At leisure – a bit of Chełmno (Culm) and Torun at dusk

Day off…

I learned to cherish each day off like the best delicacy. Especially, as my season seems to be a very long one – with the end in January. Well… we had a day off at the same time, and almost in the same company.  So we started off in the morning. It means – well after 9:00 a.m. we finally decided to move.

Our aim was Torun (Thorn), with a short stop in Chełmno (Culm) on our way. Unfortunately the days are getting shorter (thanks to the stupid time change, giving nothing but earlier darkness), and additionally – because we did not take the highway – in Chełmno we had time only to visit the High Church of the town (popularly called the… St. Mary’s). The reason for it was the lack of time on the way to Torun. As Torun was our day’s target.

But, it doesn’t mean we did not have time to drop in for a tasty chocolate cake and a delicious apple pie in Vanilla Cafe (just upstairs of the flower shop in the center of the town). It seems we did not lack the time for this.

However, Chełmno is a town for a whole day’s visit. For one can’t just walk past the details on the buildings, which although still awaiting better times – retained their charm. How not to sink in the soothing silence of the town’s churches, or how not to walk down the streets – yearning for the good old long gone times of the gossip on the thresholds… So we shall return to Chełmno in spring, when there will be neither itching chill of the wind, nor the drizzle, successfully discouraging to hunt for a good camera shot.

So – promising ourselves a longer spring visit, we finally took off for Torun.

And when we got there… Well, as always – we walked without a rush, and in fact without any purpose. As it is so difficult to decide what to touch first, what to see first. Should it be the Leaning Tower, or the Saint Johns’ Cathedral, or maybe St. James soaked in the purple light of the setting sun, or maybe should it be rather the Town Hall… Finally – as always, we ended up in St. Mary’s

And then we took a stroll through the streets in the deepening dusk.

However Torun is not only one of Poland’s 14 UNESCO sites, it is not only the place to explore the untouched medieval architecture, or to feel the atmosphere – retained throught the centuries. It is not only the town where the famous Nicolaus Copernicus was born…

Torun is also a place to eat delicious dumplings (pierogi). So to maintain the tradition – we went to the Leniwa restaurant. The dumplings were more than worth a visit.

Honestly I can state, that our Torun visit was without any plan, nor aim. We went there just because we love the city, and have known it for a long time. My long historical family bonds keep me tied to the city very firmly…

So we did not have to see anything in particular, neither we needed to admire anything special, to know we visited a unique place on earth 😉

I managed to take some photos of pretty good sights both in Chełmno and in Torun. And of course, because I forgot the tripod – some of the photos are out of focus… And for this I am sorry. 😉

Wednesday Wedding

There are many places in Gdansk related to the history of Sweden. These so-called Swedish traces in our city today attract tourists from Scandinavia (especially from the families or relatives associated with these places.)

One such place in Gdansk is undoubtedly the popular St. Mary’s Church. But I do not want to write about it again.  What I want to do now, is write about an incident that took place in an overseas country. The incident had an impact on the creation of an interesting epitaph (and a chapel too) in the said church.

And this is how the story goes:

Since he remembered, Johan Nilsson Gyllenstierna (av Ludholmen) had nearly always been in love with Sigrid Brahe (seems with reciprocity).

But… (there always is a BUT in every story)… Sigrid was “promised” to Erik Bielke.

And it is very much possible, that everything would have happened according to the family scenario, if not for… Princess Anne Vasa.

Sigrid was one of the ladies-in-waiting at Anne’s court and at the same time she was one of her favorite ones too. Johann Nilsson on the other hand – was one of the Swedish nobles, who opted for Sigismund III Vasa.

Apart from her beloved Princess, Sigrid, had no one to confide her illicit love to a beautiful cavalier (for this was how the contemporary described Johan Nilsson). Anna remembered her own romantic episode (almost since her childhood she was in love with Gustav Brahe), so who better than she could understand the despair of the girl.

And there was something more… There were rumors about Erik Bielke’s shameful disease. It was believed that he had caught the disease during his trip to Poland. That was more than enough for the girl. She simply fled to Stegeborg, her Lady’s castle.

Soon, Johann came to the castle too… Anne, moved with compassion, trusting in the strength of her authority (after all, she was the king’s sister), arranged a hasty wedding of the couple.

It was Wednesday, 19th March 1595, and the witnesses were Princess Anne and Lindorm Bonde – the envoy to Sigismund III.

Instantly there rose an uproar in the kingdom. In the premises of the three mighty families: Gyllenstierna, Brahe and Bielke there were even rumors about war among the families. However, nothing could be done, because the marriage had been legally concluded. And that, in the presence of the royal sister and royal envoy.

And here – a little digression – what luck, that Sweden was not familiar with the Polish squabbling and lawlessness from a bit earlier times. Because otherwise Sigrid would have inevitably ended as Halszka Ostrogska did.

Going back to the Wednesday Wedding (the only Wednesday Wedding in Swedish history) …

The case has become so famous that it was discussed in the Parliament. Anna was chided by her uncle Charles Duke of Södermanland (regent at that time). It is said that he would have chided her for anything, because he simply disliked her …

The Parliament resolved that national problem in such a way that the Gyllenstierna family was ordered to pay compensation to the Bielke family, and also a so called supplementary for the poor. In total, about 3 thousand thalers. Also it was enacted that the young couple should remain away from the so-called great world for at least 6 months in the year, so as not to annoy the humiliated family of the former fiancé.

During their stay in Kalmar – their son was born, whom they named Sigismund in honor of the Polish king.

Soon, the supporters of King Sigismund III had to leave Sweden because Charles – who yet was only a regent – he made a formal coup and seized power in the country. It was easier for him, as in contrast to the ultra catholic Sigismund – he was a Protestant. Sweden at that time was also Protestant, and the conduct of Sigismund was far from the tolerance of his Polish ancestry on the distaff side.

Johan Nilsson Gyllenstierna settled with his family in Gdansk. In 1608 he became a widower, and died in 1617.

The “fruit” of the famous  Wednesday Wedding – Sigismund – founded the chapel, from which I started my tale…

The chapel is located in the St. Mary’s Church – on the north side of the entrance, near the Shoemakers’ Gate. It is called the chapel of St. Reinhold or very often the Guldenstern Chapel. Above the entrance to it there can be seen a very interesting family epitaph.

The founder, as I said was Zygmunt – or rather, Sigismund Gyllenstierna.

So why Guldenstern?

Those who are unfamiliar with the Swedish language agree that it is extremely difficult to pronounce his name! How much joy do I bring to my Swedish groups everytime I’m trying to say it correctly 😉

Gdansk citizens as well as the Polish courtiers, with whom Johan had contacts had the same problems with the correct pronunciation. Therefore the surname had to be changed… His son was already known as Guldenstern. And as such, is known as the founder of the chapel.

Very important is the message of the founder, that not only members of the family can find the rest in the chapel. It was said that also those who had lost their Swedish homeland… But it is a topic for a separate story.

And what about Sigismund? He received excellent education in Torun’s Academic Gymnasium (which was one of the three such schools in the Polish Kingdom with an extremely high level of teaching).

Later he studied at the Universities of Leiden, Strasbourg and Rostock. After returning home he became one of the courtiers of King Sigismund III and even became a royal bed keeper…

In 1633 his nobility was approved by the coronation Diet of Wladyslaw IV.

In 1635, at the king’s command he and Gerhard Denhoff became directors of the Commission of His Royal Highenss’ Fleet.

His wife was Anna von Zehmen (Czema), daughter of Chelmno Castellan  – Fabian Czema.

In 1636 in Torun, he was one of the leaders of funeral services for Princess Anna Vasa, a person who greatly contributed to his birth…

And nine years later at the Torun Town Hall, during the Colloquium Charitativum he chaired the Lutherans of the Polish Kingdom.

To the guides in the Malbork Castle he is known for his failed defense against the Swedes in 1656; and to the Gdansk guides – he is known for holding the castellany since October of that year. We meet him again during the 1660 peace negotiations – when he demanded the return of his property in Sweden…

He died six years later and was buried in the chapel, which he founded…

The times passed, the fame of the family faded away. What remains? The epitaph in the church with a golden star and a memory of Sweden’s only Wednesday Wedding and romantic mediation of Princess Anna Vasa …


Published in: on 08/04/2011 at 22:12  Leave a Comment  
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Joachim Oelhaf

1580 was a crucial year for medicine in Gdansk.

It was when lectures on anatomy were introduced in Gdansk Academic Gymnasium, and the cathedral of anatomy and medicine was opened there. It was headed by the first official professor of anatomy in the Kingdom of Poland – Johann Mathesius (born in Joachimsthal,  Bohemia1544- died 1607).

His successor was Joachim Oelhaf.

This Gdansk citizen was one of the most eminent doctors in the 17th century Kingdom of Poland. He studied at Wittenberg. Then he spent some time at the Polish royal court, where he had the opportunity to benefit from the experience of the court physician of Sigismund III Vasa – Giovanni Battista Gemma.

Scholarship awarded by the City Council of Gdansk allowed Oelhaf to continue his studies in Padua and Montpellier, where he obtained a doctorate in medicine. At that time, Padua was a major center of the anatomical research.

Oelhaf returned to Gdansk in 1602, taking a function of the City’s physician. The year 1602 is a year of plague in Gdansk. It is considered that at least 15,000 lost their lives then – with an estimated population of about 50,000 – counting the suburbs. During this terrible time Dr. Oelhaf demonstrated great dedication, and gave evidence that he became a doctor from vocation. His generosity gained him a great esteem in Gdansk. When the epidemic ended life in the city slowly returned to normal – and also the Gymnasium re-opened. Joachim was appointed professor of  anatomy and medicine there. Now, in addition to medical practice, he lectured, participated in the debates of scholars, which was in good tone, and wrote scientific papers. As he was interested in botany as an auxiliary science for medicine, he founded a garden for medicinal herbs on the city’s ramparts. Medicine was his passion, and cognition – the route to it.

It is known that he conducted three autopsies. The first one was of a child with pathology of liver, the next – was necropsy of professor Keckermann. On February 27th of the year 1613 he conducted the first in this part of Europe public autopsy. In the times of the Franciscans it was the small refectory,  then in the times of Gdansk Academic Gymnasium it became the anatomy hall. Today there is an exhibition of  gold smithery in the room. And the building today houses Gdansk National Museum. This autopsy of 1613 was of a child with multiple defects. The child was born in nearby Pruszcz Gdanski (Praust). The results of the autopsy were published – hence it became known internationally throughout the then medical world.

During his stays in Gdansk, the King gladly visited Oelhaf. Those royal visits undoubtedly raised the prestige of the city physician.

Oelhaf’s life was very intense, because in addition to medical practice, lectures at the Gymnasium, disputes, has conducted experiments, and investigations of the medicinal properties of plants, he participated in surgeries, and he wrote treatises on physiology and anatomy. Unfortunately, this success story and the activity were interrupted by the plague in 1630. Joachim was one of its victims.

Joachim had a son: Nicholas who continued research on the herbs after his famous father. He has published work in the field of herbal medicine. And in this he was a forerunner. He described about  350 plants used in medicine. Nicholas was also the town doctor (physician), and the court physician of King Wladyslaw IV. Considering the kidney illness, from which the King had suffered since his early youth – Nicholas was a very busy court physician.

Unfortunately I know nothing more about his further life. Therefore it is all for the time being.