Salt Pope, Krakow, Poland

I’m not sure of the theological meaning, but Pope John Paul II has been turned into a pillar of salt.  In Genesis it was Lot’s wife who became a saline pillar.  Her sin was looking back at Sodom, the home from which she was being evacuated by angels before its destruction.

The Wieliczka mines in Krakow Poland are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We took a bus to the salt mines and went on the tour.  We went down about 438 feet, although the mines go down much further than that, and walked for about three kilometers underground.  The wondrous thing about these mines is the carvings in the salt caves hollowed out by the miners.  The job was dangerous and the workers received mass in the mines as they worked.  One day, in the late 1600’s there was a methane fire that also burned up the altars and crucifixes, so the miners carved the St. Anthony chapel out of the rock salt.  There are ersatz Corinthian columns, candle sticks, an altar, crosses and statues all carved from the salt, punctuated by salt stalagmites.  There is a huge Salt Cathedral.  Even the chandelier crystals are salt, although they are not carved.  They were made by dissolving rock salt from the mine and molding it. Something in the process makes the chandelier crystals come out clear rather than the milky translucence (which when lit, is spooky) that characterizes the rest of the carvings. The carving continues today.

Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, but what are the implications of pillars of salt being turned into Biblical characters, or the pontiff?  We saw a more than life sized John Paul emerging from a crystalline block.

All the carvings were not religious.  There were gnomes, kings, generals, and a fair likeness of Copernicus.  There are also underground lakes, a basketball court, with room for lots of spectators, a movie theater, and a sanatorium at 600 feet where you can take the “brine treatment.”  I have a Slovak friend who comes here for allergy relief during hay fever season.  All of this naturally kept at a constant 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit. At the end of the tour you emerge into a huge salt cavern shopping center including a souvenir shop with salt elephants and the like, and the world’s deepest post office.  Our tour emerged from the narrow drifts into this shopping mall and the operator of the snack bar turned on the music, the Beach Boys Surfin’ Safari.  I could taste the salt on my lips.

                   I wrote this in 1999 on my only visit to Krakow.  I understand that Bill Clinton is now, also, a pillar of salt in the Wieliczka mine.

Leave a Reply