The destiny of a nation often rests with a handful of heroes, or even with one single person. The future of an entire people may hinge on their zeal and courage.
With the consummation of the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, death was put to death and Light vanquished the darkness, in the supernatural realm. Nonetheless, it fell to the Apostles, the disciples and their followers to make the Kingdom of Christ a reality by proclaiming the Good News to the four corners of the earth, by being heralds of the Gospel.
Thanks to their missionary zeal, by diverse paths, one nation after another entered the bosom of the Holy Church.
The deep Christian roots of the Polish nation
Poland, today one of the most Catholic nations, was Christianized in 966 with the conversion of Mieszko I, due, in great part to the efforts of his wife, Dobrawa of Bohemia, a zealous Catholic.
Mieszko also established the country’s foundations. By adding Pomerania and Silesia to the lands conquered by the tribe of the Polans, a duchy was set up, which later became a kingdom. It can be affirmed, then, that Poland was baptized soon after its birth.
Christian civilization sunk deep roots in this people, giving rise to Saints such as St. Faustina Kowalska and St. Maximillian Kolbe, whose action extends across the globe. And great Polish cities such as Warsaw and Krakow have become famed for the wealth, beauty and piety of their innumerable churches.
These churches stand out especially for their towers, whose height serves to underscore the dignity of God’s house. But they can also serve a vital practical function, as played out in 13th century.
A sentinel atop the tower
Central Europe was experiencing tragic times, under the constant threat of a Mongol invasion. These barbarians had taken countless prisoners in Hungary and Ruthenia, selling them to the pagans as slaves, in the most degrading circumstances imaginable. Everything indicated that Poland would be the next victim of these barbarians. If she fell, this would place other European nations at risk of succumbing, and the history of Christianity would be forever altered.
At that time, the beautiful city of Krakow had become an important commercial centre, catching the greedy eye of these hordes. To defend it, the municipal authorities maintained a perpetual sentinel atop the tower of the imposing Basilica of St. Mary of Krakow – a privileged vantage point that afforded a sweeping view of the horizon. Men of merit were chosen for this mission, for in the event of an emergency, the life of all the citizens might depend on their zeal and dedication. Repeatedly over the course of history, Divine Providence has seen fit to subordinate the destiny of an entire people to the action of one key person.
Krakow was saved!
In the early morning hours, one day in the year 1240, as the population slumbered, the dreaded Tartar cavalry was spotted not far from the city. The sentinel immediately sounded the alarm with a pure and strong trumpet blast, rousing all to combat. The warning calls multiplied across the region, and soon the defenders were at their posts along the walls.
Having lost the surprise factor, the attackers settled on approaching the church towers, and unleashing a barrage of arrows. A fateful arrow hit the valiant sentinel who had sounded the alarm, piercing his throat. His trumpet fell silent…
But faced with the Polish will to resist at all cost, the barbarians decided to retreat. Krakow was saved! And with it Poland!
A tradition that is renewed
The valorous man who saved the city at the cost of his own life was buried with great honour. His heroic act serves as an example for subsequent generations and his alarm blast echoes down the centuries to our days. In fact, from the height of the tower of the Basilica of St. Mary of Krakow, a trumpet call is repeated at each hour of the day, ending on the very same musical note as the alarm that was cut short by the enemy arrow 800 years ago… It has become a symbol of patriotic sacrifice, and Polish National Radio transmits the call across the country every day at noon, evoking the nation’s glorious past.
This beautiful tradition spread to other countries, even reaching as far as Kazakhstan, where the story of the valiant sentinel is known as the legend of the golden trumpet…