OUR LADY OF THE NATIONAL ARMY
Recently a lot has been said about the Katyń Monument in Jersey City at the Hudson river. For the mayor of this city decided to remove the monument from this place and change its location which caused protests among the Polish diaspora. The creator of the Katyń monument, Andrzej Pityński is also the author of a shocking bass-relief with the image of Our Lady of the National Army which was unveiled and sanctified in the cathedral of St. Mary’s Cape Town in the Republic of the Southern Africa on 9 November 2013. The organizer of this moving ceremony, preceded by the Holy Mass, which was presided over by a retired archbishop of Cape Town – Lawrence Patrick Henry (he died in 2014), was the Polish Association functioning in Cape Town from the year 1949. During the Holy Mass, a homily was given by dr. Adam Wierzycki, the chairperson of the Polish Association in Cape Town and who was the main initiator of the whole venture and the creator of the idea so that the symbol of Poles’ presence in this town was just the image of Our Lady of the National Army.
Andrzej Pityński, a Polish artist, who lives and works in the United States, making this brass-relief to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, attributable to the year 1984, did not think that his work would become so important for Poles loving Poland deeply, and especially that compatriots would like to have it in such a distanced part of the world like Cape Town. The original of the brass-relief is in the sanctuary of Our Lady in Doylestown in the United States, popularly called American Częstochowa. The brass-relief by Pityński is also called the Pieta of the Warsaw Uprising, presents a dying boy who is hardly holding his head up from which a helmet had already fallen off, and holding a rifle tightly, when cuddling his mother, by whom he finds peace and consolation. Our Lady by Pityński is not a crying but compassionate Mother, taking care of everybody, taking the sacrifice into her arms, which the Polish nation laid in the national uprising. Being left behind by his allies, without any support or help, he was dying in suffering and pain, when, on the other side of the Vistula there was the Soviet Army which did not allow for bringing help to dying Poles. The Soviets were liquidating and disarming partisan divisions of the National Army, National Organization for Women, National Military Forces bringing help to the capital city. On the one side of the river Poles were dying from German missiles, and on the other side Poles’ hearts were bursting in the pain of powerlessness, when politicians had sentenced hundred thousand insurgents and civic people of Warsaw, a city nearly razed to the ground. Those who were killed from missiles, died and those who survived, had to bear suffering in their hearts. The Polish nation was humiliated again, being destroyed by missiles and pain in the hearts of those who survived those tragic days.
The exceptionality of the work by Pityński is proven by both an unusual way of presenting the issue and the shape of the brass-relief, resembling blood drops or a heart. The whole composition is complemented by the inscription: ‘Before you died, you made a sign of the cross with your hand above the ground. Was it a missile, my son, or did your heart burst?’ – a fragment of an elegy by Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, a young Polish poet who was killed in the Warsaw Uprising.
The brass-relief has got a Polish form and is full of elements of Polishness. Our Lady with two cut wounds on her cheek resembles Our Lady of Częstochowa. Traditionally, in the Christian iconography lilies ornamenting Her coat in the composition by Pityński were replaced by the signs of Fighting Poland. Christ is presented by a little insurgent with a canvass band on his arm and fleur-de-lis in scouting. Christ has no crown of thorns any more, as it was taken off him, like the helmet with the white-red band and symbols of the National Army were taken of the insurgents. On the breast of Our Lady there is a mediallion with the Polish eagle and the inscription “The Polish Republic of Poland’. The rifle which the boy is trying to hold in his hand, is like the cross from which Christ was taken down. For a young insurgent his sufferings already finished – now it is in the arms of Homeland the Mother who will put him into a sepulcher like many others.
In the Insurgents’ Pieta is so much Polishness, patriotism, love to Homeland that it became something more than a brass-relief from the monastery in Doylestown. At the moment of unveiling the image grabbed hearts of not only the Polish Diaspora, but mainly compatriots in Poland, being in shackles of the communist regime. In Poland it was widespread on colourful postcards and black-white amateur photographs which were sold by scouts in order to give financial help to still living insurgents.
In 1990 the replica of the work by Pityński appeared in the church under vocation of the Holy Spirit in Warsaw, and in 1998 – on the monument of the Insurgent’s Redoubt in Warsaw. Its presence in Cape Town only confirms exceptionality of this brass-relief. The image of Our Lady of the National Army, beside Our Lady of Częstochowa, Ostra Brama, Kozielsko or Katyń, has got inscribed permanently in the awareness of Poles. In Cape Town it became the symbol of Poles’ presence in this city, but also the symbol uniting them at the moments important for our nation. People visiting the cathedral in Cape Town cannot pass by it indifferently. Its presence allows everybody to realize how important this work is, which has an essential emotional value for Poles and is also going to be a prominent piece of art for others.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 34/2018 (26 VIII 2018)