“A Witch Named, or a Short Lesson and Warning from Witches” is the title of a short discourse being a part of the collection of Józef Ignacy Kraszewski kept in Cieszyn’s Historical Library.
Cieszyn’s library holds its second edition, published in 1714 in Gdańsk by the publishing house of Jan Daniel Stoll and “on the request and at the expense of the Reverend Consistory of Gdańsk”. However, the booklet had been first published in Poznań75 years earlier, in 1639, by the printing house of Wojciech Regulus, a former Lubranieccy Academy teacher.
The content of “A Witch Named” is far from reflecting opinions contained in the majority of written works on witchcraft processes of those days. It is, indeed, the first opinion in the Polish literary texts against drowning of witches. Its author criticizes also “witch naming”, that is pointing other suspects, usually female neighbors, wives or daughters of influential people by women convicted of witchcraft. The author claims that such situation was caused by the fear of tortures of the accused. It was for this fear that women pleaded guilty and entangled other alleged culprits into the so called “evil affair”. The author of “A Witch Named” appeals also to the judges to be reasonable. He believes in the existence of evil forces, i.e. in witches and the devil. He mocks, however, the generally accepted methods of witches’ interrogation. The author describes events of evident abuse of the usage of those methods and advises everyone not to be deluded by clergymen: “so that you are not misled by the devil in a clergyman, which is not so rare”. He also encourages seeking rational pieces of evidence for the existence of witches, and criticizes court sentences based on guesswork and superstitions.
The essay is anonymous, though some researchers suspect that Wojciech Regulus could have been its author, hiding his identity for the fear of consequences that questioning methods of witchcraft combat at his times could bring onto him. A piece of evidence supporting the mentioned suspicion could be the next book published by his publishing house, namely “Cautio criminalis oder rechtliches Bedenken wegen der Hexenprozesse”, written by a Jesuit writer, Friedrich von Spee, which is a treaty against application of tortures during processes for witchcraft. The publication seems to suggest that this printer from Poznań was a consistent holder of liberal, as for his times, beliefs on the judiciary system.
“A Witch Named” turns out to be interesting piece in the religious context. As Monika Kliś discovered in her recent queries conducted in the Library of Cieszyn, on page 44 of the text in question we can find the following section: „[…] in the Principality of Cieszyn, in the town of Cieszyn: in this town there were two clerks of high rank, equivalent to our mayor and village-mayor. They became heretics for the Prince’s conventia, to other crimes committed by their sect, added also an attack on the poor monastery of St. Francis; and expulsion of the monks in humiliation as thieves. As if that was not enough, they built municipal gallows from the bricks of a knocked down church. They were not punished by the Prince, for they enjoyed his confidence; however, they did not enjoy God’s confidence. Offspring of theirs, brought up in the liberty of the New Gospel, with no fear of God, having grown up spoiled excessively, sons of the mayor and village-mayor started to humiliate and loot people. Having discovered that, the Prince ordered to hang both of the sons of the mentioned municipal gallows. So they were the first to have been hanged on the gallows built by their fathers. This is what I was told there by the citizens of the town”.
This account, heard by the author of “A Witch Named” presumably in the very town of Cieszyn, and quoted to support his argument that everyone, regardless of their social status or denomination, will inevitably be punished for breaking the divine laws, is the earliest, and so far unknown to historians of the region, description of the circumstances of the fall of the Franciscans monastery in Cieszyn. Although the legend was known to the historiographers of Cieszyn since at least the times of Leopold Jan Szersznik, apart from Matthias Kasperlik, no one provided the source of the legend. When quoting the story of the mayor’s son, who was allegedly hanged on the gallows built from the remains of the demolished monastery of St. Francis, Matthias Kasperlik quotes also an account of the prior of the Dominicans from Cieszyn, which contained, among others, the following sentence: „Ex ruinis, to gest z tiech rozburžených kamenj a czyhel (yak se rozprawi) Ssybeniczy Tiessynsku wystawiely.” (From ruins, that is from the scattered stones and bricks – as is said – they built the gallows in Cieszyn). This account was, however, written down only in 1645, while “A Witch Named” was printed 6 years earlier, in 1639 , which creates a question if the expression used by the Dominicans’ priori “yak se rozprawi” proves unusual popularity of this legend, or rather is a proof of prior’s wide erudition and knowledge on the Polish literature as well. We will probably not be able to find out an answer to this question, since no other known historical source mentions the sorrowful fate of the mayor’s son, and even a student of Szersznik, Alojzy Kaufmann, doubts the veracity of the story of utilization of the ruins of the Discalced Brothers to build gallows. Later historians of Cieszyn, including Gottlieb Biermann and Matthias Kasperlik himself, were also critical about it. It was about events which had occurred almost 100 years earlier than “A Witch Named” was written and printed. What seems to be certain, however, is that in 1545, when the prince of Cieszyn gave the former Francisca’s premises to the municipal hospital, the monastery buildings still existed along with their equipment. It is clearly indicated by the expressions used in document of bestowal from the prince: “A my chticz aby to chudem lidem a Sspitali Tiessynskemu k dobremu a użitecznemu przysslo, nadawame to wsseczko misto, kde byl Klasster, Kostel z Ornaty a wssem Klinoty, z stawenjm a zahradami, k tomu naležitymy, Chudym nynieyssym a budauczym w Sspitalu Tiessynskem” (And We, whishing it to become beneficial for the poor and for the hospital of Cieszyn, bestow all this place where there was a monastery, church with vestments and all valuables, with buildings and gardens belonging to it to the poor of present and future in the hospital of Cieszyn).