The past is knocking at Krakow’s gates
Have you ever thought of going back in time to a world of courage, honor, knights in shining armor and princesses waiting faithfully for their beloveds?
Wouldn?t it be fascinating to feel the atmosphere of Middle Age mystery and romance, to see people adorned in ornate costumes and to marvel at how they remained untarnished and unwrinkled as they fought for their principles?
On Saturday, June 2, at 11:00, the past came knocking at Krakow?s gates.
Several knightly brotherhoods ? among them ?Kupiec Rycerstwa Malopolskiego Leliwa? and ?Druzyna Rycerska Jakuba Odrowaza? ? made camp by the railway station and proceeded to Rynek Glowny and the Vistula River. Encased in heavy suits of armor and prepared for battle, the knights marched along their way.
The brotherhoods gather weekly, recreating historical events as a mark of appreciation and fascination for medieval times.
?We are all friends and we each have our own role to play as part of the event. Basically these are roles and responsibilities you would find in society in the Middle Ages,? says Michal Smielak from the ?Leliwa? brotherhood.
The first such fraternities in Poland were established around 1977.
In 1997, some of them signed the Knights Rules and Code, thereby being admitted to a Chapter that specifically organizes and arranges them. There are a great number of such fraternities in Poland. While it would be hard to even list all the names, we can divide them into those fraternities interested in the early medieval period and those in the late. Some brotherhoods employ exacting methods when selecting members, but an honest and honorable person should have no problem in being accepted.
A fascination with traditions and an enormous interest in medieval values and history lure future members to the fraternities. Also, joining a fraternity is a good chance to escape from everyday reality for a while, a change to our fast lifestyle. It is a little bit of mystery that we can get on our own; not from books or movies but from sharing the habits of people living thousands of years ago. And as one of the princesses demurely admits, ?The men are a good reason as well.? Tempting, isn?t it?
One might ask: where do they get those wonderful clothes? Members of the ?Jantar? brotherhood make their own, although others often hire a tailor. All the costumes have to be made as they were in the past?the same combinations of materials and the same style of sewing. For this, they use patterns from old drawings and descriptions. The materials are similar, natural, and even the gold and silver have to be real.
Some of the fraternities have imitated the clothes worn by the nobility, Cossacks, Swedes or Scots. Clearly there is a lot of interest in armor. ?It?s impossible to imagine how difficult it is to wear,? says Wiktor from the ?Leliwa? fraternity. Besides the outer garments, which are made of metal, there is a soft armor underneath, which makes movements even more difficult.
Is it a hobby like any other?
Michal Smielak says, ?It?s a hobby like fishing, but more expensive.?
The price of a costume can be more than 2,000 zloty. And besides the clothes, a real knight also has a weapon. A sword for example may cost 1,000 zloty or even more.
On the other hand, as they say, maybe nothing good in life is free.
Nowadays, the interest in this type of clothes and swords is considerable. This has resulted in the development of an industry that specializes in articles from medieval times.
The ?Leliwa? brotherhood even has an impressive set of arms that includes spears, bows, hatchets, muskets and cannons. They even have an assortment of medieval torture devices. When Michal Smielak was asked where he keeps this rather strange equipment, he answered, ?Where my car should be?in the garage.?
The brotherhoods have the opportunity to meet and fight when special tournaments are organized in cooperation with brotherhoods from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania or Germany. The most spectacular rally for all Polish knights is the staging of the Battle of Grunwald. During this great medieval European battle, the Polish hero, Wladyslaw Jagiello, won victory over the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 1410.
All members pay significant attention to moral values. These would be honor, truthfulness, responsibility, courage, courtesy and respect towards women. Clearly, it?s not the cowl that makes the monk. They are knights, but wearing armor is only one reason to call them that. ?These are all fantastic and brave people,? says Ryszard Kopciuch Maturski, a close friend of the ?Jantar? fraternity.
Everyone finds something that they enjoy in the brotherhood. For example, cooking old Polish dishes such as bigos (hashed sausage, pork and beef stewed in sauerkraut), podplomyk (a kind of bread, crude biscuit) or polewka (caudle from bear?a warm, spiced wine or ale mix sometimes given to the ill), all prepared in large kettles as they were 500 years ago. Useful information and recipes for cooking this delicious food in a middle age setting may be found (in Polish only) at www.leliwa.com.pl.
Kids can also join the fraternity, but certain fraternities require them to come of age before they can fight. We cannot forget about the princesses, who are rarer than knights, therefore all-the-more-so unforgettable. They also have their responsibilities in keeping the society running, like embroidering, singing and making clothes. In the ?Jantar? fraternity, women are called ?whiteheads,? because of the white kerchief worn after marriage.
Apart from the princesses? important role in reconstructing the past, they attract people of every age. They are often invited by firms or local governments on special occasions to create a bit of mystery. They have become symbolic of the long history of cities. Where would they feel better than in Krakow?
The film industry is also interested in the brotherhoods? achievements. ?Jantar? had the opportunity to play in ?Stara BaSn? (?Old Tale?) and ?Ogniem i Mieczem? (?By Fire and Sword?). One of the actors, Marcin Bubacz said, ?It was a great experience. Even our hand-made goods, such as furniture, were used on the set.?
As Krakow celebrates 750 years of its existence as a city, people gaze at scenes of knights fighting and the interesting costumes that enrich our streets with the spirit of medieval Krakow. Children are enchanted by a different world as princesses and knights become real, revealing their history.
The brotherhoods have found a way to cherish and foster traditions and customs. More, they have managed to create a different lifestyle, a chivalrous life of respect for themselves and the people surrounding them. One that maybe we all miss from time to time. They enjoy every moment of their ?life in the past,? far from technology and contemporary civilization.