Over the past few years, I have received calendars that hold images of artwork found in Polish church collections. One painting that I found depicts Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a church monastery in Ukraine, as well as its founders Saints Anthony and Theodosius. I responded to the picture because of the way the figures mirror each other. Perhaps this is symbolic of the way saints closely match each other in their words and deeds. I was also curious about the background buildings and was surprised to find that the depiction was of Ukraine and not Poland. With the current war initiated by Russia, it is hard to know if sacred places such as Kyiv Pechersk Lavra will remain safe. However, the image and the idea of place provided a point of focus to pray for Ukraine.
While the image above comes from a 2020 calendar, nearly two years later the war reminds us that in a heartbeat lives are changed. Hopefully, the madness will end sooner than later and there can be renewed work toward peace and prosperity.
I previously wrote about Św. Szymon Słupnik (en. Saint Simeon Stylites), with the intent of expanding on the subject. My son’s name is Szymon. In Poland, where he was born, names usually corespond with a Catholic Saint. Each Saint has a designated day on the Catholic calendar and that becomes one’s “name day”. While there are several noteable Saint Simons, the one I was looking for and previously wrote about was Saint Simon Stylites (Św. Szymon Słupnik in Polish). I found at least one reference that this Simon is celebrated on January 6th. With the 6th in mind, I made an interpretation of the painting of Saint Simon previously found.
The vector artwork above began with an ink drawing. Later it was scanned. Color, additions, and compositional changes were made in the program Inkscape.
While the name day date was not as precisely determined as the birthday, I can tell Szymon “happy name day”. I hope this is something he can remember.
Advances in travel and comunication may make the world seem small. However, every once in a while one is in awe of a place larger than one could imagine. I had this experience as a child when I saw the swimming pool at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey. The pool was so impressive that I found it both facinating and a bit frightening. In my child’s mind I thought, who would build their own ocean and how could someone get to the middle without drowning.
It was hard to imagine being struck by such a similar feeling as an adult. However, while on a train from the Polish city of Gdańsk to the town of Sopot, I saw building larger than my conception could accept. I later read online that such a building may have up to 6000 people living it. To be living in the middle of it seems simultaneously intruiging and overwhelming.
Along with the fleeting feeling of being impressed by the enormity of the building, there was an experience of being on a train and on a trip to the sea. I created a drawing in an attempt to document this memory. In the drawing below the autumn day, the building, and the journey to sea become locked together.
It is easy to realize that the two places described, the pool and the building, are small compared to oceans, planets, and the wider universe. However, size is relational and our thoughts are expansive. With reflection the cracks and corners of our existance may yield wider vistas. Description and a creative perspective provides ways to unfold an endless stream of details and reinvent a sense of wonder.
When we say a name we associate it with a person and accept it. The name fits the person and the person fits the name. However, when I investigated the namesake of my son Simon, I found surprising details. I knew there was an apostle named Simon. However, little is known about him. Additionally, the apostle Peter is referred to as Simon Peter and I also found a reference to Jesus having a brother Simon. When I began to see depictions of Saint Simon (also referred to as Simeon) it was not often the apostle, rather it was a Simon born later. This Simon, presumably named after the apostle, was an ascetic that spent much of his time on a pillar. I also found there were two Saint Simons who inhabited a pillar (Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder and the Younger). In paintings and illustrations sometimes the pillar appears as a column and other times as a tower. In Aleppo, Syria Simon’s stone ‘pillar’ is a site to see, and a round stone has been placed on top of it. However, what originally inspired my investigation was a calendar image depicting Saint Simeon Stylites.
Above is an image of the calendar where I found Saint Simon. Below is the page where Simon can be seen depicted on top of his pillar.
Upon translating the text on the calendar, I found that the image was originally published in a book of 300 icon images titled Ikony w Polsce. Od średniowiecza do współczesności by Micha ła Janochy. All the icons were found in Poland. Although I learned more about Saint Simon, my investigation is just beginning.
Recently I took a trip to the eastern part of Poland near Białowieża National Park. This area of Poland is known for Eastern Orthodox Churches and the European Bison (in Polish “żubr”). I learned that there are few żubr left in Europe and they are related American bison. While I was able to see churches in their natural habitat, it proved more difficult to see żubr. In the end I had to pay to see captive bison.
This Orthodox church was striking to me because of its blue color and strong relationship with the sky.
Much of the remainder of my time in this area was spent walking through small villages. It seems that many old wooden houses are being renovated and there are at times striking signs of new architecture.
While I do not completely understand this, there are nests set up to aid storks in most areas of the countryside it Poland.
I also often see a kind of folk sculpture that is carved in wood. I particularly enjoyed this carving of an old man. He seems a bit stiff and strait like the beam of wood. It felt like the wood was made for him or he was made perfect for the wood.
For three nights I stayed in a wooden building built for guests. The owner explained that it was build from the materials of two barns. The food was vegetarian and very good and the other guests were great to be with. Here is a view of the front and back of the house.
Pets were are also allowed at the guesthouse. I counted four dogs and a cat. Humans and animals all had a good time.