Gdańsk

Prussian Hags: the Haggard Residents of Gdańsk Old Town

11 Jun 2020
They are easy to miss, living in the shadow of the Gdańsk Crane and other fabulous architectural wonders on the Long Waterfront in Gdańsk Old Town, but these worn old stone sculptures are a crucial link to an age when Northern Poland was the frontier of 'civilised' Europe and missionaries from Bohemia and Moravia (now Czech) were still gathering the courage to go and visit!
The elusive Prussian Hags on Gdańsk Waterfront.
Poland has been a stronghold of the Roman Catholic church for millennia and its foundation in 966CE saw the Christianisation of Duke Mieszko and his union of the pagan Slavic tribes. However, it mustn't be forgotten that the territories of Polonia were once inhabited by other non-Christian tribes that fiercely resisted this new religion from the west. One of the biggest of these ethnic/cultural groups were the Old Prussians, not to be confused with the dominant German state of the 18/19th centuries (or shall we say...New Prussians?). This Baltic tribe lived in what is now the Polish voivods of Pomerania and Warmia-Masuria, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Klaipėda Region of Lithuania. They spoke the now-extinct Prussian language, an ancestor of modern Lithuanian and Latvian, and followed pagan Prussian mythology, both of which are widely disputed in their details because very few records exist.
An early depiction of the pagan Prussians from c1175 in Gniezno, seen here murdering the missionary St Aadelbert.

One of the few remnants of this pre-Christian culture that are still with us are these works of stone, collected from around the countryside of Northern Poland, specifically the localities of Bronówo, Gałdówo, Mózgówo, and Susz. Locals refer to these humanoid forms as Stara Baba Pruska (ENG: Old Prussian Hags), even though they are male figures and are mostly endowed with militant accessories - swords, shields and quivers. Others hold a cross-armed gesture as if in a self-embrace or are carrying a drinking horn (see Hag #2). So what exactly are we looking at? They've adopted names like 'The Monk' and 'The Blasphemer of Mózgowo', however, these nicknames probably have very little to do with their actual histories.
Hag #1
'Holy Stone' from Gałdówo
Hag #2
From Bronówo/Susz
Hag #3
The Monk from Susz
Hag #4
The Blasphemer of Mózgowo

Some Historians believe that these hags are depictions of Prussian gods and idolatry was certainly common in other pagan cultural groups, including the Slavs and Balts. Others theorise that they are statues or possibly tombstones of tribal leaders, even though accounts would suggest that the Prussians cremated their dead. Other scholars believe that the stones were simply boundary markers for local communities. This may have played into the belief that Prussians had about certain cursed individuals - people who had been turned into stone for committing a serious offence. One historian, Jerzy Marek Łapo, has suggested that these hags may have been commissioned by the conquering Teutonic Knights to depict some sort of Prussian
          Prussian Hag in front of St Mary's Basilica
stereotype. Perhaps they were used to intimidate the local population?

Once again, it is impossible to know the exact reason for these hags' existence. The newly-Christianised Poles and the Order of Teutonic Knights who had been phoned-in to brutally subdue the Prussians tribes on the Baltic had no interest in preserving cultural artifacts or keeping records of the people they were effectively genociding. After two centuries of fierce resistance, the 'Prussian Crusade' was completed by 1274. Throughout the Northern Polish countryside, approximately 21 of these elusive stone monuments remained standing, barely rousing anyone's curiosity until the 1700s, when these 'hags' were penned down for analysis. The family of four on the Gdańsk Waterfront and the extra freaky-looking one out front of St. Mary's Basilica are just some of the 21 living in museums and public spaces around the world. In Poland, many are located throughout the voivodship of Warmia-Masuria: two can be found in the town square of Bartoszyce, one in the Museum of Warmia-Mazuria in Olsztyn, and another was used as a brick in the wall of a church in Prątnica! In 2007, a new hag was also found during excavations carried out in the town of Poganowo. Elsewhere, a hag can be located in the courtyard of the Old Town Hall in Toruń!

 
Hag in Toruń. Photo by Margoz.
Olsztyn Hag. Photo by Margoz.
Hag used as brick in Prątnica. Photo by Stzstz.

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