Ghosts and Legends in Prague
Again we can claim a world record – the greatest number of ghosts per square kilometre. Every respectable palace or medieval castle in Europe has at least one ghost wandering around the corridors, but Prague has dozens of such houses and locations. You can stumble across some ghost or apparition almost every step of the way in the Old Town; all you have to do is look, and know where to look.
Monument for a Ghost
The people of Prague really do appreciate their ghosts. They have even established a monument to one of them! This is the Iron Man, whose statue can be found on the corner of the New Town Hall building.
The ghost of Jáchym Berka suffers, and rightly so. After returning home from the war, he believed the evil rumours and spurned his fiancée. Only when he married a girl from the neighbourhood did he realise what a mistake he had made. Not only did his spurned fiancée and her father take their own lives, but his wife turned out to be a lazy alcoholic.
He resolved the situation like a man; he strangled his wife and hanged himself in the cellar. But even then, he did not find peace. His ghost wanders around Platnéřská, hoping for salvation. He has one chance at this every hundred years, after an hour’s conversation with an untouched virgin. But these are not easy to come by these days, and chattering away with the world of more experienced girls will not help Jáchym.
Not Even Týn Cathedral Sleeps at Night
In the courtyard of Týn Cathedral, in the so-called “Ungelt”, you may meet the Turk on moonlit nights, dragging the severed head of a girl behind him from her chestnut pigtails in his right hand. This passionate oriental asked for the innkeeper’s daughter’s hand in marriage. But before he married her, he nipped home. When he returned four years later, his bride-to-be just happened to be getting married. The Turk assessed the situation in a flash and decided to act. When he failed to stab the groom – who hid in the toilet – he decided to at least cut off the head of his former sweetheart. However, he did not anticipate that he was sentencing himself to haunt this foreign land in doing so eternally.
The “Sněžibaba” (“Ghost Lady of the Snow”) also haunts the area around Týn Cathedral. You will only come across her when it is snowing. She is the ghost of the verger’s wife, who was so lazy that her husband had to do all of the work in the vicarage, including cooking and cleaning. Once, in winter, he fell ill, and his wife failed to cook or clear away the snow which had fallen deeply that day. So not only did the vicar go hungry, but he also broke his femur and died of the injury within a week. From that time on, whenever it starts to snow, an old woman with a broom appears by Týn Cathedral and sweeps and sweeps …
You can meet the “Bell-Ringing Nun” in the tower of Týn Cathedral. This is the ghost of an evil noblewoman who terrorised her subjects far and wide. Once, she even strangled her maid because she refused to pass her a comb during prayer. When she realised that she had probably overstepped the mark, she entered a convent and devoted the rest of her life to caring for the poor. She also gave away all of her fortunes to the poor and donated a new bell to the cathedral. She appears from time to time dressed as a nun and rings out the Ave bell here.
The Jewish Quarter of Prague is another place where there is not usually much peace at night. An hour before midnight, you can come across a figure wearing a cowl near the Jewish Cemetery heading towards the Vltava. The former organist is a baptised Jew who was confused about his faith. He turned from the Jewish community to the Christians, even becoming one of the most popular chaplains at St Vitus Cathedral. Just before his death, he returned to Judaism and had himself buried on Jewish soil. This is why he did not find peace even after his death. He rises from the grave at eleven at night. A skeleton in a boat awaits him by the Vltava to transport and accompany him to St Vitus Cathedral. So the priest-Jew plays the organ, and the skeleton works the bellows for him. At one in the morning, they both then return.
The Dancing Jewess is an extremely dangerous ghost. Her task is to dance to death to anybody who will let her. This girl was one of ten ladies of the night who worked in the “u Kučerů” house on Ozerova. This was a cheerful and most iniquitous establishment. Whereas similar establishments closed on Good Friday, things were at their merriest here on that day. And the wildest of the girls was a beautiful Jewess. At eleven o’clock at night, the doors burst open, and a figure dressed in black, with a red cowl on his head and a whip in his hand, entered. He began to flog all of the girls and chase them out onto the street. The Jewess received most of the blows, and after the beating, he ordered her to dance until Judgement Day.
Another Jewess who haunts the Old Town is known as the Strangling Jewess. Her fate was sealed when she chose Anselm, a monk from the St Nicholas Monastery, as her lover. A secret passage led from her parents’ house to the monastery crypt, where the lovers also met. But, of course, the abbot caught them after some time and put an end to their relationship. Anselm moved quietly to a distant monastery and never saw his sweetheart again. The young girl went insane with grief and kept running away to the crypt, where she wailed and called for her lover at the top of her voice. The sympathetic abbot went down to assuage the girl, but she knocked him down and strangled him to death with superhuman strength. She appears to this very day in the place where the tragedy occurred, looking for somebody to get her revenge on. If there is no clergyman to hand, she will not turn her nose up at a mere mortal.
Karlova and Its Surrounding Area
You will meet many strange things here too. For example, you may be surprised by a mad barber at midnight. Under the reign of Rudolf II, he used to be an esteemed citizen who was making a good livelihood. But trimming beards was not enough for him, and he began to flirt with alchemy – he tried to make gold at home. He failed and impoverished his whole family. The daughters ended up in brothels, and his wife threw herself off the castle walls. He himself went mad and attacked passers-by with a razor. He attacked some soldiers so badly that he took all night to die, and nobody helped him. He wanders the streets to this very day, hoping that somebody will let him shave them, but looking at his mad grin, he will most likely be waiting to do so in vain.
The “U Zlaté studny” (At the Golden Well) house also has its own ghost. This unfortunate maid believed that there was a treasure hidden in the well behind the house. Everybody thought this, but only she bent over the lip of the well, trying to find something. Unfortunately, she fell in and drowned. After this accident, the house owner had to find a new maid and clean out the well. And whilst doing so, he really did find that mythical treasure. But this did not help the maid very much – she became an unattractive ghost waiting until this very day for somebody to rescue her. All it would take is a single coin from that treasure. But where has that ended up today?
It is above all when there is a fire that we can see the Flaming Man. He was a great miser who had nothing better to do during his life than to enjoy the lustre of his increasing number of gold coins. When a fire broke out in a neighbouring house, he thought only of his fortune. He grabbed a heavy bag and dashed off with it. But he suffered a heart attack on Kaprova. The bag came undone of its own accord, and all of the passers-by started to pick up his money instead of helping him. This miser does not even have any peace after his death, and to this very day, he can be seen toiling away with his bag. He can only be saved by somebody who helps him with his load as far as Malý Rynek.
There Are Many More Ghosts in Prague
These are just a few examples of the ghosts you can meet in the capital. Almost every corner of the city, every street and every house – many in Prague – has its own ghost. The Emauzy Monastery has its own devil, bell-ringer and monk. The ghost of a French Major inhabits Vyšehrad, and Turk transformed into a dog. You will come across a flaming turkey on Kampa island, a water sprite, and a timid Anežka or floating apparition with an infant. The ghost of a quack doctor haunts the Castle, as do a werewolf, a proud countess and many others.
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