The church of St. Leonard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
St. Leonard’s church is a log construction: it is built of horizontally laid beams ended with a sort of locks, that is special cuts that allow to connect them. No nails are used. It consists of two rooms: the nave and the chancel, covered with a common shingled roof topped with a 18th-century ridge turret. No tower has been ever added to the church, although it was a common practice in the 16th century. In the 17th century, the so-called soboty, which translates to Saturdays, that is an arcade supported on wooden pillars was added around the church. In the old days, it served the faithful as a refuge, because they often arrived for the Sunday service already on Saturdays.
Enter the church through the south entrance. Notice the characteristic portal: its shape resembles the back of a donkey. When inside the church, breath in the characteristic smell of old wood saturated with resin. Let your eyes get accustomed to the semi-darkness. There are only four small windows in the church, so only a limited amount of sunlight is provided. On your right side, there is a baroque painting of St. Nicholas.
Look up. The vault is decorated with particularly refined stencil paintings. This term refers to the manner of painting: the artists used stencils, that is templates with floral ornaments, that they put to the wall or the ceiling, and next covered them with paint. The vault decorations are around 500 years old. Let your eyes enjoy the abundance of colours and shapes.
Now, go to the side altar dedicated to St. Nicholas. We celebrate his memorial on December 6. The central part of the altar features St. Nicholas presenting a dowry to three poor women. Take a closer look at it. In the left upper corner of the triptych, there is a depiction of St. Margaret and St. Dorothy (with a key), below, there are likenesses of St. Peter and St. Paul, to the left: St. James and St. John the Evangelist; in the upper right part: St. Catharine (with a cogwheel) and St. Barbara (with a tower).
When the altar’s wings are closed, we can see the images of the following characters (enlisted clockwise): Ecce Homo (Christ presented to the people), St. Hedwig of Silesia, St. Odile of Alsace, and Our Lady of Sorrows. Unfortunately, in result of a robbery and the later recovery of all the three altars in 1992, due to security reasons, the original altars are kept in the Diocesan Museum in Tarnów, and you can only observe their copies. The original altar of St. Nicholas was made in 1525.
Go farther and stand against the windows. The polychrome under the windows represents the last supper; above are the images of Holy Mary and St. Szymon. It was the so-called Biblia pauperum: back in the days when literacy was not common and Masses were celebrated in Latin, the faithful learned the scenes from the life of Jesus and other saints from this type of paintings.
Go a bit farther. Take a look at the wall on your left with the depiction of the Last Judgement. This remarkably colourful “altar” is actually a feretrum, that is a double-sided relief presenting the Holy Trinity and Mary Immaculate, carried during church processions.
Turn more to the left. On the wall you are facing now, there is a polychrome from 1711. Medallions decorated with floral motifs are filled with the scenes of Christ’s Passion, resembling the Way of the Cross. The pulpit contains portraits of the four Evangelists.
Turn your back to the main altar. Despite its modest size, the church also contains a matroneum decorated with depictions of God’s commandments. Observe them carefully and think what kind of acts committed by the medieval citizens of Lipnica they condemned. On the left side of the matroneum, there are baroque paintings of the Virgin and the Child with Saint Anne and the patron saints of the guilds of shoemakers and weavers: Saints Crispin and Crispinian. The polychrome on the right side of the matroneum presents the stigmatization of St. Francis and the images of the patrons of Poland: St. Adalbert and St. Stanisław.
A positive organ is a portable instrument. It is very similar to a regal. From the outside, it has the form of a wooden coffer or chest, hence its other name: chest or box organ. The casing is 70 cm long, 45 cm wide and 45 cm high. It contains a keyboard, a system of pipes and two bellows. The instrument in the Lipnica church is dated back to the early 17th century. It is still in full working order today.
The outer side of the casing has the colour of brown wood. Both longer sides contain little doors with two panels. The hinges are made of a dark forged metal. The doors are locked with a key. In the middle part, there is an openwork. It takes the form of a lattice of diagonally arranged slats of wood.
Upon opening the doors on the one side, there is a wooden keyboard followed by three rows of metal pipes. The first row contains 45 pipes, the second—36, and the third—29.
They are arranged by size from right to left. The smallest one on the right is about 10 cm and the largest one is about 30 cm high. The shorter the pipes, the thinner they become. The thinnest of them have a diameter of around 1 cm, while the thickest ones—of ca. 2 cm. The keyboard consists of 45 black and light keys. The light ones are in the colour of brown wood and are about 10 cm long. The black ones measure around 6 cm.
Opening the door on the other side reveals three rows of wooden pipes in the shape of cuboids. They are used to tune the instrument. In the first row, they are positioned vertically. There is 36 of these pipes in this row. The shortest, of about 10 cm, are on the left. They gradually become longer until they rich 20 cm. Wooden pegs are stuck in their upper ends. Moving these pegs up and down enables the tuning of the instrument. In the farther two rows, the pipes are positioned horizontally.
The positive organ in St. Leonard’s Church in Lipnica Murowana is one of seven working instruments of such type in Poland. From time to time, concerts presenting its timbre take place here. It was played, among others, by a Japanese pianist Mariko Kato and Professor Elżbieta Stefańska, a great figure of Polish and global harpsichord music.
Stay in the temple a little bit longer. Let your eyes enjoy the polychrome in the shades of green, blue, white, and red. Take one more look at the equipment of the church. Appreciate over 500 years old decorations. Its beauty delighted also two young students from the School of Fine Arts in Cracow who came here to spend their vacation in 1889: Józef Mehoffer and Stanisław Wyspiański.
Leaving the church, stop on the river bank. If you think that Uszwica’s current is calm and harmless—you are wrong. The river overflowed and threatened the locals and their buildings many times. In 1997, the citizens fought a heroic battle, striving to save St. Leonard’s church. They managed to do this thanks to a clever solution: the temple was tied with ropes to a nearby oak. Its 400-year-old roots resisted the surge of water, but the interior of the church and its structure were seriously damaged. Its renovation ended in 2000 and today it shines with its former splendour.