In accordance with royal regulations, the miners were to attend mass in a chapel before starting work. As God-fearing members of a mining community they needed no second bidding. Prayer was an important way of preparing oneself for the perils of the day ahead. In time, the miners erected new chapels which were often elaborately equipped with all the trappings of a shrine "up in the world".
(St Johannes kapell) After the 1696 fire, which started in one such chapel, combustible materials were forbidden.
The miners' response was swift. Just two years later mass was first said in St Anthony's Chapel, a shrine completely hewn from salt. Owing to the action of moist air from the nearby shaft, the three-hundred yearold statues are now partially dissolved. Their poignant beauty reminds us yet again of the treasure and trauma of Wieliczka..
This saline sanctuary marks the beginning of a unique, artistic tradition here at Wieliczka, a tradition whereby the miners themselves carve and embellish the rock in which they work. Chapels, monuments to fallen comrades and other objects were carved from the salty rock.
At the end of the nineteeth century it was decided to create a chapel in a large disused chamber 100 metres below the surface. The work was planned and led by the miner Jozef Markowski and continued for almost seventy years. After completing the main altar and the pulpit, which stands firmly protected by the walls of the Royal Wavel Castle in Cracow, Josef was joined by his younger brother Tomasz. Together they carved the two side altars and the figures in the chapels. Old eroded sculptures were given new life from fresh blocks of salt.
After Jozef's death, Tomasz continued to decorate the walls of the main chapel with stories from the New Testament, notably the massacre of the firstborn at Bethlehem. When Tomasz died in 1927, a young miner called Antoni Wyrodek took over. Over a period of thirty-six years he created not only the altar rail and the striking floor of the chapel, but also a series of five exquisite mural reliefs, which display an increasing mastery of carving technique and perspective.
The chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Kinga, legendary founder and patron saint of the mine. High Mass is celebrated here three times a year. In between, this magnificent temple constitutes the centrepiece of the historical route through the mine taken by More Than A Million of visitors each year.