The Hejnal Bugle Call of St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s church anchors the Main Market Square of Krakow.  The Hejnal Bugle Call draws tourists and is rooted in legend.  There are two towers – the taller one is technically the city watch tower and the lower second one is the church steeple.

The pragmatic reason one is taller – if it’s THE watch tower then a second tower of the same height would obstruct a clear view in all directions.  And every hour a bugler sounds the traditional hejnał (pronounced “HEY now”) tune in all four directions of the compass.

According to legend, in medieval times the bugler would sound the call in the morning and evening to signal the opening and closing of town gates, and other times as an alarm.  The most feared invaders were the Tatars – they were fast horsemen, excellent bow men and extremely cruel – they raped or killed anyone they conquered.  During an early invasion of the Tatars (Mongols) a brave watchman sounded the alarm – and died in a rain of arrows as one pierced his throat mid-tune.  Thus, to this day the tune is played – and stopped mid-tune – to honor the brave bugler/watchman who perished at his post. 
Henry introduced me to the hejnał in one of our earlier meetings as we talked about childhood friends. 
Cyprian Dultz was one of my friends.  He was in his 20’s and was a member of the fire brigade.  He lived in my apartment house on St. Tomasza Street.  He was trained as one of the Trumpeters of Krakow.  He took me with him many times to St. Mary’s Church when he played the Hejnal. We’d have to climb many stairs to the top of the taller tower.  There were four windows on every side.  He’d go to one window, play the Hejnal, close that window then go to the next.  (Henry shapes his hands like a trumpet and sounds short tune.)  The fire brigade was usually responsible for the Hejnal at that time and there were four or five trumpeters trained.  From the 14thcentury, every day, someone plays the trumpet, even during the German occupation.  At that time someone played the trumpet ever hour, 24/7.  
(Henry hums the tune again dah –dah, dadada dah, da. He then went on to tell me the otherlegend of the towers.)
You know St. Mary’s Church is a very important church in Krakow.  It is the central church in Krakow after Wawel Cathedral.    See how the two towers are different; one is higher than the other.  When you go right here you can see the knife on the wall. 
Why would a church have a knife on the outside wall?
That’s an old story. Two brothers were building this church.  Each brother was in charge of a tower.  They were very jealous of each other, so each one kept trying to build his tower higher and better.  When the older brother built his tower higher, the younger brother couldn’t get over losing so he killed his elder brother with a knife.  Then he was so upset he killed himself with the same knife.  So still today one tower is shorter.*
Note – there are several recordings of the bugle call on the Internet, if you enter ‘Hejnal of Krakow’ or similar into a search engine.  I never did see the knife near the entrance – but tourists are discouraged from entering through the main entrance. Our walking tour guide said there is a knife hanging in the church – to remind thieves not to steal.  Choose your explanation. She also offered one new update I haven’t verified but fully believe.  The bugler now plays the favorite song of Pope John Paul II every April 2nd, at 9:47 pm – the exact time of his death in 2005.
*Ever heard of Cain and Abel?

Share Post

Tags: Poland