The Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, also known as St. Mary’s Church, was surrounded by a great, high wall reaching quite far into the market square, almost up to “The Mint”, a tenement house located on the corner of the market square and Floriańska Street. Two smallish twin tenements, situated on the market square and extending to Szkolna Street, also known as Sienna Street, adjoined the wall from the south. Between those tenements and the main cemetery gate, there was a water pump in the form of a huge barrel protruding above the surface of the market square, where the inhabitants drew drinking water. Within the wall there was a cemetery. Once parochial – all parishioners were buried there, now only those who were patricians.
Three gates and two smaller entrances led to the cemetery. The great entrance gate, facing the main market square, was located in front of the main entrance to St. Mary’s Church. Primitive, sloppily built sheds and shacks, where the poorest inhabitants of the city lived on the top of one another, stuck to the wall. They were plebeians, hiring themselves to do the worst odd jobs, such as collecting and disposing garbage or protecting butchers’ against thieves. As people gathered there not only to visit the church or graves of their nearest and dearest but also to meet with each other and gossip, and a lot of them were wealthy, there was always a chance to learn about a job, get alms or at least eat leftovers from the butchers’. That is why, it wasn’t such a bad place for paupers; much better than peripheral streets near the city walls such as Kocia, Psia or Krowia, not to mention unused cellars, stables or pigsties in neglected backyards.
We came through the gate, near to which stood a huge stone grave. Bodies of those who died during the winter months were put inside it, waiting to be buried at more appropriate time. During a plague, corpses were brought there and placed in a pile, to be later taken away to grave pits in Łobzów or to the huge cemetery in Garbary, founded in the previous century in by Jan Wels, a medic.
Between scarps of the church were mortuaries. Bones, which had been dug up during burials and were now waiting to be buried in a communal grave, were gathered there. Commemorative plaques dedicated to the most notable dead were fixed to the church wall. Further into the cemetery stood the Chapel of St. Barbara, said to have been built by masons spontaneously and for free from bricks left from the building of the St. Mary’s Church. The inconspicuous Church of St. Barbara had quite a rich history. In the previous century, the famous literary society Sodalitas Literaria Vistulana functioned there, bringing together first Polish and foreign humanists, such as the Italian Callimachus, the German Celtis or the city writer Heydecke called Mirika and now it is the seat of the Mansionary Brotherhood.In 1415 Polish sermons were moved here from St. Mary’s Church. Then, not a long time ago, in 1537, after a huge fight settled by the King Sigismund I, the old, Polish sermons came back to the church, while German were moved to the chapel.
By the chapel, in addition to the lantern of the dead, there was the Olive Garden Chapel, praised by the inhabitants of Cracow. It was a famous bas-relief, hidden inside a great wooden wardrobe, a masterpiece said to have been made by Veit Stoss or his apprentice, presenting Christ in the Olive Garden.
We came here to look for humans, but not all of them deserved to be called that, as the cemetery wall was surrounded from the inside and outside by sloppily built shacks, not much better than dog houses. Inside them and by the church wall, and during summer directly on the graves and between them, outcasts and dregs of society were camping. From beggars, fortune tellers, witches, all types of cripples who were blind, lame, humpbacked, armless, to ruffians of the worst kind, ready to slit somebody’s throat for a copper. No one sane would come near this place after twilight.