A gravestone in the arcades of the Dominican cloister in Krakow
The following descriptions have been contributed by Dr Wiktor Szymborski from the JU’s Institute of History. The tactile graphics have been prepared by Lech Kolasiński, a painting artist. Thanks to the graphic adaptations, blind and partially sighted persons can become familiar with the exhibits through touch.
St. Thomas’ cross
The splendidly restored arcades of the Dominican cloister in Krakow hold a unique monument. It is neither the oldest or most impressive tombstone, nor is it richly decorated. Still, it merits attention in any case as it holds a unique code which, after the key has been found, will reveal its content to the inquisitive reader. That special object allows not just for learning about the history of epigraphic writing but also showing selected features of medieval devotion (epigraphics is a study of the history of writing in durable material, without using traditional writing tools or printing font). One of its characteristic features is the extraordinarily legible appearance of the characters. Letters were typically engraved in stone, and so most typically medieval epigraphic monuments feature writing in majuscule: letters could be entered between two lines; they resembled modern capital and lower-case letters. Since in hard material most important inscriptions were immortalised, the shape of the letters had to be ceremonial but also legible. That is why Roman square capitals were used, i.e. letters that could be entered in a square between two lines.
The monument was presented for the first time in a work published in Krakow in 1790 by the acknowledged Dominican historiographer and author of a hand-written chronicle showcasing the history of the Order of Preacher Brothers in Poland Father Wawrzyniec Teleżyński, who was the first to offer the solution of the palaeographic-epigraphic riddle. For the purposes of art history, the interesting text of the inscription featuring in the Dominican arcades was described in a work by Lepszy and Tomkowicz entitled Zabytki sztuki w Polsce [Art Monuments in Poland]. However, the authors failed to explain the meaning of the seventeenth-century baroque epitaph. In the Middle Ages, “coded” verses were widely used. The object was called the Cross of St. Thomas Aquinas, yet the text had been known long before the saint’s birth. For instance, West European researchers found such a text in an eleventh-century pontifical of Eichstätt where the verses later ascribed to St. Thomas Aquinas were found in a cross-shaped diagram. The content of that eleventh-century manuscript was identical to the text on the Dominican monument and it reads as follows:
Crux mihi certa salus – The cross, a certain salvation for me
Crux quam semper adoro – The cross always adored by me
Crux domini mecum – Let Lord’s cross be with me
Crux mihi refugium – The cross, my shelter.
Saying those verses should be accompanied by the adoration of the crucifix by kissing its various parts. The verses from the pontifical repeated the inscriptions from a silver cross belonging to Gundekar II, an eleventh-century bishop of Eichstätt, which illustrates Carolingian adoration practices. The prayer referred to a brief poem by the fifth-century writer Calbulus, a poem featuring in the compilation known as Codex Salmasianus of the turn of the eighth and ninth centuries.
In modern times, saying those verses was awarded with 300 days of indulgence. Once a month, one could additionally receive plenary indulgence, thanks to the bulla of Pope Pious IX of 21 January 1874.