Sitting in the foothills of the rugged Carpathian Mountains southwest of Krakow, the town of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska grew up to accommodate pilgrims who flocked to the red-roofed and copper-domed complex of religious buildings that still dominates life there to this day. Built in the 17th century, the ornate Baroque Sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska provided Catholics with a substitute Chapel of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, which at that time was under Turkish rule and firmly off limits to Christians; it incorporates the Franciscan Bernardini Monastery alongside 42 chapels and churches all beautifully sited on pathways among woodland and symbolizing the Stations of the Cross at Calvary.
In Polish religious life, only the Shrine to the Black Madonna at Częstochowa is more important than Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, which is UNESCO World Heritage listed for its sheer, breathtaking Baroque beauty, all created by Italian architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni and his Flemish counterpart Paolo Baudarth. The fanciful, twin-spired main basilica is dedicated to Our Lady and its Chapel of Holy Mary of Calvary holds a highly revered icon of Mary and Jesus; the faithful gather there in thousands to see passion plays on Good Friday and celebrate on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. Pope John-Paul II was born 15 km (9.25 miles) away in Wadowice and made several visits to the shrine when he returned to his homeland; his statue stands near the entrance to the basilica.
The town around the sanctuary has been known for the skill of its woodworkers since the mid 18th century; today more than 1,500 artisan cabinetmakers work among a population of 4,500 in total.
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