Head of Christ

A medieval monument from Spycimierz

A valuable monument from Spycimierz originating from the Middle Ages is the Head of Christ, which is the only remaining element of the Cross from Spycimierz… Today, it can be seen in the National Museum in Poznań.

Nobody needs to be convinced of the very rich history of the parish of Spycimierz. A number of big towns would like to have been referred to by Gallus Anonymus as the one having a church, and, what is more, a parish one, in 1106.

However, not much has remained of this great history in the material sense. By some miracle, a beautiful antique monstrance, a few chasubles and the Stations of the Cross have survived till the present day. It appears that our parish has one more very valuable, although little-known, treasure. It is the Head of Christ, dating back to the first half of the 14th century, which has remained of the devastated medieval Cross of Spycimierz…

The monument from Spycimierz in Poznań

Never before have I heard of this extraordinary monument. It all started by accident, with a small photo found among the papers in the parish office. It presented a sculpture of the Head of Christ, with a handwritten inscription at the back: ‘Head of Christ from the 4th century from Spycimierz…’ My first reaction was that it was someone’s fantasy and that it is impossible, as there were no such representations of Christ at that time. Nevertheless, I decided to check if it was the 14th century that was meant.

I went online and I found information that, at the National Museum in Poznań, in the Gallery of Medieval Art, ‘the model of the 14th-century fine arts inspired by mysticism is documented by the head of Christ (2nd quarter of the 14th century), a relic of the “forked” crucifix from Spycimierz’. Forked crosses are rare in our churches; they are more often found in Germany and Silesia.

In Poznań, in the Gallery of Painting and Sculpture at the National Museum at Al. Marcinkowskiego 9, I found a beautiful sculpture of the Head of Christ displayed behind a pane of glass. It turned out that Adam Soćko, the Director for Research at the Museum in Poznań and an academic at the Adam Mickiewicz University, devoted a lot of time to this extremely interesting sculpture. The more so as, in December 2015, he accidentally acquired two original cards from the German catalogue of monuments, which presented a picture of Christ from the so-called Gethsemane by the church in Spycimierz, taken on March 16th, 1941, which is two years before the church was pulled down. According to the museum catalogue card of the monument, in turn, the sculpture was exhibited in Paris in 1969 and in London in 1970.

What is more, I found out that there exists an oil painting dating back to 1824, which presents the interior of the church in Spycimierz. A forked cross or the tree of life are said to be present in the painting. In the German photos of the Gethsemane, the figure of Christ is already depicted hanging on a straight wooden cross.  Therefore, everything suggests that as a parish we have in our possession an extremely valuable first-class treasure dating back to the times of which little has survived. It is this cross that is referred to in the description of the condition of our parish church.

In the 18th century, a new temple was built in Spycimierz. It is worth mentioning here that the high altar with the very devastated figure of the Christ Crucified was painted black and overgilded.

Fate of the medieval cross in the 20th century

In 1920, a new crucifix was placed in the church, and the old one was moved to the so-called Gethsemane. Presumably, nobody was aware of the extraordinary historical value of the medieval cross, as it was taken outside the temple, to the Gethsemane, i.e.  a roofed area in the temple’s gable. Perhaps because of this, at least the Head of Christ has remained of this extraordinary cross. According to the oldest parishioners, there were benches by the cross, and people used to come there to pray in front of the gracious cross. Also, the inhabitants of nearby villages knew about the miraculous nature of this image, and they prayed before it for necessary graces. In particular, rain was requested during droughts.

During World War II, in 1943, the Germans barbarously pulled down the church and burnt the gracious cross. Only the Head of Christ remained of the monument. However, prior to this, as the “solid German nation”, they took decent photos and entered the said cross into the monument catalogue in 1941. And these were the two cards from the German catalogue obtained by Adam Soćko, Ph.D.

Unfortunately, in 1944, the cross was allegedly burnt, and only the head survived, which, thanks to the Wielkopolska Voivodeship Conservator of Monuments, reached the National Museum in Poznań in 1945. It is still exhibited in this museum, in the Gallery of Medieval Art, being a very valuable element of the national heritage of the Polish culture, and, for us, a great spiritual heritage of our parish.

Rev. Wojciech Kaźmierczak, the parish priest of Spycimierz in 2008-2017