The Wawel Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Stanisław and Vaclav, is a church located on Wawel Hill in Kraków – Poland 's national sanctuary. It has a 1,000-year history and was the traditional coronation site of Polish monarchs. It is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Kraków. Pope John Paul II offered his first Mass as a priest in the Crypt of the Cathedral on 2 November 1946. The current, Gothic cathedral, is the third edifice on this site: the first was constructed and destroyed in the 11th century; the second one, constructed in the 12th century, was destroyed by a fire in 1305. The construction of the current one begun in the 14th century on the orders of bishop Nanker.
The Cathedral comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. The main altar, located in the apse, was founded about 1650 by Bishop Piotr Gembicki and created by Giovanni Battista Gisleni. The altar painting of Crucified Christ by Marcin Blechowski is from the 17th century. Over the main altar stands a tall canopy of black marble supported by four pillars, designed by Giovanni Battista Trevano and Matteo Castelli between 1626 and 1629.
Underneath the canopy is placed a silver coffin of St. Stanisław created between 1669-1671 after the previous one (donated in 1512 by King Sigismund the Old) was stolen by the Swedes in 1655. The Wawel Cathedral has been the main burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century. As such, it has been significantly extended and altered over time as individual rulers have added multiple burial chapels. Sigismund's Chapel, or Zygmunt Chapel ("Kaplica Zygmuntowska"), adjoining the southern wall of the cathedral, is one of the most notable pieces of architecture in Kraków and perhaps "the purest example of Renaissance architecture outside Italy." Financed by King Sigismund I the Old, it was built in 1517-33 by Bartolommeo Berrecci, a Florentine Renaissance architect, who spent most of his career in Poland.
A square-based chapel with a golden dome houses the tombs of its founder as well as of his children, King Sigismund II Augustus and Anna Jagiellonka. The crypt beneath the Wawel Cathedral holds the tombs of Polish kings, national heroes, generals and revolutionaries, including rulers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth such as Jan III Sobieski and his consort Maria Kazimiera, the remains of Tadeusz Kościuszko – a leader of a Polish national insurrection and Brigadier General in the American Revolutionary War; the national bards: Adam Mickiewicz (laid to rest there in 1890) and Juliusz Słowacki (1927), as well as Władysław Sikorski – Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, along with Marshal Józef Piłsudski – founder of the Second Polish Republic. Pope John Paul II considered being buried there also at one point in time, while some of the people of Poland had hoped that, following ancient custom, his heart would be brought there and kept alongside the remains of the great Polish rulers. (John Paul II was buried under St. Peter's Basilica, a papal burial site since antiquity, instead.)