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5 traditions, abandoned by The Gallows Hill

Church in Reszel Church in Reszel Creative Common BY-SA

A quiet and peaceful town in Warmia Province, just 6 km from the Marian Sanctuary in Swieta Lipka, remembers terrible things. It’s a place, where the chapter devoted to evil traditions was forever closed.

Most of us like to celebrate the holidays traditionally, treating this period as one of the very few moments in the year to meet with the whole family. Unfortunately, the tradition isn’t always connected with good things. In the past it was associated with an absolute punishment even for minor offences, like stealing bread.

It’s difficult to say which period was most abundant in the infamous "traditions" of harsh sentences and tortures. You can, however, say that in the forefront of this unusual black list are the Middle Ages, with burning stacks and forests of gallows, set along the roads or on the hills.

5 dark "traditions" of the Middle Ages

The worst things happened to those, who had been accused of heresy or witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Pretty enough was to point the finger at the woman, who was unlucky to be more beautiful than her jealous neighbor, to send her to unbelievable tortures. If she happened to survive dunking, also called the water test, she proved that she’s a witch, which was an equivalent to a death sentence. If she drowned during tortures - well, she was apparently innocent.

But very often there was no need to accuse anyone of witchcraft, kill him or make him admit to any crime assigned by the judge. Simple, innocent tickling with a feather was a cruel torture for many people. A walk in the shoes of penance (with spikes on the heels) was a struggle with fatigue and waiting until the victim was no longer able to walk on toes. Metal helmet put on the head of disobedient women was used rather to humiliate them than to cause them pain, but in the hands of an ingenious blacksmith, it could turn into a tool that could cause a lot of pain.

Not just a torture, but a cruel medieval sentence was being burned at the stake. According to some historical sources, the last stake was burnt not in Spain, which was home to the Holy Inquisition, but in Poland.

The last stake in Europe

This mysterious, shrouded in a sinister fame place is located in Warmia Province, in the town of Reszel. The Gallows Hill owes its name to the gallows, on which criminals were hanged in the past. This grim structure was visible from a distance, spreading the aura of evil and death over the hill. To this day, very few people get up the courage to visit this place at night.

Just outside the city gates we will see the cross. Apparently, it stands exactly in the place, where the last European witch was burnt in 1811. In fact, Barbara Zdunk, wasn’t a witch at all, but only an unfortunate woman in love, who couldn’t reconcile herself with the loss of her lover. When his house burnt, she became the main suspect – the outraged people didn‘t need any further evidence. People were angry, because along with the aforementioned house, nearly all the buildings in Reszel were destroyed in fire.

Barbara was accused of witchcraft and her case reached even to the King of Prussia. However, the sentence was upheld and woman was burnt at the stake. Apparently, she was mercifully strangled by the executioner before he hanged her. Over 200 years later, the authorities of Reszel have prepared the staging of this event. It aroused a great controversy, including the protests of the Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, who claimed that the show intensifies anti-woman stereotypes.

Reszel - the ambassador of Sanfter Tourismus

The city has forgotten about the evil traditions, and the only reminiscent of harsh medieval punishments is a stone part of the pillory next to the parish church of St. Peter and Paul. The bad energy is dissipated by two crosses standing near the places of executions. The Gallows Hill looks at the town in silence, recalling the ancient history.

Today Reszel is a quiet town, trying to forget about the gloomy past of the hill. It’s the first Polish city belonging to the Cittàslow network. It will appeal to the amateurs of the so-called mild tourism (Sanfter Tourismus), who visit the world in a slowly manner. They will like the pilgrimage trail to Swieta Lipka, with baroque chapels and rows of linden trees, as well as religious monuments and Gothic bridges. It’s worth to visit this place while on leave in Mragowo – it’s located only 27 kilometers from the pearl of the Mragowo Lakeland.

Translation: Karolina Strzałkowska

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