When I lose my way while traveling, I find new places, people, and stories. For the past several years when I travel, I gather legends, folklore, fables, fairytales, and ghost stories from the places we are visiting, even the ones we did not know about until we happened upon them.
The original plan was to tour the Klementinum, one of the most beautiful and historically significant former university complexes in Europe. Founded by the Jesuits in Bohemia in 1556 then through the next 170 years became the over two hectare complex. The baroque style building houses the Baroque Library Hall, home of the National Library, and the Astronomical Tower, the measurements taken there are the longest uninterrupted observation of the climate in the world. I wanted to see both highlights, but the library was one of the primary reasons I visited Prague. Unfortunately, the library was closed due to a legal dispute with the National Library of the Czech Republic.
This is where meeting locals and discussing what they love about their city comes into play. Our hotel staff suggested we visit the Strahov Monastery. After a few phone calls by our new acquaintance, we had a private tour setup.
The building of the Romanesque basilica began around 1149 and was almost complete by 1182. A fire damaged the complex that was then reconstructed in 1258. But it was the Thirty-Year War, during the 1600s, when this Legend was born. This legend was included in “Prague in Legends” by Anna novetná, illustrated by Jam Klimeš and is summarized below:
A Finnish regiment of the Swedish army looted the abbey. They stole precious objects and in the Legend, this included robbing the dead. One particular Swedish mercenary had lost everything, through gambling, and was searching for anything he could turn into money. He was staying at the Strahov Monastery, a place stripped of anything that may have value, when he noticed an unusually placed tomb, in a lower passage in front of the sacristy. The tomb stone was still intact.
He waited until midnight, when all the mercenaries were asleep, and pried and wedged open the tomb. Holding up his lantern, he opened the tin coffin he found inside, hoping to find gold rings or jewellery. suddenly, there was a deafening boom behind him! The tombstone shuddered into place. As the walls shuttered a skeletal hand closed around the mercenary’s throat. So strong was the grip that the man was unable to call for help or defend himself.
The pillaging of the monastery was so vast, the newly damaged tomb was unremarkable. The mercenary noted missing, was not found before the soldiers departure.
As a part of the the monastery repair, the cracked tombstone would replaced. At its removal, the Swedish mercenary was found. On his knees, beside the coffin where the leaning skeleton’s hands were wrapped around his throat. Even in death, the mercenary could not escape the Skeleton’s Justice.
I would not have found the book, Prague in Legends, without the visit to the Strahov Monastery. Reading the legends while I sat in the Strahov Monastery Brewery, (try the potato-wild mushroom soup in a bread bowl, you won’t regret it), brought me a chill, even as I cradled my warm soup.
As the Halloween decorations creep across the surrounding yards, they reminded me of the Skeleton’s Justice.
A hidden staircase behind false books in the Strahov library.