Piekary is the biggest Marian pilgrim centre in Silesia and the second biggest in Poland, preceded only by Jasna Góra (Bright Hill). Its tradition reaches as far back as 1676 and is strictly bound to the blessed picture of Our Lady of Piekary in the basilica of Piekary.
The painting by an unknown author dates back to around 1500-1510 (129x92cm). The painting became famous in 1676 when a plague broke out in the nearby city of Tarnowskie Góry. Pilgrims from that city came to pray before the painting of Madonna in Piekary and soon after the plague began to subside. That miracle gave rise to the first “vowed pilgrimages” when a whole village vowed to pilgrim to the painting every year at a specific date as a way of giving thanks for the received grace. In 1680 Archbishop of Prague John Frederick Wallstein pronounced the painting miraculous.
In the beginning, the painting hung in a 14th century wooden church. Five centuries later however the church turned out to be too small and the Piekary rector, priest Jan Alojzy Ficek initiated the construction of a new Neo-Romanesque church according to Daniel Groetschel’s design – the present church of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew (also called Our Lady’s Basilica). From the old wooden church only the high altar remains – now to be seen in St. Raphael’s church on Paradise Square – “Rajski Plac”.
In 1702 due to a threat of fights over religion the blessed painting was sent to the Holy Cross church in Opole where it remains to this day. At present a replica (97x77cm) hangs in the high altar of the basilica of Piekary. In the beginning, the picture, painted at the end of the 17th century, was only a replacement but soon became known for miracles itself.
In the 7th Decade of the 19th century, next to the Basilica, the miners and steel factory workers of Upper Silesia raised the Calvary of Piekary (see: Katowice Archdiocese resource web page), patterned on the Calvary mountain in Jerusalem. At present there are 14 stations of the Cross showing the scenes of the crucifixion of Christ, 15 rosary chapels and a Neo-Gothic church in the name of the Resurrection of the Christ.
The period between the wars (i.e. 1918-1939) was marked with a new pilgrimage tradition – women and maidens pilgrim to Our Lady of Piekary on the 15th of August – the feast of the Assumption of Mary – and on the last Sunday of May men and boys make their pilgrimage. In each of the masses about 100-150 thousand pilgrims take part, the majority of them from Upper Silesia.
Beginning in 1992, one day before the men and boys’ pilgrimage to Our Lady of Piekary, symposia devoted to the cultural and social problems of Upper Silesia, in the light of the catholic faith, are held. Very strongly bound to Piekary is the Holy Father, tireless pilgrim and the most celebrated Citizen of Honour of the city.