Warsaw

What Is A Plague Cross?

28 Oct 2020
In early October 2020, Bishop of Płock Piotr Libera of Płock suggested 'placing plague crosses, where it would be possible to pray to the Savior of the world for mercy and salvation' during calls for strict social-distancing and hygeine standards in churches to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At this point, many of you out there are probably asking 'Plague Cross? What the F**k is a Plague Cross?' along with a number of other questions with a 21st-Century mind-set.

In the east of Poland, it is very common to see old warn double-beam crosses on roadsides in regional areas. No, these are not defunct electricity poles from a bygone era. These types of crosses are known as karawaki, also known as krzyży morowy (ENG: plague crosses) and, as the English translation would suggest, they have a connection to times of pandemic and contagion, a couple of keywords that we have become very familiar with in 2020!
A 'plague cross' on a roadside in Sumiężne, Masovia Voivodship.
The Beubonic Plague AKA The Black Death was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history. It resulted in the deaths of up to an estimated 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa in the mid-14th century. There is a bit of a misnomer that Poland somehow magically avoided it all but we know now that this statement is not true. Believe it or not, there was no internet and no way to release information into the public about yellow and redzones and what restaurants were doing takeaway etc. etc. The most effective way to mark an infected building or area was to place a great big cross in front of it or on roadsides as if to say 'STAY AWAY - CONTAGION IN PROGRESS!'
Read our article - 'Did Poland Really Escape the Black Death?'
Two plague crosses, side by side, in Borychów, Masovia Voivodship. Photo by mzopw.

However, the ones we see around the eastern half of Poland today are not from the middle-ages. They are usually-dated from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, supposedly in response to cholera outbreaks in various areas. Their shape bares a similar resemblance to Orthodox Christian and this is no coincidence, as the Russian empire had a huge influence on the east of Poland at the time. These 'markers' evolved into a sort of 'amulet' or 'talisman' that the common-folk viewed against many misfortunes: diseases, accidents, curses, theft, storms, lightning and insomnia to name a few! Despite the fact that the Catholic Church did not recognize talismans, these crosses are still observed and prayed to even in the 21st-century.
Old karawak on the right and a newer more-catholic-looking cross on Krasnobród, Lublin Voivodship.
Fast-forward to October in The Year Of Our Lord 2020 and Bishop Piotr Libera's comments are a little more understandable in context. It's unclear whether Libera views this as an alternative to people attending church or simply just for added prayer power, chances are it's probably both. Regardless of your religious views, it's important mere mortals like us need to keep washing/disinfecting our hands regularly, wearing masks in public and not attending any kind of public or private event if you suspect you may have Coronavirus. Religious vanity is not an excuse, even in Poland!

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