The Treasurer, Kinga, and Siuda Baba – The Legend Of Wieliczka Salt Mine
Magic rings, ghosts, and demons. The corridors of the Wieliczka Mine are full of legends. Explore the amazing underground world of Wieliczka.
The Legend of Saint Kinga.
This legend is as old as the mine itself. A long time ago, the Polish prince Bolesław the Chaste asked his chosen one, the Hungarian princess Kinga, to marry him. As an engagement gift, he gave Kinga a beautiful ring. When the princess left her homeland for Poland, her father, King Bela IV, wanted to offer her daughter an appropriate dowry. However, Kinga wanted neither jewels nor a retinue of servants. Instead, she asked her father for salt, which was a rarity at the time. She wanted to bestow her new subjects with it. And so the king of Hungary gave his daughter the richest mine in Transylvania, Prajda. But this gift did not satisfy Kinga, as the mine was too far from her new kingdom. Before leaving for Poland, she visited the tabernacle she had been given, and contemplated how to transport the salt to Poland. During this visit, she tossed her engagement ring into one of the shafts while praying. When Kinga arrived in Bolesław’s country, she set off on a tour of the kingdom. While visiting a small village near Krakow, a lump of salt was found in the field. Inside the lump was a ring – the same one that the princess had thrown into the shaft in Prajda. Kinga and Bolesław commanded to begin digging in this location, and discovered more valuable raw material underground. Hence the emergence of the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The Legend of the Treasurer
According to old Slavic beliefs, the Treasurer is a demon who lives in the underground, especially in mines, where he guards natural treasures. It should also be recalled that according to Slavic beliefs, not all demons are evil; some are even kind to man. He can be a household member who, as the name suggests, cared for the house and its inhabitants or protected a given area, e.g., Leshy. The word “demon” has acquired negative connotations only with the strengthening of Christianity. Finishing this indispensable digression, I can point out that the Treasurer was a rather kind demon who not only guarded the mine but also warned the miners against dangerous bumps, fires, and floods. He helped to find one’s way in the tunnels, and escorted the souls of those who had died at work to the “other side” to save them from wandering around the mine forever. However, the Treasurer had a high appreciation of diligence and honesty, which is why he sometimes punished people who cheated at work or who were lazy, and cursed their colleagues.
One story about the Treasurer that circulates among the Wieliczka miners tells the adventure of a young boy who, after his father’s death, was forced by fate to find a job that would allow him to support himself and his mother. And so, he went to the steiger (the mine manager) and asked for employment. At first, the steiger did not want to take him in – he believed that the boy was too young and weedy for such hard labor, and that he would not manage. Ultimately, the boy’s stubbornness appealed to the steiger who accepted him for a trial week. To become employed, the boy had to perform the same amount of work as his older colleagues. Already on the very first day, the young man began to feel that he would not be up to the challenge. Conscience-stricken, he was just about to go to the manager and resign when suddenly, out of nowhere, he saw an elderly miner next to him. The miner offered him help at work in exchange for an equal share of his salary.
The boy agreed readily. The cooperation was successful and the boy met the quota for the day. The astonished foreman paid him and gave him permanent employment. As agreed, on the next day, the boy went to his assistant with a pouch full of coins. However, the senior miner merely laughed and took his true form, which was the Treasurer. He told the boy to keep the money and to remain honest forever. After that, he disappeared.
The White Lady
Among the miners legends were spread about a woman who haunted the mine and used her charm to lure men to certain doom. Her reasons were unknown, neither was it clear whether the mine accidents were really her merit. Fortunately, nowadays mine tourists are not in danger of meeting “Bieliczka” since one of the legends explains her disappearance from the mine corridors. One night, when a young miner, Michałek, was working overtime alone in the mine, he suddenly saw a beautiful woman sitting on a barrel. The woman was attired in white, and though she was pale as chalk, her mouth was blood red. Michałek immediately recalled the legends circulating among his colleagues, yet he showed no fear and started a conversation with the ghost. The White Lady said that she needed help, but in order not to disturb the man at work, she would call in gnomes to replace him. When the gnomes scattered from behind the woman’s back, she told Michałek her story. She confessed that she had once been in love with a miner and enjoyed walking together through the dark corridors. Unfortunately, their happiness was short-lived – her chosen one was drafted to the army. Of course, he announced his imminent return – but that did not happen. The desperate Lady wandered around the mine for years to pass the time, creating beautiful salt formations that were to delight her beloved upon his return. Nobody knows how long this lasted, but when the girl finally decided to leave the mines, it turned out that she had been cursed. She couldn’t walk through the exit on her own feet, which was why she needed Michałek’s help. Michałek succumbed and decided to help her. He took the girl in his arms and headed for the exit. At first, he walked quickly, but the closer he was to the way out, the heavier the woman became. At the very outlet, when they felt the touch of the sun on their skin, there blew a wind which caused Bieliczka to scatter – only salt remained from it.
Since then, no one has met her again.
The legend of Siuda Baba and the tradition associated with it are not directly connected with the mine, but with Wieliczka and the nearby village of Lednica Górna. Wieliczka and Lednica, as the only places in the country, hold a peculiar Easter Monday spectacle.
According to the tradition, a retinue of Siuda Baba (played by a man dressed as a soot-stained old woman) accompanied by a “Gypsy” who wields a characteristic whip from which he shoots, and a few Cracovians in traditional costumes, is to walk through the villages. The group roams the neighborhood knocking door to door, collecting donations, and smearing young ladies with soot.
What is the origin of this unique tradition? It should be sought in the old Slavic legend about a temple, which was to be located in Lednica, a sacred grove under the Kopcowa Góra mountain, where a magical spring was to gush. There was a fire in the temple, and the priestess could not let it fade; she had to watch it day and night all year round. It was only after a year of service, in the spring, when she could leave her post. She would be dirty with soot and her clothes would be torn – during the service she could not even wash or change her clothes. She would wander the surrounding villages to find a replacement. Girls hid from Siuda Baba. If they were only touched or marked with soot by the priestess, there would be no turning back from service in the temple.
Nowadays Siuda Baba is treated not as a curse but rather as a good omen; it is to herald prosperity and marriage to unwed maidens.
More amazing stories related to Wieliczka can be heard during the guided tour. These tales will take on a new magical dimension. Who knows? You might even have a chance to meet the Treasurer. Make sure you also visit the salt mine and experience an amazing adventure.
Ways to experience: Wieliczka Salt Mine
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