. The gracious aedicula hanging in the apse on the yellow marble base dominates the chapel. The tympanum is supported on two ancient marble columns, with the image of the Madonna inside. The present icon is a mosaic reproduction by the Mosaic Studio della Fabbrica di San Pietro and was blessed by John Paul II on September 28, 1992. On the sides are four bas-reliefs representing the Evangelists from the ciborium of the Holy Lance of Innocent VIII (1495)

The altar is made of two Ionic capitals holding a marble table from the altar of Blessed Pius X before his canonization. It sits in the center of an eight-point star in yellow marble inscribed in an oval in the paving of the presbytery.

The walls are decorated with bas-reliefs representing Polish saints with their names written on the scrolls below. They are: SS Stanislaus and Adalbert, Bishops and Martyrs; St Stanislaus Kostka, S.J.; St Andrew Bobola, S.J.; St Hyacinth O.P.; St John Cantius; St Hedwig and St Casimir. The travertine sculptures were made by Michal Paszyn in 1957.

Close to the entrance are the tow most recent sculptures of St Maximilian Kolbe by Pierino di Pasqua (October 1987) and St Albert Chmielowski by Stefan Duonsa (September 1993).

The floor is paved with red Verona marble with stripes of azzulina stone from Maceira. The polychrome marble coat-of-arms of John Paul II was made in 1982. On the sides of the gate are two Lain epigraphs: one, composed by Mons. Antonio Bacci commemorates the inauguration of the chapel in 1958 with the placet of Pius XII; the other commemorates the work of enlargement completed in 1982.

Polish Chapel - Pius XII Inscription


Source: Roma Sacra The Vatican Grottoes, Fabbrica of St. Peter's, June 2003

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