Church of the Holy Saviour is an ancient temple located in Zwierzyniec, on the eastern slope of the St Bronisława Hill. The name of the nearby Salwator district derives from the church’s name: “Salvator” is Latin for “Saviour”. This may be one of the oldest Catholic locations in Poland as the first church on the site dates back to the 12th century.
The question of the origins of the church has not been definitively resolved. Tradition has it that the church was built on the site of a pagan temple, and that St Adalbert used to preach sermons here. The first written mention of a church on the site comes from 1148; however, the temple has been damaged and rebuilt several times since then. The adjacent cemetery was used until the 19th century.
In written sources the first mention of the church comes from 1148. The 1256 charter of Duke Boleslaw the Chaste attributes its foundation in is attributed to Duke’s predecessors, the princes of Krakow. The first researchers argued that the creation of the temple took place essentially in the 12th century.
The creation of the first church therefore took place in the first half of the 12th century, which may be linked to the date of 1148, mentioned earlier, and the reconstruction can be attributed to giving the church to the Norbertine nuns. According to the chronicler Jan Długosz, it was done in 1183, by the Bishop of Krakow, Gedko. This is also confirmed by studies using radiocarbon dating conducted at the beginning of the 21st century. Norbertine order moved here for several years after the destruction of their convent during the Mongol invasion in 1241.
Most likely, the church was partially destroyed during the struggle for Krakow in 1587. The reconstruction, associated with significant changes, is credited to abbess Dorota Kącka in 1622. Burnt by the Swedes during the “Deluge” in 1656, until 1680 the church has been rebuilt thanks to the efforts of abbess Anna Zapolska. As a result of changes made in the 17th century, the church was shortened, vaulted, a tower was added to the west side, along with the crypt and baroque furnishings, mostly removed in the 20th century.
In 1747, side entrance was bricked up, and in the place of morgue sacristy was added. Other church restorations were done in 1788, 1930s and around 1961. In 1913, on the walls of the church a plaque commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the January Uprising was placed.
The church is oriented, built of stone and brick, plastered (without the chancel). It has one nave, double-spanned, on a square plan, barrel-vaulted. The chancel is narrower, double-spanned, on a square-similar plan, with a cross vault. Under the chancel there is a crypt. To the west there is a tower, whose ground floor serves as a porch of the church.
The ancient church appears rather severe, but has some very interesting furnishings, documenting its long history. Those include several paintings and Baroque statues of saints.
The side altar includes a painting of the crucifixion of Christ from 1605. This picture replaced the old Romanesque crucifix, which was reportedly a gift from Moravia sent to the first Christian Polish Duke. There is a beautiful legend about the Divine Mercy linking the old crucifix and the painting.
The old crucifix, depicting a naked Christ, was dressed in a royal robe, crown, diamond and gold shoes. It was often visited by a poor fiddler who wanted to praise the Lord with his music. Seeing the poverty of the pious musician, God decided to help him. He slid off one of the precious shoes from the figure of Christ and threw it at the feet of the fiddler. However, the fiddler feared that someone would accuse him of stealing it. So God put the shoe back on the figure, and the next time that the fiddler visited the church, he saw a crowd of people. When he started playing, the golden shoe slipped back to his feet and no one could doubt the honesty of the young musician.
In the 17th century, the crucifix was moved to Italy. The painting of Christ and the fiddler that replaced it still recalls the generosity and mercy of God.
A reconstructed tomb of Norbertine nuns forms a part of the wall of the cemetery. There is also a wooden cottage, in which the church’s gravediggers used to live.
The question of the origins of the church has not been definitively resolved. The tradition states that the first church was erected on this spot no later than in the 10th century. However, the first researchers argued that the creation of the temple took place two centuries later. In written sources the first mention of the church comes from 1148. This is also confirmed by studies using radiocarbon dating conducted at the beginning of the 21st century. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that other buildings cannot stood there before.
Inside on the east wall of the chancel valuable wall paintings from the early 16th century remain. They depict the scene of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and the crucifixion of Christ. The organ gallery hosts a 4-voice positive organ from 1859. The main altar is from the 20th century; however, a Roman altar stone forms a part of it. Statues of saints, located in niches next to the altar, come from the earlier, Baroque altar. They portray St Norbert, St Augustine, St John the Baptist and St Josef Herman.