How a dream became tribute
Creating a collection of over 5,500 exhibits, some of them worth a fortune, is a great thing. Involving one's own funds - quite big - to build a museum that will hold this huge collection is the kind of imaginativeness that evokes respect and admiration. Creating a place that many metropolises can envy is a cause for pride. But perhaps the best fact that speaks to our imagination is that the work is the fulfilment of one man's dreams - Krzysztof Witkowski from Czestochowa, who has been fascinated by the figure of John Paul II.
The only place in the world
A unique museum - repeat the creators and first visitors. Since the only hero is John Paul II. Unique since nobody in the world has a bigger collection of coins and medals with the image of John Paul II. It is unique since it is the effect of passion, talents and determination of one man. The Museum of Coins and Medals Commemorating John Paul II, which was opened solemnly on 11 August 2011, is Czestochowa's pride and, we hope, a place that pilgrims coming from Jasna Gora will eagerly visit. The Museum is located in the modern building of the company President Electronics Poland, arranged according to the highest standards, in Jagiellonska Street, in the vicinity of the KD1 road, only five kilometres from Jasna Gora. The fairly big parking can hold dozens of coaches and hundreds of cars. Soon a café and a shop with souvenirs and numismatic objects as well as a professional music stage will be opened in the building.
We are sitting with the owner of this place, and actually with its creator and designer Krzysztof Witkowski, the President of the company President Electronics Poland, in a modern and spacious room. Although it is Saturday there are people around us. The president himself supervises the details, reservations. He came to guide a group that had not made a reservation. One can see that the emotions connected with the opening have not left him.
'I wanted very much the opening and dedication of the museum be done by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz,' he says. 'I wanted it to be done on the 20th anniversary of the VI World Youth Day, which was an extremely important event for the city. We sacrificed a lot to succeed, and thank God, we made it…'
Collection worth envying
There are over 5,500 medals. Some are worth a fortune and these are exhibited behind the armoured glass. Some medals minted only in six specimens are priceless for collectors. Some are unique and do not resemble medals or coins at all. Some are very tiny and some are quite big. Some weigh almost nothing and some can weigh even one kilo. A different story is behind each exhibit. Usually a unique story. The latest coin comes from the second half of 2011 and the oldest ones from 1932 - the so-called duplicates. The rarities include a gold coin minted in 1987, with the nominal value of 200,000 zloty, of which only five specimens were made, and a coin from Haiti minted in 1983.
In the museum one can see coins made by all possible numismatic techniques: proof finish, standard finish, pad printing or enamelled coins. All metals have been used: from gold and silver to acrylic… Those decorated with Swarovski crystals shine extraordinarily.
It is not easy to exhibit coins and medals. They are small and made of precious metals that reflect light. If a coin or a medal is wrongly lit we cannot see anything.
For many days several people looked for ways to expose the beauty of the exhibits, to show the best of their beauty to the world. Before the opening they slept only two hours a night.
'I have already set the sound and house lights of over 200 church events. I have enormous experiences…' the President recollects.
Finally, they mounted small lamps directly over the coins. The effects are amazing. They used 32,000 lamps. 'The power plant is glad when we turn off the light,' Witkowski says jokingly.
Krzysztof inherited the hobby of collecting from his father, a zealous collector. 'Long ago, when my dad got seriously ill we had to sell his collection to buy medicaments. We did not sell the most precious coins with the image of John Paul II. After years I managed to collect exactly 365 coins. There was a joke that I was the only president of a serious firm that has a collection of coins commemorating John Paul II in his office. And thanks to this small exhibition I met Wojciech Grabowski from London, who owns the biggest collection of medals and coins with John Paul II.'
Wojciech Grabowski came to Poland for the opening of the museum. 'I have lived abroad almost all my life. And I come from an old Polish family and I have longed for Poland all the time and I have always collected various polonica. When a Pole became the Pope I learnt that the Vatican minted special coins with the image of John Paul II. One medal for a year. I never supposed that our Holy Father would travel all over the world and there would be a big collection of medals - it weighs 1.5 ton. Many people wanted to buy these coins but I discerned that Krzysztof would use them best. Now I have peace in my heart since I know that my collection is in good hands. Mr Witkowski bought 1,500 exhibits and now his collection is the biggest one in the world. Even the Vatican has a smaller collection than his - only ca. 2,500 coins and medals with John Paul II. The Museum of Coins and Medals Commemorating John Paul II in Czestochowa is really unique. It is phenomenal, especially its illumination. I have had exhibitions of my collections in the world, including the biggest exhibition at the Royal Castle in Warsaw on the first anniversary of the Pope's death but the coins were not so wonderfully exposed there.
The famous papal photographer contributed to the creation of the museum. He came to Poland despite his health problems. He was very curious to see the exhibition. A tiny, slim man wearing a dark suit looked at the exhibition very carefully.
'On various occasions the Holy Father used to say, 'I have not deserved this'…. I think that if he looks at the museum from somewhere above he says 'I have not deserved this…' I am looking at these coins and my memories are coming back. Some come back many times… I was with the Pope on almost every occasion shown here.'
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz did not hide his admiration, too. 'This collection, its size, testifies about the extraordinary radiation of the personality of John Paul II. The meaningful thing is that the museum was created in Czestochowa, the spiritual capital of Poland. This city with Jasna Gora was always on the route of the Pope's pilgrimages to his Homeland. We should courageously continue his work. Do it day after day. Especially in our times. To continue means to fulfil his legacy in a creative way. I am grateful for this gift of the Museum of Coins and Medals Commemorating John Paul II. I think that the Holy Father would have been happy about it.'
Mr Witkowski knows that he would not have managed to do it himself. He succeeded to involve many people. For five months when the building of the museum was constructed in a rapid tempo some 160 people worked here. While the building was constructed passers-by and customers of the company asked whether they were building a petrol station or another fast food since only such buildings are built so quickly.
The architects Tomasz Peczek and Jarek Kolodziejczyk translated Witkowski's idea into the shape of the block and designed the interior. The rest, i.e., the style of the exposition, was designed by Krzysztof himself.
It is not a secret that the museum is a votive offering for the Queen of Poland, in gratitude for Witkowski's recovery from a stroke.
Generals were the first
The visit of the NATO commanders to the museum, which will be open for all on 6 September 2011, was a nice epilogue. They came to Czestochowa as pilgrims in the 300th Warsaw Walking Pilgrimage. The accompanying people included Mrs Karolina Kaczorowska, the wife of Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last Polish President-in-Exile, who lost his life in the Smolensk plane crash.
'I was asked why I had not located this museum at Jasna Gora or nearby. I answered that Jasna Gora was a place of great prayer and the museum of coins and medals was a place of reflection on the greatness of our John Paul II. That's why I would like pilgrims to visit this museum after visiting the monastery…
In our opinion it would be an excellent element to finish a pilgrimage to the spiritual capital of Poland - it would be a good culmination of a pilgrimage. In the future the museum is to be a venue for conferences and symposia dedicated to John Paul II.