The church of St. Leonard,
a UNESCO World Heritage Site


The church of St. Leonard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Before you walk down from the little bridge, notice the stone that lies near the church’s fence in the centre of the road: a rhombus inscribed in a circle. This sign is a symbol of the World Heritage Site list kept by UNESCO since 1978. The first 12 entries of a “particularly common value” included two places in Poland: the Cracow Old Town and the Wieliczka Salt Mine. In 2003, the wooden churches in the southern Małopolska Region were also entered on the list. The church of St. Leonard in Lipnica Murowana is among these six sites. The justification says that they constitute a unique example of different aspects of the medieval church construction traditions in the Roman-Catholic culture. 
Find the board with the information about the Wooden Architecture Route in the Małopolska Region to the right from the church. St. Leonard’s church in Lipnica Murowana is one of the historical monuments included in this largest cultural route in Poland, which connects over 250 sites. The most important ones are included in the Open Route of Wooden Architecture, which means that there are guided tours available on chosen days and times from May to September each year A festival Music Enchanted by Wood is hosted by various sites of the Route every Sunday from June to August. The festival concerts take place also in January (Christmas carols) and in November (All Souls’ Day). We recommend visiting the website
Walk around the church and listen to the information about it. The church you see is a typical example of medieval temples in the Małopolska Region from the 15th century. It is, however, unique because unlike other churches from that period in our region it is preserved in its original shape. The first church on this very site was erected in the 12th century. Before that, a pagan temple stood here. The church was dedicated to St. Leonard, a popular saint in those days, who was the patron of prisoners, captives, sick and endangered with an assault, as well as of an easy labour. In the middle ages, around 600 temples erected by Bernardines were dedicated to him, while the sanctuary of St. Leonard in Bavaria was the fourth most popular pilgrimage destinations after Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Three centuries later, a new wooden church dedicated to the same patron was raised in the same location and stands here today. Since the 16th century, the temple served as the cemetery church, which is evidenced by the graves surrounding it. Its enlargement was not crucial, as it was not used too often.

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.

Go forward and find a stone plaque embedded in the floor. Under your very feet, there is the burial place of the mortal remains of Antoni and Józefina Ledóchowski, the parents of St. Urszula and Bl. Maria Teresa.
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.

Stand in front of the main altar. The original kept in the aforementioned museum was made in 1500. The central part of the triptych features St. Leonard accompanied by St. Lawrence (to the left) and St. Florian (to the right). The wings of the altar house paintings presenting the life of the church’s patron saint (at the top): a liberation of a prisoner, the royal family at prayer, and the foundation of the monastery in Noblane. In the left bottom corner, we can find the images of St. Valentine and St. Stephen, while in the right bottom corner: St. Nicholas and St. Stanisław. In the bottom part, the predella, there is the so-called Misericordiae Group, that is from the left: St. Martha, St. Lucia, Holy Mary, Christ with signs of passion and saint Johns: the Evangelist, the Baptist, and the Merciful. The Archangel Michael is depicted above them with a sword and a scroll. When the winged altar is closed, we can see (from the right upper corner) St. Sebastian, Our Lady of Sorrows, Christ and St. Roch. Try to go behind the altar: on the wall, you will see a polychrome depicting the crucifixion. Find a massive oak pillar. According to a legend, this is the Światowid pillar, which was originally kept here in the pagan temple.

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. 

Walk under the rood beam, take a few steps back and look up. In the rood beam separating the chancel from the nave, there is the scene of crucifixion with a crucifix and baroque sculptures of Holy Mary and St. John. On your left side, there is a copy of the oldest altar in the church; the original kept in the aforementioned museum was made in 1482. Its central painting depicts the Adoration of the Child Jesus. The characters depicted on the wings are St. Paul (right upper corner), St. Catharine, St. Barbara, and St. Peter. When the altar is closed we can observe the scene of the Annunciation.

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.

The church of St. Leonard hosts concerts performed on a positive organ. An audio description has been prepared for this instrument.
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.

There are 8 pipes in the second row and 7 in the third. The lid of the casing is divided into two longitudinal parts. They can be lifted on one side to reveal two bellows. Their fanfold construction is made of wooden strips joined with leather stripes. When the bellow is up, viewed from the side it resembles a half-open book. This is why this type of positive organ is sometimes called a bookcase. Lifting and lowering the bellows causes the flow of air inside the pipes and thus the production of sound. Hence, when a musician plays the keyboard, another person lifts and lowers the bellows.

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.

Audiodescription – The church of St. Leonard