I have since childhood had a strong fascination with Catholic iconography, church interiors – and nuns.
So, I was very excited when I managed to arrange for us to visit the Convent of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul / Zakład Sióstr Miłosierdzia św. Wincentego à Paulo, in Warsaw, and have the opportunity to interview one of the Sisters living there for our ’Heroes of War’ Series.
The Catholic Church played an important role in helping Jews and hiding Jewish children in occupied Poland during WW2. Priests issued false birth and marriage certificates and many Jewish children were hidden amongst other Polish children in orphanages run and organized by nuns across Poland.
After the interview, as I sat outside the Chapel looking at the nuns gathering for prayer, one of them grabbed my arm – with that kind of steely grip that only really old ladies can muster… and she must have been quite nearsighted, for when she looked me in the eyes – she came so close that we had a literal tête-à-tête, before she said, in the very of best of conspiratorial whispers:
“And I… I was in the AK!” (Polish Home Army)
yet, before I had a chance to say anything in reply, she ran off, joining in with the other nuns in prayer…
Working on WW2 projects can at times be difficult. Therefore, a bit like in wartimes, humor and brief moments of just being a bit silly together sometimes becomes really important too.
So, later, as the crew went outside to film some of the exterior cutaway shots of the Convent, I took the opportunity to ask all kinds of less serious things I was also curious about: Can nuns surf cyberspace? Are they allowed to use mobile phones? Can they really never go shopping? And of course, the question I have been waiting to ask for years:
How did they make the cornette stand out with wings like that?
‘A Sister of Charity in the Battle Line near Warsaw’ / ‘Siostra Miłosierdzia na linji bojowej pod Warszawą’ – part of the November Insurrection (Powstanie Listopadowe) series by W. Kossak 1910.
Just take a look at this painting. It hangs on my wall at home.* This very distinctive white linen cornette was worn by the Daughters of Charity (Szarytki) until it was abandoned in 1964.
It turns out that it had to be pressed in flour water and then left to dry to get it’s shape like this. Oh, I so wish that this style would still be worn today…
But it must have been awfully messy if one was ever caught out in the rain!
*Full disclosure: I tore this picture of Kossak’s painting out from a book. Of course I would never do that now. But, I’m embarrassed to say, when I was 11 years old I did. And I did even more horrible things to books when I was even younger! It is fortunate that my parents don’t read this blog. They need no reminders. To my defense though – At least this book was mine (still is) and in this way, the painting has been seen much over the years, hung on many different walls – instead of being hidden away, unappreciated…