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Cracow, The Pontifical University of John Paul II


The stained-glass windows of the Calvary in Wiele in Kashubia from 1915–1922 constitute important decorative and conceptual elements of a large landscape architecture project. The construction of the complex started by rector Józef Szydzik during the Partition of Poland was continued when Poland regained independence by his successor priest Józef Wrycz. The direct ideological motivation for the erection of the Calvary was the desire to commemorate the sacrifices of the local community on the front line of World War I and to manifest the Polish religious spirit of the Kashubians. The complex includes altogether 14 chapels, 7 carving compositions, “Scalae Sanctae” and a hermitage, which makes it possible to classify it as one of the so-called great Calvaries. The author of the project of the establishment was Theodor Mayr, an architect from Munich. The complex is stylistically consistent with the modernist interpretation of Baroque forms with a tendency use them freely. At the same time, it is not deprived of references to the elements of the regional Kashubian architectural style. The earliest five buildings were fitted with stained-glass windows manufactured in renown Munich workshops of Franz Xavier Zettler and Hans Bockhorni to designs by Bavarian artists Gebhard Fügel and Theodor Baierl. The most important decorative elements of the interior of the main chapel of Crucifixion are three impressive stained-glass windows designed by Theodor Baierl from 1916. In terms of the message they convey, these stained-glass windows serve as a medium of religious symbolism, but they also make reference to contemporary events and preserve images of the of local people in a specific situational context.

During World War II, on the initiative of occupational authorities, who incorporated the Calvary into the German cultural heritage, the renovation of the chapels was carried out. After the war, the buildings gradually deteriorated, and some of the stained-glass windows were completely destroyed. It was only in 2001 that three figurative stained-glass windows of the chapel of the Crucifixion underwent thorough renovation in the workshop of Władysław and Wojciech Kozioł in Toruń.

Keywords: Calvary, Wiele, stained-glass window, Roger Sławski, Theodor Mayr, Gebhard Fügel, Theodor Baierl, Franz Zettler, Hans Bockhorni


 The popularity of stained-glass windows, an important decorative element of sacred buildings, found its reflection in the 19th century also in Calvarian architecture.

Out of many German stained-glass windows designed for buildings situated within the present borders of Poland special attention deserves a complex in a sanctuary in a town called Wiele near Wdzydze Lake in the southern part of Kashubian Lake District, known as Zabory. The stained-glass windows dating from 1915–1919 constitute important decorative and conceptual elements of a large landscape architecture project picturesquely situated on top of a wooded hill on the shore of the lake. The task of erecting the Calvary was undertaken with much commitment and determination by a local parish rector, priest Józef Szydzik. The first stage of its construction was carried out when this area was still part of Prussia and continued in the turbulent years of World War I.

Wiele is a town with a medieval historical background, which in the 19th and 20th centuries played the role of an energetic cultural, educational and patriotic centre of Kashubia. At the turn of the 20th century, this affluent farming village enjoyed considerable economic and social autonomy.[1] By the early 20th century, this large parish owned a small wooden church, which in the years 1905–1906 was replaced with an impressive Neo-Baroque building. The shape of the building corresponded to its predecessor from the 18th century. The author of the new brick temple was a famous architect from Poznań, Roger Sławski, employed in the department of sacred architecture of the Ministry of Public Works in Berlin.[2] The lofty three-towered church building, with a red roof and spherical tower domes majestically dominates until the present time over the neighbouring buildings grouped around the north-west bend of the lake. The construction of the new church soon triggered the foundation of the complex of the Calvary, which conceptually related to via dolorosa in Jerusalem. Small architectural objects commemorating Passion events were harmoniously incorporated into the natural landscape of a wooded moraine hill called Biała Góra. The tradition of representing Golgotha had been known in catholic countries since as early as the 15th century. The earliest Calvaries were created in Italy. Pilgrimages to those places served the believers as a substitute for the trip to the remote Holy Land, which was under Islamic reign. Symbolic Calvarian paths were used for contemplating the way of the passion and the mystery of Christ’s death. The dramatic narration of the passion, developed in time and space, was expressed by an integrated work of architecture, painting and sculpture in the scenery of open landscape. Miniature copies of Jerusalem buildings took on various architectural forms, size and spatial planning. Erecting Calvaries gained in popularity in Europe especially in the times of Counter-Reformation.


In Poland survive about 20 Calvaries. The oldest sanctuary of this type is Kalwaria Zebrzydowska from 1601, and in Kashubia area, the Calvary in Wejherowo from 1649, 120 km away from Wiele. According to oral tradition, it had originally been planned to be erected in Wiele because of favourable natural topography. This argument was used by the founder of the new sanctuary, priest Józef Szydzik.[3]

The direct ideological motivation for the erection of the Calvary was the desire to commemorate the sacrifices of the local community on the front line of World War I and to manifest the Polish religious spirit of the Kashubians.[4] The construction of this memorial and votum begun by rector Szydzik between 1915–1927 was completed by his successor, priest Józef Wrycz in 1927. The Calvary includes altogether 14 chapels, 7 carving compositions, “Scalae Sanctae” and a hermitage, which makes it possible for to classify it as one of the so-called great Calvaries (among Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Wambierzyce, St Anne’s Mountain, Kalwaria Pacławska).[5] Located on a relatively small area (in comparison to other Calvaries of this type) of 10 hectares, it extends along a 2 kilometre pilgrimage path, which goes beyond the village buildings. The land for the construction site was obtained as a gift from farmers from Biała Góra, Anna and Michał Durajewski, whose generosity was commemorated a few times in the Calvary (in the carving, stained-glass, tombstone and the name of the bell). The construction of the sanctuary was financed with donations offered by neighbouring parishes, donated soldier’s pays and contributions from Kashubian emigrants.

The author of the project of the establishment was Theodor Mayr, an architect from Munich, whose person had been suggested by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Christliche Kunst in Munich, an association established in 1893 by the painter Theodor Fügel.[6] According to the procedure, first the client was obliged to deliver to the committee the photographic documentation of the place, the characteristics of the topography of the area and state the size of the budget. The terms of the contract put an obligation on Mayr to supervise the work as far as the artistic programme was concerned.[7] Guided by the need to harmonize the architecture with the interior design, he hired a group of Munich’s sculptors, painters, stain-glass makers and highly-specialized craftsman workshops to cooperate with him.

That the order was placed in remote Munich can be explained by referring to the fact that the capital of Bavaria was in the 19th century a famous centre of sacred art. They specialized there in complex projects of interior design for newly-erected churches. Products of Bavarian companies reached many remote places not only on the territory of German states, but they were also exported abroad. Most of them, however, did not go beyond the conventional level of the sacred art of that time. It is supposed that priest Szydzik placed an order in Munich also because he admired the Calvary there.

Mayr skillfully highlighted the organic relationship between the edifice and nature. By 1916 seven important objects of small architecture had been erected, which included the chapels of Gethsemane, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, Queen of Peace on the shore of the lake, the bridge over Cedron, the House of Caiaphas, the chapel of St. Veronica, and the most lofty chapel of Crucifixion, known as “a little church”. The final result was the creation of an expressive complex of buildings characterised by undulating profiles of the gables, mansard or domical roofs, polished detail and the use of hemispherical arches and porticoes. The whole complex is stylistically consistent with the modernist interpretation of Baroque forms with a tendency use them freely. At the same time, the complex is not deprived of references to the elements of the regional Kashubian architectural style. It should be mentioned that from the late 19th century until World War I picturesque Neo-Baroque forms, which were perceived as the “national” style associated with the construction boom after the Thirty Year War, were extremely popular in German architecture. Paradoxically, similar forms revived in Poland at the beginning of the 20th century in the so-called “manor” style, also functioned as the national style.

The construction of the Calvary is well-documented by abundant correspondence between Theodor Mayr’s architectural firm and rector Szydzik.[8] Even the architect’s military service on the French front line did not affect the progress of the construction works in Wiele. Nor did it hinder the production of the fittings in the workshops in Munich. In 1918 the general art conservator of Bavaria, Rev. Prof. Hoffman, a personal friend of Mayr, came to Wiele from Munich to say a ceremonial mass at the end of the first stage of the construction process.[9]

The windows in five earliest buildings were fitted with stained glass. Apart from their decorative function, they served as important elements complementing the iconographic programme of the interiors. By order of Mayr, these stained-glass windows were produced by renown workshops to designs of a number of Bavarian artists. Some decorative elements (unpreserved mosaics) were produced by Zahn company from the Leipzig region.

In the apse of the oldest chapel of Gethsemane from 1915, situated on the site of the parish graveyard and beginning the sacred path, were placed two circular stained-glass windows designed by a famous religious Munich painter and author of panoramas Gebhard Fügel (1863–1939) [fig. 1]. These expressive compositions, in bright emerald-sapphire colouring, make reference to quotations from the Gospel of Matthew visible on the rim of the stained-glass. They depict two kneeling angels with the attributes of Our Lord’s Passion, symbolized by the chalice and the cross with the crown of thorns and nails. Although the windows complement iconographically the altar sculpture by Oskar Meyer, these two works of art differ in their artistic expression. The smooth moulding of the sculpture contrasts with the expressive form of the stained-glass windows achieved by a strong contour, patina ground, and the presence of scaled figures. The physiognomic type of the angels seems close to the pre-raphaelite stylistics.

In the next two chapels situated on the shore of the lake were placed stained-glass windows serving a decorative and symbolic function. In the first one, of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, two oval windows are decorated with a stylized motif of the Eye of God inside a grapevine wreath. The author of the designs, Munich fresco painter Theodor Baierl (1881–1932) made use of expressive and synthetic form. The second of the chapels, of Most Sacred Heart of Mary, erected in 1919 to commemorate the end of the war and because of this dubbed the chapel of the Queen of Peace, is fitted with two round stained-glass windows with the monogram of Mary encircled by horns of plenty filled with crops [fig. 2]. The windows make reference to the altar painting depicting Mary and St Isidore the Farmer, patron of farmers. This picturesque octagonal chapel is the celebration site of annual church fairs.

Further, the path leads to the chapel of Cedron erected in 1916 on an arch bridge over a stream connecting Wiele Lake with Ciepłe Lake. Initially the windows were fitted with two stained-glass compositions designed by Gebhard Fügel depicting Fishing on Lake Genesareth and Calming the Storm. Unfortunately in the 50s of the 20th century they fell victim to devastation. Next, past the House of Annas in the form of a pillar chapel, “Scalae Sanctae,” the octagonal House of Caiaphas and a triangular chapel of Flagellation, the path leads to The Palace of Pilate erected in 1922. It constitutes the first station of the cross. The magnificent and symbolic architecture of the residence, with one wing stylized as the arcade courtyard which witnessed the drama of the Prisoner, serves the role of an exhibition hall for the sculpture Ecce Homo, situated in the front terrace. The modest windows of white, milk glass with oval bulls eye panes inside the chapel become light modulators highlighting the expression of the sculptured group of Christ’s Judgment.

A farther section of the forest peregrination, marked with four stations in the form of sculptured compositions, ends at the chapel of St. Veronica from 1916. Located in a commanding position, this octagonal building has a form ornamented with porticos, a balcony, curb roofs, and carefully designed detail of decorative iron work with a reoccurring motif of the silhouette of the veil of Veronica. In the windows we can still see three oval stained-glass compositions signed by Franz Xaver Zettler (1841–1916) from Munich, initially an employee of Hans Meyer’s workshop, later, in 1871, the founder of the Institut für kirchliche Glasmalerei, later transformed into Königliche Hofglasmalerei.Zettler’s workshop produced many elements for prestigious sacred buildings both in Germany and abroad, among others in cathedrals in Bremen, Freiburg, Madgeburg, Constance, Augsburg, Frankfurt, Burgos, Oviedo and churches in Sweden, England, Ireland, Romania, and the United States[10]. From 1891 the firm was managed by the elder son of the owner, Franz Zettler (born in 1865), who opened branches in Rome and New York. The stained-glass windows in the chapel of St Veronica in Wiele depict the attributes of Christ’s passion and Eucharistic motifs. The stained glass above the entrance shows the cross with the crown and the tools of the Lord’s Passion; in side windows on one side we can see the column, the whip, the birch, and on the other a chalice with the host surrounded by ears of corn and grape vine. Zettler’s stained glass windows are more modest and moderate in form than the other ones. They are characterised by mellow colours and delicate contour.

Decorative windows can also be found in the chapel of the Second Fall, called “bruska,” from the name of the town of Brusy, whose inhabitants founded it. They were designed by aforementioned Gebhard Fügel. Geometric glass surfaces are divided analogically to those in the Palace of Pilate. Purely decorative windows are also found in the next two chapels of the house type, picturesquely situated in the valley: of Weeping Women andof the Third Fall.[11]

The most prominent monument in the whole complex is the twelfth station, of Crucifixion, erected in 1916 [fig. 3]. The significance of the monument is highlighted by its position on the highest slope of the forested hill which serves as a symbolic Golgotha and the splendor and magnificence of its architecture. The chapel, dubbed a “little church” of Crucifixion was built on a hoof projection consisting of a circular corpus and two large wings in the shape of elongated semicircular galleries. Streamline gables are closed by a long roof and side galleries, and the corpus of the building is covered by a dome with a lantern whose shape imitates the dome of Salomon’s temple in Jerusalem (based on an engraving from Hermann Schedel’s World Chronicle). The most prominent element decorating the interior of the chapel are three figurative stained-glass windows manufactured in 1916 in the court workshop of Hans Bockhorni (the son) in Munich to a design by Theodor Baierl (1881–1932). This workshop, which was set up in 1864 by Joseph Peter Bockhorni (1832–1905), was, alongside with the workshops of Franz Meyer and Franz Xaver Zettler, one of the most renown companies in Munich. On an Art Nouveau vignette decorating headed paper from 1914 (the company celebrated then the 50th anniversary of its existence) kept in the parish archives, together with a female allegory of stained-glass making one can see the titles conferred upon the company by Bavarian king Maximilian II and Austrian emperor Franz Joseph, to whom it delivered its products.[12] The workshop’s products reached Germany, France, Austria, Romania and Alsace.

In bright sunlight, the stained-glass windows in the chapel of Crucifixion glow with bright orange, sapphire blue, emerald green, burnt sienna with amplified shades of ruby red. This palette is characteristic for Kashubian handicraft. In terms of the message they convey, these stained-glass windows serve as a medium of religious symbolism, but also as a declaration by Kashubians of their Polish patriotic spirit. Furthermore, they reflect contemporary events and preserve the images of local people. The role they were intended to play in the interior was described by Theodor Mayr in the letter to priest Szydzik: “And now about the beautiful windows in the Church of Crucifixion! The keynote in the church is to be the atmospheric space. The cross is to be placed in front of the middle window so that the yellow glow visible in the sketch would become Christ’s halo. The main emphasis lies on the three stained-glass windows. They will become masterpieces, both artistically and spiritually”.[13] The first design – to the architect’s disappointment – had not been approved by the Wiele Calvary building committee. Even the argument that the sketches “had been submitted to Kunstverein in Munich to be exhibited and written about was unconvincing.”[14] At the end of April 1916, Mayr decided to come in person to Wiele with new sketches.[15] When the visit was over, the architect announced that a working design of the middle “angelic” window was being drawn up.[16]

When ready, the stained-glass was placed behind the chapel altar, in the background of a carved group of Crucifixion. It depicts Adoration of the Cross with a Crown of Thorns by six angels holding the attributes of the passion: the rooster, the column, the spear, the hammer, the plate with the inscription “INRI” and the Veil of Veronica [fig. 5]. The lower part is filled with a band with an inscription “Through the cross to heaven” and two cartouches commemorating its founders “The Rożek family from Żabno 1916.” This Art Nouveau stained glass is characterised by decorative composition and the abundance of detail. Particularly striking are the motifs of the Pomeranian griffin and lion on the bottom lace of the angels’ gowns, or, below, an almost abstract belt with angels’ feet in moccasins. The middle altar serves therole of a conceptual axis for the remaining two compositions depicting processions heading for the Cross. The stained-glass to the right depicts members of the local community carrying a feretory with the picture of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, below which one can see the date of the outbreak of the war “1914” [fig. 6]. Members of the procession are wearing traditional festive costumes of Kashubia. The men are dressed in long peasant coats, jackboots called ‘skorzni’; they are wearing tall hats. The women have long skirts, Kashubian folk vests, checked scarves and wooden clogs. From the surviving correspondence follows that priest Szydzik took utmost care to deliver to the designer in Munich iconographic materials such as photographs, coats of arms, contemporary folk costume studies, and even samples of Polish lettering taken from a reading primer.[17] In addition to this, the correctness of the coat of arms representations was checked in the heraldic office in Berlin. These facts confirm the importance for the orderer of highlighting the motif of Kashubian identity. At the architect’s request, he was additionally sent photographs of portrayed people in the actual compositional layout.[18] Among the ten depicted people are Anna and Maria Durajewski (the land donors) and priest Szydzik himself. The remaining people are two unknown farmers called ‘gbury’ in Kashubian, young women carrying a painting and two boys with rose wreaths. In the lower part of the stained glass was placed an inscription with a prayer intention to the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and five coats of arms with the family names of landowners who were friends of priest Szydzik and founders of the Calvary: Bończa-Janta-Połczyński, Junosza-Kliński, Cietrzew-Sikorski, Ostoja-Lniński, Trzy Strzały-Wolszelger.

The stained glass on the opposite wall of the chapel depicts the procession of soldiers from the parish of Wiele in Prussian army uniforms and bereft families [fig. 7]. This equally colourful, aboundant in detail composition is characterised by the realism of the representations in a highly decorative setting. The pictorial effect is strengthened by chiaroscuro modelling and sophisticated colour scheme. The mood here is sombre. The “military” character of the scene is highlighted by the processional banner rising over the group, which depicts Archangel Michael,[19] patron of combat, conquering satan understood as the personification of the atrocities of war. In this petitionary procession of the Kashubian folk pleading for the end of the war and a prompt return of the mobilized men participate three representatives of soldiers: a kneeling hussar, wounded in the head, a young war invalid and an infantryman in battle-gear carrying the above mentioned banner. They are accompanied by silent war victims – abandoned women with children and a nun nurse with the face features of sister Kazimiera Szydzik, Mother Superior of Resurrection Sisters from nearby Brusy (and at the same time the sister of the rector). The painting depicts Marianna and Jan Kowalewski from Górki (founders of the chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on the lake),[20] soldier Kozłowski from Bekasewo, who regularly supported the building of the Calvary with his pay and widow Myszkowa, who supported the construction of the Calvary with the money she had received as a compensation for her husband’s death on the front line.[21] The composition is closed from the top with a silhouette of the towers of the church in Wiele, and the bottom part, as in the other windows, has got an emblematic character. On the lace one can see an invocation to the Cross and the names and coats of arms of five families and priests who supported the initiative of the Calvary building: Bloch, Sarnowski, Łukowicz, Sychowski, Dąmbski.

The three stained-glass windows in the chapel of Crucifixion express the religious and national ethos of the Kashubians. The motif of a procession goes back to the antique Christian tradition, as exemplified by the well-known mosaics in San Vitale church in Ravenna. Processions of saints, clergymen, historical figures, allegorical figures, representatives of different social strata paying tribute to the paramount idea often reappear in the 19th-century sacred and secular decorations. In the times of the revival of the architectonic painting techniques, this theme was taken up on frescoes, mosaics, or stained-glass windows, and in order to highlight it, it was often realised in large format. This gave the orderer the chance to preserve a group portrait of contemporary people in a particular situational context.

The Calvarian pilgrimage path finishes with the chapel of Jesus’ Grave, situated on the shore of the lake. Erected after the war, in 1922, it was decorated by the Polish sculptor Wojciech Durek, then based in Toruń. The three-storey interior reflects the events after Christ’s death – from his removal from the cross through his mourning to placing him in the grave. Inside the chapel reigns the “mystic shadow of death” achieved by the skillful use of light filtered through the colourful glass in the windows. Simple geometrical compositions of yellow and purple glass create a play of light of different intensity and the incidence angle in such a way that the sculpture of dead Christ resting in the deep crypt is illuminated by impastos.

During World War II, on the initiative of occupational authorities, who incorporated the Calvary into the German cultural heritage due to the origin of its creators and the depiction of the Prussian soldiers in the stained-glass windows, the renovation of the chapels was carried out. After the war, the buildings gradually deteriorated, and some of the stained-glass windows were completely destroyed.[22] It was only in 2001 that the three figurative stained-glass windows of the main chapel of the Cross Adoration underwent thorough renovation in the workshop of Władysław and Wojciech Kozioł in Toruń. They reconstructed then the missing fragment of the middle part with the cross, the border and some fragments of the side stained-glass windows.

Although the stained-glass windows of the Calvary in Wiele constitute artistically a diverse complex, they have become one of the most important means of expression of the architecture of the sanctuary. For researchers of Kashubian culture, they constitute a valuable iconographic source. As far as the history of stained-glass production is concerned, they constitute one more interesting example of an extensive area of the operation of German workshops and artists.


Translated by Ewa Kucelman

[1] J. Borzyszkowski, Wielewskie góry, Gdańsk 1986.

[2] G. Klause, Roger Sławski 1871–1963 architekt, Poznań 1999. The author does not make reference to the church in Wiele in the output of the architect. The name of the architect is given by Borzyszkowski 1986 (fn. 1), pp. 129–130.

[3] The Archives of Parish Wiele [henceforth: APW], Kalwaria 1915–1916, pages not numbered: a letter of priest J. Szydzik to priest W. Dąbrowski in Wejherowo of 20 May 1915.

[4] Z. Ossowski, Kalwaria wielewska, “Pomerania” 5, 1983, pp. 26–34.

[5] A. Mitkowska, Polskie kalwarie, Wrocław 2003.

[6] It is not impossible that the architect and the priest collaborated earlier on one of the churches administered by priest Szydzik (Pelplin, Oliwa, Chojnice, Ostróda).

[7] APW, The Calvary complex 1915–1916, the agreement between the Catholic Inspection in Wiele and the architect from16 July 1915.

[8] APW, The Calvary complex1915–1916 contains 83 letters from the architectural office of T. Mayr to priest J. Szydzik.

[9] Borzyszkowski 1986 (fn. 1), p. 193.

[10] U. Thieme, F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, vol. 36, Leipzig 1917, pp. 469–470.

[11] U. Thieme, F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildendenden Künstler des XX. Jahrhunderts, vol. 1, Leipzig 1953, p. 96.

[12] APW, The Calvary complex 1915–1916.

[13] Ibidem, a letter from T. Mayr to priest J. Szydzik from 9 March 1916.

[14] Ibidem, a letter from T. Mayr to priest J. Szydzik from 12 April 1916.

[15] Ibidem, a letter from T. Mayr to priest J. Szydzik from 25 April 1916.

[16] Ibidem, a letter from T. Mayr to priest J. Szydzik from 29 April 1916.

[17] Ibidem, letters from T. Mayer to priest J. Szydzik from 8 April 1916; 22 May 1916; 19 June 1916; 28 June 1916; 30 June 1916; 21 June 1916.

[18] Ibidem, a letter from T. Mayer to priest J. Szydzik from 25 April 1916.

[19] Initially it was supposed to be the image of St Klemens Maria Hofbauer, regarded as the apostle of Vienna and Warsaw, canonized in 1904, ibidem: a letter from T. Mayr to priest J. Szydzik from 9 March 1916.

[20] T. Lipski, O dobrodziejach i dobroczyńcach, “Gazetka Parafialna” (Wiele), 2010, no. 2, p. 4.

[21] T. Lipski,  Duchowość kalwarii (II), “Gazetka Parafialna” (Wiele), 2010, no. 21, p. 4.

[22] Ossowski 1983 (fn. 4), p. 28. The author mentions a considerable defect in the stained glass of The Cross Adoration. 

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