The Magnificent Shrine to Magdalena Medlewicz

John Biggs

Today is 13/5/2003 and I, Lukasz Bulka, aged 15, am living with my parents in a small apartment in Ursynow, not far from the center of Warszawa. My room is three meters by three meters, very small. There is a bed on the left wall, as you enter, that folds into a couch. On the left wall I have my desk, computer, and all my books. As you enter, facing you, is my shrine to the Virgin Mary, which I must take down today.

The bed is upholstered in a scratchy brown material. It is filled with foam and once belonged to my brother, who is now doing military service. I will not do military service, which is compulsory, because my mother, who is a doctor, said that my eyes are too bad and that she will have a heart specialist in Gdansk attest that I have a rare ailment the makes me unfit. We all worry that my brother will tell on me to the Ministry of Defense, but we have an understanding. He will receive the apartment when my parents move out and I will get a car when I graduate university.

My parents now think I will be a priest. They see I am learning English and that I am in love with the Virgin Mary, but I am good at English because I love video games and I am only in love with Magdalena Medlewicz, aged 16, who is the most beautiful woman in the world.

Magdalena, or Magda as her friends call her, is one year ahead of me in high school. She has blonde hair, hazel eyes, a figure that none of her friends have. She is as beautiful as Pamela Anderson, and much more intelligent. She talked to me today and perhaps this is the beginning my life.

Yesterday, the parish priest came to see me.

—Lukasz, your mother believes that you want to be a priest. I haven’t heard this from you. Do you want to be a priest?

I shook my head.

—But Lukasz, you have a shrine to Mary, the Holy Mother of God, in your room. I have seen it and it is quite… stirring. Why?

This is why I must admit my love. I lied to a priest yesterday and then will have to go to the same priest and admit my lie. It is a compound sin.

—Tell me about your shrine.

The symbolism, which I learned in Polish class can make small things more meaningful, is thus. The shrine is outlined by an arc of five photographs. The central photograph, or capstone, shows Mary’s house on Bulbul, near Ephesus, Turkey. It symbolizes Magda’s house. She lives in a new house by the woods, across the highway from my bloc. The house symbolizes the closeness Madga and I may soon share, if all goes according to plan, that is if she falls in love with me and we marry and live together in a small apartment as I work towards my Master’s Degree in computer science at the University in Wroclaw.

The photograph to the right is a detail from a stained glass image of the Madonna and Child and symbolizes our future. The photograph to the left shows Our Lady of Sorrows, La Pieta, that symbolizes my sadness without her. At the tips of the arc are two angels, who symbolize faith and hope and encourage me to love Madga more dearly every day.

These are the symbolic photographs.

—Lukasz, said the priest, can I help you in some way? Your mother says you are not eating. You need not be embarrassed. You are at a strange age. You are not yet a man, but you are thinking big thoughts. I think this is true, no?

Certainly. I am a thinker, which makes it difficult to talk to Magda. She is a doer, a woman of action. She went skiing with her friends this Winter. I was almost invited to go along (I have a friend who has friends in her group) but I had a cold and when Magda’s friends discovered that my friend had invited more outsiders, they told him he could not come. This is why I have a statue of Mary, Queen of Snows, in my shrine. To symbolize the thwarted ski trip.

Then I have a rosary draped on a wooden statue of a sad-faced man who may be Jesus. The rosary is Magda’s love and the man, who looks more like an old man and not at all like Jesus upon closer inspection, symbolizes me, sitting in sadness, waiting for her to acknowledge me.

—If there is a problem, you can come to me to talk. I can take you with me next summer on a pilgrimage. There will be a number of your classmates going. We will go to Rome next year to meet the Pope.

But my Pilgrimage is much different. It is a hike towards an unconquerable mountain. It is a climb up Mount Medlewicz.

The last statuette, a tiny statue of Mary crowned in stars and standing on the serpent’s head, symbolizes Magda herself. She is my future. She symbolizes Magda in glory. She symbolizes Magda in love.

These are the statuettes.

So I will not go to Rome but I will go to Spain when Magda and her friends go this July. I will not meet the Pope but I will meet the devil himself, Przemek, Magda’s boyfriend, and I will win her from him.

—The soul of a young man is a delicate thing, said the priest. I want to help you nurture it. You are very smart, Lukasz. Your mother says so. She wants me to lead your heart towards goodness. She is afraid you spend too much time with the shrine and not enough doing good in the world. Thou shalt not make any graven image. It is right to worship the Holy Mother, but you spend hours looking at her, your mother says. You aren’t eating.

But this is what I want. I must plan. It is like a great battle. I have a mission, a reason to live. I will take down my shrine today, but its radiance will never leave my heart. I will find other ways to embody my love daily. I will no longer lie. I will not fear confession.


“I’m a New York writer and lived in Poland for three years.” E-mail: john[at]

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