In past centuries, Poles often regarded Poland as being the “bulwark of Christianity”, bordering as it did with Muslim peoples such as the Tartars and Turks. One of the most important events in the history of Poland was the battle of Vienna in 1683, when King Jan III conquered the Osman army of Kara Mustafa, helping the Austrians to end the Turkish invasion of Western Europe.
When talking about Poland, “religion” often means “Catholicism”. About 90% of Poles are Roman Catholics, although this number may be overestimated as the statistics often include people who were baptised Catholic, even if they later abandoned the Church. Anyway, Catholics make the most significant religious group and this religion is a subject studied at school, even though this is not obligatory. The most religious parts of Poland are the highlander Podkarpacie region and the Silesia region.
The most esteemed person for many Poles was John Paul II, the Polish Pope (1920-2005). His popularity is based upon his many pilgrimages and his open attitude towards people, and among the youth he often surpassed the fame of current singers and actors. John Paul II was also known as a supporter of the ecumenical movement, and he played an important role in the fall of communism in Poland.
There are many places in Poland that are considered holy by Christians, particularly Catholics. The most renowned is the imposing monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, where the monastery church contains the miraculous icon of the Black Madonna. The latter is the reason why many thousands of people make pilgrimages here, particularly for August 15th, the Day of the Assumption of St Mary. Among other pilgrimage centres in Poland are Lichen, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Lagiewniki in Krakow, Swieta Lipka, Niepokalanow, Wambierzyce, and Gora Swietej Anny. Poles celebrate many holy days, such as Easter, Christmas, All Saints Day (November 1st) and Corpus Christi, and there are many folk traditions and customs connected with these days.
The other religions of Poland today are predominantly Christian, including Byzantine Catholics (Uniates), Orthodox Christians, Armenians, Old-Believers, Evangelical Reformed, Evangelical Augsburg, Evangelical Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are also communities of Muslims, Jews, Karaims, and Hare Krishnas. When exploring places connected with Polish minorities, visit Grabarka known for its Orthodox Christian sanctuary, Bohoniki or Kruszyniany with their Muslim Mosques, and Wisla, Cieszyn or Karpacz, associated with Protestants. The range of non-Catholic religions is fairly wide even though the number of members is relatively small.