The Sound of Krakow

St. Mary’s Cathedral towers over the quaint town square, keeping a watchful eye over the city of Krakow. The Gothic church is crookedly nestled in the Western corner of the plaza. Its red-brown brick and asymmetrical steeples are each topped with an unique ornate cap- the righter most stacked with a single dome in the center and 4 smaller domes surrounding the larger, and the left, only slightly more interesting in view but much more so in purpose, climbs up into several pointed, decorated contraptions, as if it were reaching up to scratch the sky. It is this taller steeple that holds so much weight within the Polish culture. Every hour, on the hour, if you crane your neck and look up the height of the tower, you’d recognize a small, tube-shaped thing peak itself out of one of the long open windows so discretely that it would be impossible to notice if one weren’t paying attention. But, as you squint your eyes in attempt to make sense of the oddity, all questions are answered with what your eyes fail to capture but your ears so suddenly do: It is a trumpet, a melody that dances in the cool breeze and gently falls down onto the people, softly landing on shoulders, gliding under hats and into ears, filling the square with its modest yet elegant tune.

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Sam, Helen, and I in the plaza in Krakow.

St. Mary’s Trumpet Call began in the early 1300’s and was primarily used for 2 things: A call at dawn and dusk to signify the opening and closing of city gates and to announce a spotted fire somewhere within the city. It later was used to commemorate each of the social classes as it would play a total of 4 times on the hour, each time facing out to the North, South, East, and finally the West. This latter tradition is still held today. However, the fact that the tune seems to end abruptly does not go unnoticed- the trumpeter does in fact cease to play in the middle of the tune. Tradition holds that in the early 1200’s (Though yes, the trumpet is thought to date to the 1300’s) a Mongol troop was spotted approaching the city. Though the gates were closed before the Tartars could get inside the city walls, the trumpeter was shot in the throat from outside the walls before he could complete the warning anthem signifying the approaching enemy. The Polish hold this story to be of great significance, and the anthem has stopped playing at the exact same note since.

One can learn a lot about a city based off of what they keep as tradition. The fact Mary’s trumpet call is sealed with the identity of Krakow is such a display of the embellished uniqueness that the 7th century city has to offer. The trumpeter seems to fit right in with the stone-walled castles, legends of dragons, and even the modern gentleness and charisma of Pope Saint John Paul II. It is fascinating to examine just how a single object can come to symbolize an entire culture. Thinking about the trumpet call opens the doors to ask important questions about our own culture, and others as well: What does this society hold to be important? What has stood through hundreds of years? Why is this particular thing so valued?  It are these questions that can lead us to a greater understanding of history.

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