The National Shrine of God’s Providence
200 years of waiting
The story of the construction of the Shrine of God’s providence began over 200 years ago. Poles have not managed to build a monument- votive church of God’s Providence for two centuries.
The idea of constructing the National shrine of God’s Providence goes back to the times of Stanislaw August Poniatowski’s reign. Two days after the Four- Year Sejm had passed the Constitution, on 5 May 1791, the MPs and the king made a commitment of thanksgiving to erect a church ‘ex voto of all states ... dedicated to the highest Providence.’ It was to be an expression of thanksgiving to ‘the Highest Ruler of the fate of nations’ for the adoption of the Constitution.
The celebration of laying the cornerstone of the planned shrine in Ujazdow was held exactly on the first anniversary of the Constitution. It was King Stanislaw August and the last Primate of the First Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Archbishop Michal Poniatowski that began the construction of the shrine. The monarch also accepted the project of his royal architect Jakub Kubicki. The shrine was to be built in the classicist style on the plan of a Greek cross. Unfortunately, the Russian army attacked Poland, which made the construction impossible. And three years later our country disappeared from the maps of Europe. Only a small ruined chapel has survived and it can be seen in the Botanical Garden in Agrykola.
The second attempt
After Poland had regained independence the Sejm of the restored Second Polish Republic passed a resolution to build the shrine on 17 March 1921. The Parliament decided that the state would cover the cost of the construction, which was to be 15 million old zlotys. The budget was also to finance a perpetual scholarship to order Masses celebrated in the intention of the Homeland and for the souls of all Poles who died for the country. However, the financial difficulties and first of all the inflation did not allow the young state to bear such costs. It was the Committee on Commemorating Marshal Pilsudski, created after his death, chaired by President Ignacy Moscicki, that decided to realize that work. The Shrine of God’s Providence was to be built in the fields of Mokotow. The Committee announced a tender and chose a project: a building of the constructivistic style with a tower that would resemble the skyscrapers in New York. Unfortunately, the date to begin the construction was constantly postponed. Finally, it was settled in 1939, Poland’s very tragic year.
The initiative of the Primate
The war and the communist regime, which was imposed in Poland, did not allow the plans of the construction to be realised within the next 60 years. However, during the times of the Polish People’s Republic people remembered the commitment. The faithful reminded Primate August Hlond and then Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of the idea. But the favourable conditions occurred at the turning point, i.e. in 1989 when Poland regained independence. And it seemed that it was the right time to thank God’s Providence and the nation was going to construct the shrine that had been promised by the ancestors. The Primate of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp revived the idea of the shrine towards the late 1990s. Furthermore, the Sejm adopted, by a decisive majority, a resolution to construct the National Shrine of God’s Providence. The resolution said that ‘the Sejm of the Third Republic of Poland thinks that the vows the Polish nation made 200 years ago should be fulfilled’ and the shrine would be ‘a votive church of the nation for the Constitution of 3rd May, the regained independence in 1989, for twenty years of John Paul II’s pontificate and two thousand years of Christianity.’
The support of John Paul II
John Paul II also supported the construction of the shrine wholeheartedly. In his pilgrimage to Poland in 1999, during the celebration in Pilsudski Square, he blessed the cornerstone, which was embedded exactly at the place of the future altar. ‘May this shrine become a place of special thanksgiving for freedom of the Homeland. I pray that no painful experience would disturb this thanksgiving for which we have waited 200 years’, the Holy Father said. The Pope supported the construction by his prayers and financial help. The Servant of God John Paul II is one of its most generous sponsors. The shrine, which is being constructed in Wilanow, will also be a national thanksgiving for the pontificate of the Holy Father. ‘We have the right to call the Polish Pope, elected in 1978, a gift of God’s Providence’, said Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw. ‘It seems that building the Shrine of God’s Providence we are committed in a special way to make efforts that aim at reflecting on the teaching of John Paul II and commemorating this gift that God’s Providence has given us’, writes Archbishop Nycz in his book ‘Pod skrzydlami Bozej Opatrznosci’ [Under the Wings of God’s Providence].
The stagnation in the construction of the shrine
In January 2002, the Primate chose the final project of the shrine by the architects’ team directed by Wojciech and Lech Szymborski. The building was designed on a Greek cross, with four gates, with a dome and a cross. In November 2002, Cardinal Glemp began the construction by making a symbolic gesture; he dug with a spade next to the cornerstone. Although the construction of the floor of the lower, underground, part of the shrine was completed in September 2003, for the next years the construction was limited to preserving what had been built rather than continuing the next phases. In spite of the Pope’s support, of the Polish Church and the government the construction of the shrine faced many obstacles. And the bank account of the Foundation that raised the funds was empty many times. It occurred that although the entire country wanted to thank God the financial burden was placed mainly on the Archdiocese of Warsaw. The present Metropolitan of Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz regards the construction of the votive shrine as his very important task. He thinks that the construction of such an important religious-national symbol cannot be a work of one diocese but the whole Poland should join the project.
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Primate of Poland
The Shrine of God’s Providence has been often criticised but great works are usually criticised. The Shrine has never been a realisation of my personal ambition and I have no interests in building it. After all, I think that I will not live long enough to see it completed and dedicated. I have even ordered in my last to be buried in the Archcathedral of Saint John. If I had neglected anything I hope that God’s Providence will forgive my sins and bring the enemies of the presence of watching God to conversion.
Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz, Metropolitan of Warsaw
The Centre of God’s Providence will be a modern cultural institution, i.e. not only a place of prayerful thanksgiving to God for all these events that have happened in Poland’s history for over 200 years but also a place of commemorating other ways to freedom. Today we do not remember what gift of independence we have received. We lack an attitude of gratitude. The Shrine of God’ s Providence has not been built so far because Poles lack a natural attitude of gratitude.