26 July 2008

Gnomes Rock! (No pun intended...)


Yesterday we went to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and I think it's most definitely one of the highlights of the trip! I have uploaded new pictures from there, but I'm not sure I liked how some of them turned out. Flash made the pictures too yellowish, so I had to hold the camera super-still since I decided not to use it. Anways, I think they're good enough for everyone to kind of get the point...

The mine is the second oldest in the world, and it still produces some salt, but only enough so that the mine can stay clear to be used as a tourist attraction. Legend has it that a beautiful Hungarian Princess, named Klinga, was to be married to the Polish Duke Boleslaw who ruled Poland from the royal Wawel Castle. Klinga wanted to help her new peoples to be a prosperous one, so she asked her father to give her a salt mine instead of the usual gold and jewelry. The King conceded and gave his daughter one of Hungary's richest salt mines, but since it was so far away from her new Polish home it would not be of much use to her. The Princess went to the mine before she left for Krakow and threw a valuable ring into the deepest shaft, and she prayed to St. Francis and St. Clare for their help.

In 1239 Klinga arrived in Krakow. She got to know her subjects very well, and her dreams of helping them prosper grew. So, one day, she and her new husband set off in search of a mine, and they discovered Wieliczka. Klinga's intuition told her that this was the perfect place to build the mine, and the next day the labor was started. She was so excited at their discovery that she went down into one of the mine shafts herself and brought some blocks of salt back to the surface. Inside one of those blocks was a glittering object-- it was none other than the ring that she had thrown into her salt mine in Bulgaria. From that moment on, Klinga knew that this place was indeed the perfect place to build her mine.

Of course, the above story is just legend, but the Princess Klinga did exist, and she did wish to help her people to be prosperous. She was canonized a few months before Pope John Paul II's death, and St. Klinga is now the patron St. of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Her chapel is the largest and most exquisite in the mine. I took quite a few pictures there, so y'all can see what I'm talking about. Everything in the chapel: the floors, the statues, the chandeliers, the steps and banisters, is made of rock salt. It took 4 different miners over 70 years to complete the carvings in the chapel, and services are still held there every Sunday. The only thing in the chapel that isn't made of salt are the chandelier's bulbs.

The salt mine has many chapels and statues, all of which have been carved by the miners which have worked in the mine over the decades. I think it is also interesting to note that there has never been any slave labor in the mines; they are always volunteers. It was actually considered on honor to work in the mine. Each work of art has been made out of rock salt, all of which was found within the mine, and none of the work was done by professional artists.

Wieliczka is said to be watched over by someone know as the Treasurer and his daughter, the white Lady. The are said to help the miners should they get lost and bring good fortune to the mine. It is also believed that they sent gnomes to help the miners with their work. Just thought I would add that little fact.

The mine became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and I think it's a place that everyone should visit! It's quite amazing to see the time and effort that miners have put into making a salt mine one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world. I think this just proves that beauty can be found in all of God's creations-- even a salt mine!

Much love to you all. I have a paper to write for my Jews in Poland class, so I can't promise that I'll send another email today, but I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend! And I'll try to write if I get a chance.


P.S.- Only 10 days and counting left in Europe, so I hope when I get back we can all get together so I can share some of my more interesting experiences in person!

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