St. Mary’s Altar (by Veit Stoss)

The altar of the Dormition of the Mother of God in St. Mary’s Basilica is one of the greatest late Gothic European masterpieces.

The main altar of St. Mary’s Chur­ch in Kra­ków is deco­ra­ted with an altar­pie­ce by Veit Stoss, whi­ch is cal­led sim­ply the Altar of Veit Stoss, the Altar of Dormi­tion of the Mother of God, or St. Mary’s Altar.

The work on the Altar of Veit Stoss con­ti­nu­ed from 1477 until 1489. The altar is made of three types of wood. The struc­tu­re is made of hard oak, the back­gro­und is made of ligh­ter but equ­al­ly as strong lar­ch, whi­le the figu­res are sculp­ted in soft and fle­xi­ble lin­den.

The reta­ble of St. Mary’s Altar is a pen­tap­ty­ch, whi­ch means that it has five wings. It is com­po­sed of the cen­tre part with sculp­tu­res, a pair of ope­ning inter­nal wings, and a pair of fixed exter­nal wings. Both pairs of wings are deco­ra­ted with relie­fs. The struc­tu­re is com­ple­ted with a relief pre­del­la set on the altar top and open­work finial with solid sculp­tu­re. The ico­no­gra­phic pro­gram­me was deve­lo­ped by a the­olo­gian and is dedi­ca­ted to the Vir­gin Mary and Her role in Salva­tion.

The pre­del­la pre­sents the Tree of Jes­se, whi­ch is a depic­tion in art of the ance­stors of Chri­st. The­re is a monu­men­tal gro­up of sculp­tu­res abo­ve, insi­de the altar’s recep­tac­le, whi­ch pre­sents the Dormi­tion of the Mother of God sur­ro­un­ded by apo­stles. The Assump­tion is pre­sen­ted abo­ve it. The finial of the reta­ble pre­sents the Coro­na­tion of the Vir­gin Mary as Queen of Heaven and Ear­th.

The relie­fs on the wings pre­sent sce­nes from the lives of Jesus Chri­st and the Vir­gin Mary.

The wings of the open altar pre­sent sce­nes of the joy of the Mother of God:
– Annun­cia­tion
– Chri­st­mas
– Ado­ra­tion of the Magi
– Resur­rec­tion
– Assump­tion
– Descent of the Holy Spi­rit

The wings of the clo­sed altar pre­sent twe­lve sce­nes.

On the left fixed wing:
– The meeting of Joachim and Anne
– The Bir­th of Mary
– Pre­sen­ta­tion of the Vir­gin Mary at the Tem­ple

On the ope­ning wings:
– Pre­sen­ta­tion of Jesus Chri­st at the Tem­ple
– Twe­lve-year-old Jesus teaching at the tem­ple
– The Taking of Chri­st
– Cru­ci­fi­xion
– Descent from the Cross
– The Entomb­ment of Chri­st

On the right fixed wing:
– The appe­aran­ce of resur­rec­ted Chri­st to Mary Mag­da­le­ne
– The Three Marys at the Tomb
– Descent of Chri­st into hell

The altar was for­mer­ly ope­ned only during major Chur­ch holi­days and the faith­ful could see only the wings of the clo­sed altar on other days.

Today, the altar ope­ning cere­mo­ny is con­duc­ted eve­ry day at 11:50 AM.