The Altar of Smoleńsk is a product of an observation of the events of 2010 in Poland after the catastrophe in Smoleńsk. It is a recording of an ongoing transformation of a historical event into a myth beyond time. „Katyń is still going on”¹ – Smoleńsk is a continuation. But the continuation of what? Continuation of innocent Polish sacrifices, plot of the enemies, disgrace of traitors and national tragedy… Smoleńsk is a cross carried by an unrecognized Messiah which is identified only by a small group of the chosen. In this way, the nation persists in its role and destination beyond time and history. The years 1940 and 2010 are erased from chronological order and are merged together, but the nimble patriotic mind can easily view them in the context of other memorable dates from the national history. Everybody who believes in Poland knows the dates, even a little Pole.²
More than sixty years ago Jesus said to St. Faustina3 about Poland: “From Her, the spark will come, the spark that will prepare the world for my last coming”. The first coming of Christ, two thousand years ago, was preceded by the biblical hecatomb of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18). The Massacre of the Innocents was a fulfillment of the words of the prophet Jeremiah.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
In the right wing of the Altar, there is a mother, with the dead body of her beloved child lying in her arms. She is fainting from despair. The other women are in fits of hysteria; they are losing what is most important to them. In the crowd of the terrified faces, one sees disbelief, doubt, and despair. The tragedy came upon these women without any warning, they are lost in the chaos of trauma now.
In the left wing, the hard faces of men look indifferently at the hysterics. Are they the
tormentors? Or maybe they are fathers who do not suffer a loss? In the red robe, reminiscent of the royalty of Herod, a centrally located figure of a man is pointing towards the center of the Altar. Is it a Roman hand sign that signals the end of a fight or demanding the death of the loser? Maybe it is just a gesture of mockery at the incomprehensible despair whose cause should seem clear and pragmatic to all due to the political necessity of the radical steps – the massacre.
Not everything in the biblical myth is as it seems. The Gospel stories end surprisingly. A reader who knows them knows also that “blessed are those, who are acquainted with sorrow”, and “blessed are those, who hunger and thirst after righteousness. They “will be satisfied and filled.” (Matthew 5:3-11). Tormented Jesus is a God. The victim is the winner, the persecuted is the victor. The biblical Innocents and Polish history are mingled, time and contexts are not relevant. The sense is deeper and maybe understandable only for “the poor in spirit”, because “for them is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-12). The essence of a nation is like a religious experience – untranslatable, imperceptible, allegedly everlasting. An accusation of the lack of logic should not be discouraging, the saints are called “madmen of God”.
“The Massacre of Innocents” by Giotto is build up around the central scene of a killing of a child. Therefore, what is the central point of The Altar of Smoleńsk? What is the final act of the hecatomb? What will be the Polish spark announced by Jesus? Will we succeed in gripping the mystery that is hidden from our eyes? Maybe we will understand the sense of God’s plan, the national martyrdom, or maybe even the sense of the nation itself?
1 “Katyń is still going on” it is a slogan popularized and used by conservative party PIS. Katyn is a village close to Smolensk where a few thousand members of the Polish intelligentsia were killed in 1940 by Soviets with the shots in the backs of their heads. After the President’s plane crash in April 2010, many Poles believed that the place and magnitude of both tragedies were not a coincidence.
2 In every primary school in Poland children learn by heart the poem “The Little Pole” by Władysław Bełza.
Catechism of a Polish Child
-Who are you?
-A Little Pole.
-What is your sign?
-The White Eagle.
-Where do you live?
-Among my own.
-In what country?
-on Polish land.
-What is this land?
-By what means won?
-By blood and scar.
-Do you love Her?
-I love Her truly.
-In what do you believe?
-I believe in Poland.
-What are you to Her?
-A grateful child.
-What do you owe her?
– My life.
3 St. Faustina (1905-1938) was a Polish nun, mystic, and visionary who experienced visions of Jesus. She had a diary where she wrote down the messages from Christ. The diary was published under the title “Divine Mercy in My Soul”. She was proclaimed a saint by the “pope-Pole” John Paul II.