The Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow was designed to resemble a boat–it has a 77-metre-high observation tower that resembles a mast. The altar in the main sanctuary houses the Divine Mercy painting and relics of Saint Faustina. The basilica is a major pilgrimage site–two Popes have visited the shrine and millions of pilgrims from around the world continue to visit it every year.
The site of the building originally housed the neo-Gothic monastery complex of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (founded in 1862), which was designed by Charles Zaremba and built between 1889 and 1891. In 1966, the remains of Sister Faustina were moved to the church. In 1968 Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) designated the church as a shrine.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II called Łagiewniki the “capital of the Divine Mercy devotion”. Since the beatification of Saint Faustina in 1993, her remains rest on the altar, below the image of Divine Mercy. The new basilica was built between 1999 and 2002. On June 17, 1997 Pope John Paul II visited the church to pray at the tomb of Saint Faustina–an event commemorated by a relief at the entrance to the chapel. In May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI visited the chapel, and a second relief commemorates that event. During the 2006 pilgrimage by Pope Benedict XVI, he unveiled a statue of Pope John Paul II at the observation tower at the basilica, as the seventh statue of John Paul II in Krakow.
A modern two-storey, ellipsoidal basilica, specifically devoted to the Divine Mercy was built between 1999 and 2002. It can accommodate about 5,000 people and the main chapel has about 1,800 seats. The lower level of the church has a central chapel dedicated to Saint Faustina, with four side chapels.
Maria Faustyna Kowalska, commonly known as Saint Faustina, was a Polish nun, mystic and visionary. She is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as a saint, and is known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy. Throughout her life, she reported a number of visions of Jesus and conversations with him, which she wrote about in her diary.
At age 20 Faustyna joined a convent in Warsaw and was later transferred to Plock, and then to Vilnius, where she met her confessor Michael Sopocko, who supported her devotion to Divine Mercy. Faustina and Sopocko requested an artist to paint the first Divine Mercy image, based on Faustina’s reported vision of Jesus. Sopocko used the image to celebrate the first mass on the first Sunday after Easter – which later became known as Divine Mercy Sunday. In her diary Faustina predicted that her work would be suppressed for some time, then accepted again. Two decades after her death the Divine Mercy devotion was banned by the Vatican, but was approved again in 1978 and she was declared the first saint of the 21st century in April 2000. The Divine Mercy devotion is now followed by over 100 million Catholics.
In March 1981, while praying to Faustina at the church, Maureen Digan of Massachusetts reported a healing. Digan had suffered from Lymphedema for decades, and had undergone 10 operations, including a leg amputation. She reported that while praying to Faustina, she heard a voice saying “ask for my help and I will help you” and her constant pain stopped.
Upon Digan’s return to the US, five Boston area physicians stated that she was healed (with no explanation). Digan's healing was declared miraculous by the Vatican in 1992, and paved the way for the beatification of Faustina Kowalska.