The first winners of the Benedict of Poland Award 2015
The first gala ceremony of the Benedict of Poland Award took place on the 12th June 2015 in the Collegiate Church of St. Mary and St. Alexius in Tum. The first two award winners were chosen by the Award Committee during its sessions on March 16th and April 8th, 2015. The award for a Polish citizen was given to prof. dr hab. Maria Krzysztof Byrski, prominent Polish scientist, orientalist (Indologist), Polish Ambassador to the Republic of India in 1993 - 1996. The prize for a foreigner for their merits in cooperation with Polish researchers was awarded to prof. dr hab. Nikolai Grube - German scientist, epigrapher, a world-class authority on the writing system of the Maya civilization. The Award Committee decided also to award a special diploma to Aleksander Doba, a Polish adventurer, canoeist and explorer who was the first man in history to single-handedly cross the Atlantic Ocean by canoe from continent to continent (from Africa to South America and from Europe to North America), solely through the strength of his muscles.
Before the gala ceremony, a press conference took place in Łęczyca Royal Castle with prof. dr hab. Maria Krzysztof Byrski (one of the award winners) and some of members of the Committee, namely: prof. dr hab. Mariusz Ziółkowski (Vice Chairman of the Committee and Chairman of the Polish Chapter of The Explorers Club), Krystyna Pawlak (Deputy Governor of the Łęczyca District), Monika Rogozińska (cofounder of the Polish Chapter of The Explorers Club) and Krzysztof Lipiński (Mayor of Łęczyca). The conference was hosted by Andrzej Borucki - Director of the Museum in Łęczyca and Secretary of the Committee. During the meeting with journalists, Ms. Rogozińska recounted the story of the International Association of The Explorers Club, which brings together the greatest travellers, adventurers, explorers and researchers as well as promotes their discoveries and reminds us about the forgotten heroes in the history of exploration. She also told the story of the patron of the award - Benedict of Poland, a Franciscan monk who is believed to be the first Polish traveller, adventurer and xplorer. In the years 1245 - 1247 Benedict travelled to the Mongol Chan alongside the papal legate Giovanni da Pian del Carpine. The fruit of this expedition into Asia (30 years before the Marco Polo expedition!) was a detailed description of the lands they visited and the lives of the local inhabitants they met. The expedition would probably not have been successful without the help of Konrad the Grand Duke of Łęczyca, who generously endowed travellers in gifts to the Mongols, and Vasily the Grand Duke of Vladimir, who gave the explorers valuable tips on how to navigate the territory of the Rus, which at that time was occupied by Genghis Khan's Asian empire. Next speaker was Krystyna Pawlak who preaented the beginnings of the cooperation between the Polish Chapter of The Explorers Club, Warsaw Scientific Society and the local authorities of the town and region of Łęczyca. She also reminded the listeners about the Benedict of Poland Fairs which were organised in Łęczyca in the recent years in order to remind the local community about Benedict of Poland as well as to present the culture of the countries which Benedict and Giovani da Pian del Carpine visited during their expedition. Prof. Mariusz Ziółkowski familiarised the audience with the idea behind the Benedict of Poland Award and the achievements of one of the laureates of the prize - prof. dr Maria Krzysztof Byrski. The laureate himself also expressed his surprise and gratitude for being awarded the prize.
The gala ceremony took place in the Collegiate Church of St. Mary and St. Alexius in Tum at 6 p.m. that day and the prize was awarded in the presence of the inhabitants and authorities of the town and region of Łęczyca, travellers, adventurers, representatives of the clergy, universities and academic centres from Poland and Europe. The gala was hosted by Andrzej Borucki, the Director of the Museum in Łęczyca and Father Paweł Olszewski, the parish priest of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary and St. Alexius in Tum. The guests were welcomed with the performance of Hunting Signalers of Świnice Warckie. Next, the hosts read out the letters from people who, for various reasons, could not appear at the ceremony: Rudolf Nikel - the German Ambassador, Małgorzata Omilanowska - the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, Celestino Migliore - the Apostolic Nuncio in Poland and Sławomir Ratajski - the Secretary General of the Polish Committee for UNESCO. The audience was informed about the history of the venue of the ceremony and the journey of Benedict of Poland and Giovani da Pian del Carpine. Then, the winners of the prize, prof. dr hab. Maria Krzysztof Byrski, prof. dr hab. Nikolai Grube and Aleksander Doba were presented by Monika Rogozińska, prof. dr hab. Mariusz Ziółkowski and Krystyna Pawlak. Unfortunately, Aleksander Doba could not be present at the ceremony as at that time he was collecting an award in Washington, D.C. Next, the Benedict of Poland Award was handed out to the laureates by prof. dr hab. Stanisław Rakusa Suszczewski - the Chairman of the Award Committee and dr hab. Mariusz Ziółkowski - the Vice Chairman of the Award Committee. The laureates received commemorative diplomas as well as financial rewards. After a group photo of the award winners and the Award Committee was take the laureates gave speeches about their fields of knowledge, achievements and travels. The ceremony ended with the Liquescentes choir performing Gregorian chants. The performance was a beautiful finale of the Benedict of Poland Award ceremony.
(English version for the Museum in Łęczyca: Anna Błaszczyk)