Binarowa – Church of St. Michael the Archangel.

Murals in the Binarowa church.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was when the Catholic Church decided to implement a whole series of changes to help in the fight against the Reformation; such changes were intended to create a new image of the Church: one that would attract the faithful and allow at least some of those who had converted to Protestantism to be regained. In a somehow “competitive” manner, the Roman Catholic Church decided to focus on the promotion of disputable matters (the Cult of the Eucharist, the cult of saints and especially the veneration of Mary; the importance of the sacraments with emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist) and to attract the faithful with delightful, theatrical ornaments that they might have been missing in the typically modest Protestant temples. A decision was taken to create the image of the Church Triumphant, with more and more themes of vanitas present in sacred art, which would remind the faithful of the inevitable death and the approaching Judgement. The mural decorations of the church in Binarowa contain a lot of particularly rare scenes depicting complex theological content, which is proof that the manifesto of those murals was carefully thought out and planned in terms of the Counter-Reformation message. This could have been connected with the fact that nearby Biecz was dominated by radical followers of Calvinism, called the Polish Brethren (or Arians). Particular depictions were patterned on drawings that were a popular source of inspiration for modern-time artists across Europe.

The chancel of the church in Binarowa houses the Lord’s Passion cycle and, interestingly, Christ’s perpetrators are representatives of Polish society at the time (judging by their costumes, hairstyles or facial hair).

The upper part of the eastern wall of the nave holds a depiction of Christ in the Mystical Winepress. On the southern wall, there is an allegorical scene of the crossroads of human life. At the crossroads, people can choose a steep path leading to Heaven (in the company of the Guardian) or let themselves be seduced by the Temptation that leads to perdition.

The said Temptation (Seductio) is a well-built winged woman, dressed in a beautifully decorated gown which partly reveals her bare leg (probably as a form of seduction). The lower part of the southern wall of the nave shows the scenes of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, and the Stoning of St. Paul. The latter is extremely rarely depicted in art, illustrating an incident described in the Acts of the Apostles: people tried to stone the Apostle Paul during one of his missionary journeys, but he survived somehow and did not suffer a martyr’s death at the time. In the upper part, above the side entrance, between the windows of the southern wall, we can find the Art of Dying scene where a dying man is supported by the Virgin Mary depicted in the centre of the composition; Archangel Michael is arriving in aid of the soul, the Guardian Angel and St. John the Baptist are showing the dying man the Heavenly Host and angelic choirs; we can guess that the soul of the dying man will not fall into the hands of the devil who is luring him at his bedside. The scene draws our attention to banderoles, or speech scrolls (with inscriptions in Latin). This type of dialogue, reminiscent of today’s comic books, already appeared in medieval art. On the northern wall, opposite the Art of Dying scene, there is a representation of the Last Judgement.

The Personification of Death is also shown in the south-western corner of the nave, under the matroneum. It is a crowned skeleton with a scythe, painted right in front of the eyes of people who might have sat here on church benches. Another scene about death is depicted on the western wall of the nave: it is a representation of Sudden Death, where a wealthy man counting his money is suddenly attacked by a skeleton armed with an arrow. The arrow had already been an attribute of sudden death in medieval times, especially in connection with the plague: death from unexpected arrows coming from unknown directions was compared to sudden deaths that were connected with the bubonic plague.

One of the most interesting depictions is represented by the cycle of seven illustrations of the Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, with the angels carrying the subsequent verses of the Lord’s Prayer to heaven. These verses have been linked to the Seven Sacraments depicted in the background, behind the figures of angels. The angels themselves are also represented by the Seven Virtues (three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Love, and four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance). Another unique series has the form of twelve scenes illustrating the verses of the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe in God the Father…”) that can be found on the side walls of zaskrzynienie in the nave. They are as follows: Creation of Adam and Eve (“Creator of Heaven and Earth…”), Transfiguration of Jesus (“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son”), Nativity of Jesus (“…born of the Virgin Mary”), Entombment of Christ (“He was crucified, died, and was buried…”), Harrowing of Hell (“He descended to the dead.”), Christ and God the Father (“…seated at the right hand of the Father.”), Valley of Josaphat (“He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”), Descent of the Holy Spirit (“I believe in the Holy Spirit… “), the Catholic

Church (“…the holy Catholic Church… “), Confession (“…the forgiveness of sins… “), Resurrection (“…the resurrection of the body…”), and finally, New Jerusalem (“…and the life everlasting”).

The next surprising cycle comes in the form of decoration of a matroneum sill; it shows eight depictions from the cycle of Remedia redemptoris nostri, i.e. the representation of the means of redemption from the seven deadly sins: seven angels are bearing the instruments of the Passion, trampling the devil’s mouths that are personifications of the seven sins.
One of the most interesting compositions from the church decorations in Binarowa was put on the western wall; unfortunately, it is hardly visible from the nave floor, partially covered by the organ case. The depiction, divided into three parts, shows Churches Triumphant, Penitent, and Militant. The most visible fragment shows the Chariot of God’s Wisdom, consisting of seven columns with medallions whose decorations illustrate the Seven Sacraments.