Axis mundi: roadside shrines and crosses

Muzeum Karwacjanów i Gładyszów, Gorlice, Poland.


Opening: 11th January (Friday) at 6PM.

Exhibition open:

Monday-Friday: 8.00 – 17.00.
: 11.00 – 17.00.

I cordially invite you at my individual exhibition, on which I will show my series Axis mundi: roadside shrines & crosses that I worked on between 2012-2018.

During my photographic activities I focused on recording the activity of local communities in the Małopolska (Lesser Poland) region in the context of the disappearing custom of prayers at roadside chapel-shrines and crosses, which are one of the most typical elements of the Polish cultural landscape. The project is multimedia. I will show photographs (14 works 100x70cm, 31 works 40x55cm and 4 x 30x40cm), 3D panoramas and sound recordings. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with my short introduction, selected images and an essay by a renowned art historian and critic, dr Krzysztof Jurecki. You can buy it at the Museum or following instructions at my website (“publications” tab).

Books Krzysztof Ligeza Ligęza
Exhibition catalogue frontcover

The essence of the series is reflection on the relation: man-nature-sacrum. The space (landscape) plays here an important role as a factor shaping spiritual experiences and community bonds.

The tradition of prayers at the small religious architecture has its source both in the Christianity and pre-Christian beliefs (e.g. sacred groves, poles, stones, monuments, ancient household shrines). The custom, in the form we know currently, was widespread during the Counter-Reformation period. In the nineteenth century it became popular across the whole Europe. The small sacral architecture is still present in most European countries. In many of them, however, these do not serve as objects for religious purposes anymore. In Southern Poland the prayer at roadside shrines & crosses is still quite widely cultivated by local communities and it has remained unchanged for generations. The objects survived the turbulent times of partitions of Poland (eighteen century), both world wars, as well as communism – so hostile to manifestations of religiosity. Often their owners were persecuted.

Due to the custom’s provenance, the space plays an important role. I search common places. I focus on topography, environment, nature of the premises, the appearance and behaviour of the faithful, as well as aspects related to perception of time in its anthropological dimension: cyclicity and linearity. The varied topography and the surrounding of chapels and crosses bring to mind the idea of the centre – axis mundi. The idea comes from the famous religious scholar Mircea Eliade. In his reflection on the essence of religion, he drew attention to the manifold forms of the manifestation of sacred, analysing it in a broad anthropological context (archetypes, myths and symbols).

What the “centre of the world” is? This is the sphere where the chaos transforms into cosmos – ordered reality. The sphere of extraordinary communication, where the heavens connects with the earth, the material dimension permeates itself with the spiritual, the local with the universal and the temporal with eternity. Symbolic “centres of the world” reveal its sanctity and at the same time serve to restore eternal values.

Eliade has repeatedly emphasized that the human longing for the “fullness of being” is related to the space of a sacred dimension. This longing has been evident in many cultures and religions always. The most complete expression of this is found in the archetype of paradise: the mythical centre, the place of the unity of all creatures, primal in its harmony, the holy and marked by God’s presence. Traces of the “longing for paradise” topos can be found already in the beliefs of people from the Mesolithic age (8,000 years BC). Also, Christianity is filled with nostalgia for the lost paradise. Its’ gates are reopened again by Christ himself through death on the cross, which became the tree of life.

For me, an inhabitant of Małopolska (Lesser Poland), the May devotions are something ordinary and obvious. I participated in these as a child and a young man. A chapel or a cross specifies the landmark on the axis of the small towns “microcosm”. I admit, however, that my “photographic eye” opened up on the topic many years later. My experience of emigration was also a reason for this. Sometimes seemingly obvious things are seen only from a far distance or through the perspective of absence. What was so intriguing? It was, above all, an extraordinary space-time of places, objects and people associated with this tradition. Small imago mundi filled with audible and inaudible music of the spheres. Also, my longing for the lost paradise.

The exhibition and the catalogue were made as a part of scholarship programme of Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.

The project was made with the support of:

  • Powiat Nowosądecki (County of Nowy Sącz), 
  • Vidok Company, 
  • Liszka Company – the official partner of Vidok, 
  • APA Polska Company.

Project partners:

Muzeum Dwory Karwacjanów I Gładyszów w Gorlicach (Karwacjans and Gładysz Museum, Gorlice)

Muzeum Narodowe Ziemi Przemyskiej w Przemyślu (National Museum in Przemyśl)

Instytut Polski w Bratysławie (Polish Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia)

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