Sunday, June 23, 2013

Holy Grail in Bezlawki, part 1, Escape after Hastings

Bayeux tapestry, battle of Hastings. Via wiki commons, by Maxim

This blog has been neglected for long time. I planed and promised to write about the legend of the Holy Grail in Bezlawki, today's Poland. I mentioned before that it seems that Arthurian legends were very well received in Poland. But the legend of holy Grail in Bezalwki has some not very semi-historical events in it, and had people who are historical too. However, I am not saying here we need to believe the legend because of its historicity: it is just a legend based on real facts.

This is a story about a battle, escape, two chalices, two fighting brothers, the crusaders and a tower.
The battle in question was the battle of Hastings, when the last Anglo-Saxon king, the Harold II of England Harold II of England was killed. His children escaped to Denmark, as they were not safe anymore when  William the Conqueror became a new ruler. Short reminder: the mystical object of Medieval times, Holy Grail, was believed to be several things, one version was that it was the cup, or a chalice, into which Joseph of Arimathea collected blood of Jesus during the crucifixion. It became the ultimate  blood relic, which was brought by Joseph of Arimathea to the British Island. One version say that is connected to the Glastonbury Abbey.

 The tradition  also say that it was taken by escaping members of fallen dynasty more East, in order to save their lives, three people. They found refuge at the court of Danish king, their relative. They didn't escape empty handed, as you guess the story goes, they took  what they wanted, or rather what they thought was so precious they couldn't bear to leave behind. Among precious objects they considered worthy not to fall into the hands of William the Conqueror were two chalices, (from Britain and Greece). Finally  the grail was installed in this church, in Bezlawki, on the picture bellow. It stayed there for several centuries, still during the twenties of XX c. one travel book writer, Orlowicz, claimed he still saw one of the chalices in the church.

Church in Bezlawki today, empty, wiki commons, courtesy of Severus

Who were those three expatriate children of Harold II of England as real historical people? One of them was Gytha of Wessex Gytha of Wessex, who later became the wife of  Vladimir II Monomakh, the  ruler of  Byzantium influenced Kievan Rus. He is also known under name of Waldemar. Gytha's and Vladimir's son is mentioned in Norse sagas, there he is called Harald  his Slavic name was Mstislav. One of the brothers, Godwin, became the ruler of one of Lithuanian principalities, a duke. How it was possible? This was XI c. but Lithuania still was very similar to VI c. Britain: like at the court of king Arthur the knights took decisions during an assembly. Upward mobility was possible, still, during those days for a warrior who was considered worth of rule.

 Back to  Bezlawki: it was far away, actually when the chalices, (or chalice? ) first were installed there, the building which is the church today was not a church at all, but the fortified  tower of the crusaders. Not the Knights Templars, often they are associated in modern versions of the story with holy grail, but in this story we have Teutonic Knights, the worshipers of the Virgin Mary, with black crosses instead of red ones. They were  Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. Knights form Europe joined them, not only from Germany. They were invited by pious Polish princes, Prussian Crusade was part of their military enterprise.

Church in Bezlawki, another view, wiki commons, courtesy of Jerzy Strzelecki

The Teutonic Knights came into the posession of the chalices later,but  it wasn't a war loot . It was a gift. From a rather pious ally.

Teutonic Knights, as a military order on a mission they  pressed East, however,  not South but  North, and who like those knights who went to the Holy Land got the blessing of  pope, they fought the  non-Christians, in this case the pagans, of today's Poland and Baltic states. They build a fortress which at the timescut the most east into the territories of the pagan Prussians, the Baltic people.  One  thing :  the English  version of article about Bezlawki mentions that the the fortress was a hunting lodge build by the Teutonic Knights. Not true, it was a fortified tower, a Wildhaus, as the knight called it, a house, a post in the wilderness. The forest was dense there, and I am sure there were hunters too, who hunted the wild  (it means game in German, also wilderness). However Jagd is hunting, hunting lodge is Jagdhaus. This was a fortress in which knights were stationed, not the hunters.

Two brothers, Lithuanian  dukes were in a bitter conflict. Jogaila, the older one,  who later became the king of Poland, was against the Teutonic Knights. His ascend to Polish throne happened after the Teutonic Knights were subdued and after Jogaila got baptized, it was the Christianisation of Lithuania. His younger brother,  Svitrigaila, sided with the Teutonic Knights, he also brought for them two mentioned chalices which were installed in the tower. Not too unusual, as the relics in the Medieval times were believed to help in difficult situations, and an outpost so far East probably was considered worth of help. Svitrigaila was invited to live in the tower together with his garrison. So, he didn't really give it away,  he moved with it. Svitrigaila still during XX c. was considered direct descendant of Harold II of England by Polish historians. Teutonic Knights promised him the crown of Lithuania.

More information follows soon.One Polish Medieval chronicle is somehow unusual,  it shows that Arthurian legend was taken seriously.Also two Lithuanian Grand Dukes were married to women who became divine: one was considered a goddess (she was a pagan), the other became a saint. Both were worshiped. Also the Nazis had it base very close: 30 buildings, 50 bunkers. It is today a tourist attraction, called Wolf's Lair.

As for the story, yes, it is kind of difficult to believe, it is a legend after all, we don't need to believe it. (I don't). Is it difficult to believe that such legend exists in Poland? Why? legends of escapes are not uncommon in Poland, it was a country to which refugees often went. And you can find this legend retold in polish on the net. Here are links to a website of a licenced tour guide (site in English) where the lady talks about  the legend, another is website of the town near Bezlawki. Not the only articles on net about this legend. This i part of tradition, really.

Blog entry by the tourist guide, she describes it well

Article in Polish, sorry, gmina Ketrzyn site, lots of hsitorical inforamtion