St Anne's is one of Warsaw's oldest buildings. Damaged by war and plunder over the centuries, it has been reworked several times. The present reconstruction dates from 1788. The church has a neoclassical facade with the four evangelists around the church door. The interior is in a massively heavy ornate baroque style. There is voluminous sculpted drapery everywhere. Cherubs flock around like pudgy pigeons. Two playful cherubs on either side of the high altar are bringing a bishop's mitre and a cardinal's hat down from heaven to statues of some worthy recipients loitering about the sanctuary. Many thoughtful people would consider the architecture and elaborate ornamentation strikingly beautiful; I found it cloying.
St Anne's is the main parish church of the academic community in Warsaw. I don't know Polish, and the English page of their website is almost completely bereft of information about the church other than to say that mass is celebrated in English in the Lady chapel later in the day.
St Anne's is next to Castle Square, the center of Old Town Warsaw. Many of the buildings in the vicinity were rebuilt entirely after the Second World War. The Warsaw Marathon was happening the day I visited. It added a lot of activity to the city centre.
The entire cast was unknown to me.
What was the name of the service?Mszy (Mass).
How full was the building?
Hard to estimate. People came and went but there were about 35 or 40 there for the duration. Spread out over the vast space, it didnt seem like many.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. A smile and nod during the peace, but no greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
Certainly not. The pew was hard and rigidly perpendicular. Its only virtue was its smoothness. Its greatest defect was the kneeler, which was an unpadded board fixed underneath the pew ahead. It was not possible to kneel upright. One had to have the butt on the seat behind and the knees under the seat ahead. I think the devil and his angels design such pews. Piety is supposed to be uncomfortable, I suppose.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
W imię Ojca, Syna i Ducha Świętego (In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were provided. I didn't notice if any of the faithful brought their own books, but I rather don't think so. A few minutes prior to the service, a mechanical whirling could be heard. A projection screen was lowered from the wall and unfurled. On this screen were projected the words to three of four hymns used throughout the liturgy. The people sang, but it was a feeble sound.
What musical instruments were played?
A massive pipe organ in the west gallery of the church, an opus of Pflüger Orgelbau of Feldkirch, Austria, dating from 1992, quite well played. There was also a fine cantor's voice. I caught sight of the anonymous organist, but not of the cantor.
Did anything distract you?
There was a baby wailing in another wing somewhere.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Bounden duty in Polish as far as I could tell. Everything seemed to be done according to the rubrics and it all had a prayerfully liturgical air about it.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
N/A – The priest looked pleasantly animated, but since I know no Polish, I can't say how good he might have been.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Honestly, no idea here.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Leaving and getting into the light and air outside on Castle Square.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being swallowed up in the leaden weight of the dark and colourless edifice. There are some beautiful photographs of the interior of the church on line, but my impression of the church in person was one of brooding and oppressive heaviness.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. Tourists milled. Panhandlers panhandled.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I did appreciate the faithful attention to the liturgy and the prayerful participation in the celebration of the sacred mysteries.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The devilish pews.