January 19, 2021

The headless horsemen of Nerudova Street

The headless horsemen of Nerudova Street

Like most cities rich in history, Prague has a dark and mysterious past. The narrow, cobblestoned streets, gothic buildings, and winding lanes come with spooky tales of death and betrayal. In collaboration with Magicbohemia.com, Oko! Magazine will be bringing you regular spine-chilling stories of the ghosts, monsters, and spirits that lurk the oldest and eeriest corners of the city.

 Swedish soldier and a gambling monk both ride at night but are harmless
One of the darkest moments for Prague was at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, when Swedish troops looted Prague Castle and Malá Strana. The war ended before Old Town fell, thanks to a strong defense of Charles Bridge, but many of Emperor Rudolf II’s treasures wound up being carted off to Scandinavia where they still remain. But once the fighting ended in 1648, not all of the soldiers returned home. One remains as a headless horseman, killed by the angry mob for looting a church.
There are in fact (or in legend anyway) two headless horsemen riding slightly overlapping routes, but it is easy to tell them apart. And neither seems dangerous. As the fighting raged near Charles Bridge, one soldier took the opportunity to grab chalices, jeweled reliquaries, monstrances and whatever else wasn’t nailed down from the altar and sacristy of St Nicholas Church.
The mob, though, thought this was just too much. They chased him as he tried to go up Nerudova Street toward Strahov Monastery, and eventually caught him by the Black Gate that once stood halfway up the street. After a struggle he fell off his horse. The angry mob cut off the soldier’s head so he would not be able to say which peasants had attacked him. The mob placed the headless corpse of the greedy soldier back on his horse and sent it to the monastery at Strahov, where the Swedish army was encamped.
His fellow soldiers went quickly down the street and found bloody evidence of where the fatal struggle happened, but no head — and no mob. The head was never found, and remains a mystery. The headless corpse was buried in a mass grave along with those who fell in battle, and the whole incident was soon forgotten as news of a peace treaty arrived. The mob returned the stolen goods to the church, and went about their lives, never being punished and receiving only silent thanks from the priests at the church.
The headless soldier still goes up and down Nerudova Street between Malostranské náměstí and where the Black Gate stood looking for his lost gold, and possibly also his head, usually at midnight. Sometimes he goes as far as Strahov, his original destination. Another headless rider is seen on his horse on Úvoz Street heading down into the upper part of Nerudova. This is a monk who gambled with dice instead of going to give the last rites to a dying man.
The dying man’s brother came to Strahov Monastery to ask the monk for the sacrament of extreme unction, but the monk was losing money and wanted to get even first. No matter how much the brother begged, the monk just kept on gambling and drinking the monastery’s beer. The man left disgusted, and went back alone to sit with his dying brother to wait for the end.

When the dice game was finally over, the monk remembered his duty and set out to find the house. But he was too late. A figure appeared in front of the monk with a giant flash. It was the soul of the recently departed man, who left this realm unblessed. The monk’s horse reared and the monk fell, hitting his head so hard that it broke clean off.

On nights with a full moon, the headless monk now rides out from Strahov’s lower gate through an old orchard to Úvoz Street and a bit further after it joins with Nerudova. You can tell which rider is which by their clothes, as one is in a military uniform and the other in a hooded robe. Also, the Swedish soldier does not understand Czech. And the monk carries his severed head in one of his hands.
There is another tale of a Swedish soldier so desperate for money he was robbing graves under the floor of the church in Strahov, until one of the angry skeletons got revenge. But we are saving that charming legend for a dark and stormy night.
Find the original story and more historical background to the story on www.magicbohemia.com, original story by  Baba Studio with Raymond Johnston.

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