8. Post Mortem: Pilsudski Lies Uneasy in the Grave
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8 | || Post Mortem Piłsudski Lies Uneasy in the Grave When Marshal JÓzef PiŁsudski died on May 12, 1935, the ninth anniversary of his rebellion that had brought him to power, the life also went out of the Polish regime that had based its claim to legitimacy on the mortal foundations of his personal authority and leadership. During the few years of peace left to the Second Republic, the mediocrities who ruled Poland as his political inheritors tried but failed to fill the shoes of their departed hero as the country slid toward dictatorship and disastrous war. Bereft of its animating chieftain, the sanacja government, which had depended on the living Piłsudski, now came to depend on Piłsudski dead, making him the object of a cultlike devotion. His passing likewise reopened the question of the relationship of church and state in Poland. While scarcely the most devout of Catholics, Piłsudski had made a point of keeping peace with the confession that was a national institution; his presence had provided a guarantee of something like official good behavior toward the Church and checked the visceral anticlerical instincts of his followers. Now that he was gone, the terms of the uneasy coexistence of Catholicism and the Second Republic went up for grabs again. The result was an unstable and anxious fluctuation between harmony and tension, ultimately traceable to a twofold question: was the Church showing due respect for the memory of Marshal Piłsudski, and would it support the sanacja regency, which saw itself as his faithful executor ? In this setting, it was symbolically fitting that the fragile churchstate accord that had prevailed in interwar Poland for nearly two decades almost fell to pieces under the stress of a brief but intense public storm over the proper repose of the bones of Józef Piłsudski himself. Upon learning of the death of Marshal Piłsudski, Prince Adam Stefan Sapieha, the archbishop of Kraków, telephoned the offices of Cardinal Kakowski of Warsaw to ask whether the deceased had departed this world reconciled with God—not an idle question, given the Polish strongman’s disputable attachment to Catholicism. Sapieha was informed that Piłsudski would receive a Catholic funeral in the capital. The next day Kakowski returned the call to urge Sapieha to grant a request soon to be delivered to him in the name of the president of the republic: that he permit the interment of Piłsudski within the crypts of his own venerable Royal Cathedral of Sts. Wacław and Stanisław on Wawel Hill in Kraków, the national pantheon of Poland.1 Sapieha had expected this very petition from the government, though not gladly. In fact, Kakowski had warned the bereaved sanacja courtiers that they might encounter resistance from the doughty aristocrat, who was widely recognized as one of the foremost opponents of Piłsudski within the Polish hierarchy.2 While the prince-bishop of Kraków and the first marshal of Poland had been longtime, though mutually respectful, antagonists , Sapieha’s objections had nothing to do with personal animosity, but arose from his prickly sense of responsibility as caretaker of Wawel and its illustrious catacomb. In 1927 Warsaw had proposed the reburial in the cathedral of Piłsudski’s favorite poet, the renowned nineteenth-century bard Juliusz Słowacki. Sapieha had given grudging consent, with the stipulation that the decision was his to make and that from now on the royal crypts were to be considered closed.3 Still, Sapieha knew that he would be asked to make an exception to his rule for the man officially regarded as the founding father of the Second Republic. Indeed, in 1933 Piłsudski had toured the Wawel sepulchers and told Sapieha of his wish to be entombed there.4 Now that the time had come, Sapieha might have found plausible reasons to refuse posthumous entry to the marshal. The not-inconsiderable forces of the Polish political opposition might—and, in fact, did—take offense at the prospect of the admission of their old adversary into the shrine reserved for the greatest sons and daughters of Poland. Further, he had a written pledge from Piłsudski himself that Słowacki would be the last luminary interred in the cathedral recesses. All the same, Sapieha required no arm-twisting before deciding to honor the presidential request. By his lights, Piłsudski had not been much of a Catholic, and his career not without blemish, but...


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Subject Headings

  • Church and state -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
  • Catholic Church -- Poland -- Bishops -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Foreign relations -- Catholic Church.
  • Catholic Church -- Foreign relations -- Poland.
  • Secularism -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Church history -- 20th century.
  • Poland -- Politics and government -- 1918-1945.
  • Piłsudski, Józef, 1867-1935.
  • Catholic Church -- Poland -- History -- 20th century.
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