Pilgrimage to Poland: Temple of Divine Providence is 227 years in the making
WARSAW — The first stone of the Temple of Divine Providence was placed 227 years ago. Each time there was progress in raising the Catholic church, another geopolitical crisis hit Poland, halting construction and giving way to propose more designs to memorialize new national events.
But in 2016, a modern concrete structure with a copper dome kissing the sky was built and consecrated. The temple now sits in Warsaw as a symbol of God’s protection over the Polish people.
The Temple of Divine Providence, still unfinished, continues to operate normally nonetheless by offering daily masses and other church services.
A Brief History
The first design was created to celebrate the Constitution of May 3, 1791, known as the first document to establish a constitutional monarchy. Architect Jakub Kubicki’s blueprint of the church was in the classicist style, shaped like a Greek cross. The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1792. Then Russia invaded in 1795, causing Poland to be wiped off the map.
In 1921, after World War I and when Poland regained its sovereignty, a new design plan was drafted to celebrate Poland’s independence. Plans were stalled again when the Nazis came. Another plan came up after WWII, but the Communist government prevented it from happening.
The church was designed by father and son duo Wojciech and Lech Szymborski as a modernist version of Kubicki’s original temple, also in a Greek cross plan.
“God’s eye has no roof,” Father Tadeusz Aleksandrowicz, parish priest of the Temple of Divine Providence said.
The temple is divided into the church, a Pantheon of Great Poles, and the museum of Pope John Paul II and Blessed Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, which is set to open May 16 this year.
The dome of the roof leaks in sunlight through a glass circle in the center. There is a roof, but the glass is symbolic. The columns spire out over the altar, with LED lights that shine the color of the liturgical season.
Parallel to the roof, a glass circle in the center of the floor allows light to flood into the underground crypt called the Pantheon of the Great Poles, which currently holds a chapel but will be later converted to only hold tombs of important Polish people.
“It’s a sign of God’s watch,” Aleksandrowicz said, explaining how the architecture reflects God’s dominion over Poland and how he never stops watching over the Polish people, dead or alive.
Poland is the most Catholic country in Europe, according to a Pew Research Center survey in Oct. 2018, with 87 percent of Poles identifying as Catholic.
Adorning the interior walls are reliquaries of Polish saints such as St. Pope John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and more. Each reliquary is designed to match the story of the saint. For example, Kolbe’s reliquary is a hand holding a red and white crown, referencing the story of the Virgin Mary appearing to Kolbe asking him if he wanted to choose to be celibate or a martyr. He chose both.
Some boxes remain empty as the church is still in the process of collecting more relics from the past and leaving room for future Polish saints.
“There will be one for the next one, the next one, the next one, to show God’s plan,” Aleksandrowicz said.
Each relic is meant to show how each person was an instrument used by God in Polish history.
The Other Two Parts: The Pantheon and Altar
The Pantheon will hold some of the most important people from Poland, with room for up to 278 tombs currently. There are sections dedicated for government officials, priests, and members of the Solidarnosc movement that drove the Soviet Union out of Poland.
Some government officials that died in the Smolensk plane crash in April 2010, killing 96 people including the president of Poland at the time, are buried in the Pantheon.
The altar weighs 20 tons, made of one piece of marble, raised up by black granite, symbolic of how Christ’s death and resurrection lifts humanity up.
Behind it is the chair that the only Polish pope sat on when he visited Poland, with a wooden lectern marked by a symbol that looks a lot like the iconic feature on the back of the dollar bill-- the eye of providence.
While the eye of providence is etched into the center lectern, another image related to divine providence is sprinkled around the temple. A hand reaching down toward the earth is known as “Manus Dei,” which translates into “the hand of God.” It represents how God interfered in human affairs by sending his son to offer salvation.
In 2018, Poland’s president Andrzej Duda lit a candle for the 100th year anniversary of Poland’s independence. This candle is on display on the outer corridor of the church, alongside the reliquaries, waiting to be lit for another momentous occasion. It was a gift from Pope Pius IX in 1867. He commanded to light the candle when Poland became a sovereign nation again.