Exhibition: “The Cope of Kęty. A witness to the triumph of King Jan III” | until 21 July

15 March – 21 July

The Cope of Kęty, photo: A. Indyk

The Cope of Kęty is a work that combines the beauty of glamorous Oriental fabric with an extraordinary story that features King Jan III Sobieski and Saint John Cantius.

On the 12th of September 1683, under the command of Jan III Sobieski, the combined Polish and Imperial forces, supported by reinforcements from the states of the German Reich, clashed under the walls of Vienna with the powerful army of the Ottoman Empire. After 12 hours of fighting, a decisive – as it turned out later – attack of the hussars led by the Polish monarch began. The opponents could not withstand the pressure and fled. The path to the Turkish camp was opened.

In a letter to Queen Marie Casimire, Jan III described what he was looking at: „tents as spacious as Warsaw or Lviv within their walls, [...] and a thousand other details, very nice and very expensive, enormously expensive. [....] I have the vizier’s horse with the saddle, [....] many golden sabres left by the army and other military equipment.. [...] The rarities that [the vizier] had in his tents cannot be described. He had baths, a garden and fountains, rabbits, cats, even a parrot that flew around and we could not catch it”.

The king distributed many of the valuables acquired with a generous hand, first to other commanders who had distinguished themselves in the battle, and later, after returning to Poland, to numerous churches and monasteries. Among the gifts were elements of armament, as well as beautiful fabrics from the Turkish camp near Vienna. One of them, the king donated – or ordered it be donated – to a small church in Kęty. Why?

The Cope of Kęty, photo: A. Indyk

With his generous gifts, the monarch honoured the most important sanctuaries in Poland, such as the Wawel Cathedral, the Jasna Góra Basilica, the Collegiate Church (now the Cathedral) in Warsaw, and the Collegiate Church in Zhovkva. Some of the objects ended up in places Jan III visited before the battle of Vienna and where he prayed, such as the church in Studzianna-Poświętne or in the Collegiate Church of St Anna in Cracow.

He chose Kęty for another reason – it was the birthplace of John Cantius, a professor at the University of Cracow. Jan Sobieski had visited his grave in the Collegiate Church of St Anna during his studies in Cracow, and he prayed there before setting out for Vienna. After the battle, he donated valuable trophies he had won, including Turkish bunchuk banners. The Blessed John Cantius (canonised in 1767) was also a namesake and thus a patron of the king. It is therefore extremely likely that, in gratitude for the spiritual care in which the monarch believed, he ordered the beautiful Turkish fabric sent to the church in Kęty.

In Kęty – or in one of the nearby workshops – a liturgical cope was sewn from the fabric. For many years, it must have been placed close to the altar of St John Cantius, as indicated by numerous candle wax stains. It was treated as an unusual, exotic object of great importance, reminiscent of the Polish monarch and his greatest triumph as a defender of Christianity – the victory in the Battle of Vienna.

The Cope of Kęty (fragment), photo: A. Indyk

In 2016-2018, the cope underwent thorough conservation, financed, among others, by the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów. The project, carried out in cooperation with the Diocese Museum in Bielsko-Biała, allowed us to preserve a unique souvenir connected with important figures and events of Polish history. The priceless historical exhibit will be presented from the 15th of March to the 21st of July 2019 in the monumental hall on the axis of Wilanów Palace – the Great Hall.

Come and see the „Cope of Kęty. A witness to the triumph of King Jan III” exhibition, from the 15th of March to the 21st of July 2019 – admission is included in the Route 1 ticket to the palace.

16th–17th century
velvet brocade: silk (cut velvet), partially brocaded with silver metal braided silk thread, metal threads (galloons and fringes on the hood and lace), silk (bows on the hood), bleached linen canvas (lining), green silk taffeta (fragments of the original lining)
129 x 278 cm
The Church of Sts Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret in Kęty
Deposit at the Diocese Museum in Bielsko-Biała DMBB/OP-11/2012