Conceived as an ideal socialist city, Nowa Huta was to be atheist by definition and as such its design didn’t designate any urban plots for troublesome churches. As one can imagine, the policy didn’t go over well with the locals who, backed by Bishop Karol Wojtyła - the future Pope JPII, began fighting for a permit to erect a Catholic place of worship right from the get-go. Progress finally came with the political thaw of October 1956: the proper papers and permissions were granted, a site was chosen and soon a large wooden cross was erected and consecrated in the Theatre district. In June 1958, ground was broken for the foundations, but work was promptly halted as the leniency of the communist authorities had apparently expired, and the site was designated for a school. With the intent of removing the consecration cross, the authorities aptly anticipated a conflict after numerous protests and special armed forces were rolled in from all across southern PL. Nowa Huta was officially ‘closed’ and a dense column of military trucks, armoured cars, cannons and machine guns sealed it off from central Kraków, with the only line of communication between the two cities being the taxi drivers who announced that the “revolution in Nowa Huta” had begun. Tensions broke into an all-out street war between police and some 4000 ‘Defenders of the Cross’ on April 27, 1960 and lasted for several days with water cannons, tear gas and dogs unleashed on the civilian protestors. The number of injured or killed in the conflict is unknown, but officially distributed reports (dubious by nature) listed military casualties at 200 and eyewitnesses suggest the civilian number would have been three or four times as much. Officially 493 people were arrested and 87 sentenced to prison stints from 6 months to 5 years in length.
And the cross? It stood, though the planned school was nonetheless built on the original church site beside it as armed officers guarded the cross day and night. By the 1970s the Nowa Huta Cross was in sorry shape, and looking ready to keel over from rot and decay – an idea which greatly pleased the authorities who assumed that when it did their troubles would be over. Not so. A massive new oak cross was secretly prepared and when the opportunity to instal it arose in the late 70s as the officers were away from their posts for May 1st celebrations (Communist Labour Day), it was erected on the site of the original. It would later be replaced by a metal cross and in 2007 by the bronze cross which stands today bearing the inscription, “To John Paul II, the Defender of the Cross – the grateful people of Nowa Huta.” The city, meanwhile, would remain without a church until 1966 when Arka Pana was built a half kilometre away (though it would be prevented from being officially consecrated until 1977). In 2002, the small Church of the Sacred Heart was consecrated beside the Nowa Huta Cross and adjacent school.