The Beginnings and Baptism of Poland

Mieszko I, chief of the Polans, converts to Christianity on April 14, 966, founding Poland.

On April 14, 966, the Polish ruler converted to Christianity, transforming Poland into a recognized European state.

Poland had existed prior to this in some form, of course. As the Roman Empire collapsed in the early centuries AD, Germanic and Slavic tribes moved in and began to take over lands in central and eastern Europe. Already by the sixth century, western Slavic people began to settle throughout what is today Poland.

These western Slavs broke off into various tribes, such as the Vistulans, who settled in Krakow, and the Polans, who settled around Gniezno and Poznan. Poland grew out of the Polans. The Polan rulers were known as the Piasts.

The Conversion

Mieszko 1
Mieszko 1, Chief of the Polans

In the year 960, Mieszko I became the Piast ruler of the Polans. He wasn’t a king, but rather more of a chieftain who found himself in a difficult political position.

To Mieszko’s west, the German ruler Otto I had consolidated his power, having been crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope. His imperial title made him the defender of Christendom, successor of Rome and, arguably, the most powerful man in Europe. Otto had the means and authority to conquer and convert pagans, such as the Polans, to Christianity.

Mieszko knew that the longer the Polans remained pagan, the greater the chance they would be violently subdued by their Christian neighbors and forced to convert anyway. At the same time, Mieszko had married the Czech princess Dobrawa, who was a Christian (the Czechs had converted to Christianity a century earlier).

Early historical sources claimed that Dobrawa played a significant role in converting Mieszko to Christianity. That may only have been part of the story. More likely, Mieszko saw the writing on the wall—the threat of forcible conquest and conversion by the Germans—and made a deal with the Czechs to convert to Christianity in return for Dobrawa’s hand in marriage.

Whatever his motivations, on Holy Saturday April 14th, 966, Mieszko I, chief of the Polans, was baptized into Christianity. At that time, when a ruler converted, it was assumed all of his people would follow suit, which is why that moment is known as the Christianization of Poland.

The Rise of Poland

Once this occurred, the Polans essentially became “Poland” because their state earned recognition and respect from the Germans, Czechs and other European kingdoms. For this reason, 966 is also considered Poland’s birthday.

From that point forward, Mieszko I and his successor Bolesław the Brave (Poland’s first king) turned to conquest themselves, vastly expanding Poland’s borders. This is when the Vistulans of Krakow, parts of Silesia and parts of Pomerania fell under Poland’s control. Eventually, the Poles conquered territory as far as modern day Slovakia and Ukraine.

Poland would grow to become a major European kingdom in the coming centuries. Although it would suffer from internal strife, invasions and plagues throughout its history, Poland never lost its identity for very long. There’s a reason it still exists 1,053 years later and will, we pray, continue to exist for another 1,053 years.

8 thoughts on “The Beginnings and Baptism of Poland”

  1. How can I find out about MY history in Poland?
    I am born in Canada with Krolewski as my last name and know nothing about my origins.


    1. I don’t know your age, so I can’t guess whether or not you have older relatives who may know a little of your origins. It helps to know who it was from your family that first came to Canada (or the USA, if they came by that route), and approximately when. That could lead you to the records of the person(s) entering the country and may give a little more information. It’s searchable online. If you believe it was a certain person in your family, and you know their name, try Googling that name for starters.
      Talking to other family members can bring up surprising information. Usually someone knows something. This gives you a starting point.
      For inspiration I’d recommend you view a film on UTube called “three minutes in Poland”. Glenn Kurtz discovered an old cine film in a cupboard – it was of his Polish- born grandparents’ tour of Europe in 1938 and included three minutes of film in an unknown town in Poland. This was, of course, a year before the German invasion. Through amazing research, luck and tenacity, Glenn Kurtz found out a staggering amount of information about the town and the people in that film, and what became of them.


    2. If you want to try to trace your ancestry, the Mormons collect genealogy records world-wide as part of their religion. Some of my family members used their resources & I’m sure they have stuff on-line now like everyone else. But my relatives didn’t have much luck tracing the family in Poland itself (even with a trip there), which isn’t surprising since there was no Poland per se when my ancestors starting emigrating to the US in the 1870’s. And the chaos of 2 world wars didn’t do local records any good either.


  2. Proud of my 100% polish heritage… And proud to be an American. my family has passed our Catholic faith to us, and we honor many of the old traditions. I only wish I had learned the language from my bi lingual parents… Love to read this historical account!

    Liked by 1 person

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