Taken on a bike ride through the countryside and villages of Poland’s Podlasie region I was unsure what exactly I was going to see.
I was being taken to the Holy Water or Swieta Woda as it is known locally. The bike ride was approximately a 25 km round trip between Bialystok and Wasilkow and my companion was sure I was going to enjoy the entire day. I had no idea what to expect from the journey or the destination but with backpacks filled with food, water and cameras, we started pedalling.
Travelling through small villages with roads lined with traditional wooden houses and a unique style or colour of church we also spent time cycling alongside forests and stretches of bright green fields, passing over small rivers or watching farmers work as the sun shone from the clear blue sky.
Stopping along the way to take in the magnificent scenery we finally saw our destination ahead. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of crosses on the hillside. The place where we were going was a Sanctuary and a very popular one.
I could barely believe my eyes when I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of crosses on the hillside.
Attracting many pilgrims of Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Orthodox faith, the Sanctuary of Holy Water dates back to 1719. The miracle of returned sight was performed by the Arch Bishop Leon Kiszke on B. Lenczewski at the sanctuary. It is now home to the chapel, hill of crosses and the Lady of Sorrows painting.
In 1953, the shrine and cave of Our Lady of Sorrows was constructed, offering the holy water. In June 1991, Pope John Paul II visited the nearby city of Bialystok and in 2003, pilgrims left for Rome, cycling to Italy in recognition of the Pope’s 25th anniversary.
The sanctuary holds daily services in the chapel. Other services are held throughout the year and confession can sometimes be taken in the confession boxes that line the gardens.
Crosses are available to everyone in various sizes or people can take their own. These can be added to the hill for visitors and fellow pilgrims to see. Many of the crosses also have messages, stories or photographs on them.
The holy water can be collected from the spring.
The grounds are a peaceful walk and the place to find the spring of cool and refreshing holy water. Bottles can be filled, with souvenir bottles also available to purchase. Visitors are also able to pay their respects by passing through the cave behind the spring on their knees before taking some precious holy water.
With less stop offs on the way back we still found time to see some traditional Polish fire engines before arriving back in Bialystok, tired but content.