Are Polish People Religious?
Poland is often characterised as one of the prime examples of staunch and orthodox Eastern European Catholicism. But, while this is definitely true of the Poland we know today, it’s not always been the case. Since the so-called 'Baptism of Poland' (the Chrzest Polski) on the 14th of April 966 AD, the religious climate that existed in Poland has fluctuated in a similar fashion to the borders that defined the land itself. The process of changing religiosity is a story that mirrors, and in many ways describes the very formation of Poland's unique modern national identity. It's a story of a metamorphosing nation, ever changing, growing and diminishing, under the multifarious influences of its place, on a geographical confluence of East meets West.
Before 966 Poland was broadly pagan. It's thought that religion was organised tribally, so it's very likely that many 'border tribes' would have assimilated Christian ideas from the Czech Christians, long before. Indeed, it's also thought that the wife of Mieszko I, the Polish king who heralded the Christianisation, was already a staunch and zealous follow of Christ, and probably a Lady Macbeth-esque key player in bringing her husband round to the idea of a national conversion. However, there's two sides to every coin, and it's often noted that the Chrzest Polski coincides perfectly with Mieszko's choice of alliance with the Czech Christians to the south; a timely shun to the German states amidst a European power-struggle that was using Christianity as a major civil weapon.
The site of Miesko's baptism is disputed, but most agree on the west-central city of Poznan. After that, it took several centuries for Christianity to propagate all the way through Poland, during which time a number of political changes and conflicts saw constant alteration to the borders and organisation of the country; each had their own effect on how religion developed in Poland.
One marked feature of Polish religious history is the establishment of a flourishing Jewish community. Until the dark and scarring history of the Nazi holocaust in the last century, and the partitioning of Poland by overwhelmingly anti-semantic nations in the late 19th, the Jews flocked to Poland from all over Europe. It was known as a haven of tolerance from around the tenth century, where a variety of religions were allowed to practice unhindered. In fact the 'Statute of Kalisz', a 13th Century edict issued by the Polish state, was the first of its kind on the continent and guaranteed legal, civil and humanitarian rights for Jews.
The enduring Christian identity of Poland could be said to have been as much a spiritual path as it has political one for many people who have identified themselves as 'Polish' throughout history. This is a country with a hard fought presence and a difficult history; it has been partitioned and invaded by foreign powers on many occasions. It's commonly assessed the overwhelming Roman Catholic majority in the country provided something like a cultural identity to the dislocated and partitioned Poles of the 19th and 20th centuries; so much so that Poland has emerged impervious to geographical obliteration.
Today, Poland's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and provides rights to religious minorities to practice. In the later decades of the 20th century there has been a Jewish revival, and while the numbers of practicing Catholics in the country is dwindling slightly, the zeal and passion with which most Poles still follow the Vatican is evident in most corners of the country (not least of all in the name of the late Jan Pawel Drugi (JP II), the nationally esteemed Pope who hailed from southern Poland).