Pecka Castle’s mediaeval walled-up woman – a ‘witch’ or ‘construction sacrifice’?

Pecka Castle

Pecka Castle, whose foundations date to the 13th century, is known as the “Pearl of the Krkonoše Mountains”, thanks to its Gothic ruins, later Renaissance splendour, and stunning surroundings. Its founder was likely the Bohemian king Přemysl Otakar II. An enduring mystery is why a raven-haired woman was entombed in its walls roughly a century after his rule.

Photo: Jana Házová,  Czech Radio

“It’s a spot that no-one would pay much attention to otherwise. But when you enter the castle, you can see this inconspicuous, walled alcove on the left, which hides a secret.

“Over the centuries, every now and then the Pecka Castle gate and entrance was modified and even moved. In the Baroque era, there was a bakery here – but that’s not the secret.

“So, why are we standing here? In the early 20th century, in 1905, the skeleton of a mediaeval-era woman with black hair was discovered behind this alcove.”

Jan Murdych | Photo: Vladislava Wildová,  Czech Radio

– Jan Murdych, there, who was born nearby in Pec pod Sněžkou. The castle has fascinated him since childhood, long before he became its castellan, and few are more steeped in its history (and accompanying myth and legends) than he is.

Pecka Castle | Photo: Jana Házová,  Czech Radio

For example, it is said that far below lies a secret underground corridor, in which Carthusian monks buried gold statues of the Twelve Apostles. Perhaps one day the passage will be found – or proven a myth – and that particular mystery will be solved.

But, Mr Murdych says, the real reason that the raven-haired woman was entombed in the Pecka Castle walls is likely lost to history forever.

Pecka Castle | Photo: Vladislava Wildová,  Czech Radio

“Similar cases appear in a number of other castles. In southern Europe, for example, sacrificial walling was especially common. Also, for example, in bridges and even family houses.”

“Most likely, the woman walled in our castle was a human sacrifice during its construction. Indeed, many were entombed alive – their spirits were then meant to protect castles from soldiers looking to seize them.

“Little is known for sure, but I can imagine she was someone on the margins of society. Many believe they were unfaithful wives or daughters of castle lords, or others who somehow disgraced the family name. We can also imagine she was a quote ‘witch’, sentenced to death.”

Pecka Castle | Photo: Jana Házová,  Czech Radio

Prehistoric traces of ritual burial alive – thought to have been carried out in order to curry favour with deities or ward off evil spirits – have been found among virtually all nations on earth.

But the grizzly practice continued in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, sometimes with the blessing of Christian authorities, as noted in 1909, a few years after the Pecka Castle discovery, by the German-American philosopher and student of comparative religion Paul Carus:

Paul Carus | Source:  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 1.0

“Not a few of the most important buildings [in Europe], especially castles and fortifications, frequently prove to have remnants of unhappy victims under their corner stones.”

Indeed, archaeological evidence of such “construction sacrifices” from the early and high Middle Ages continue to be unearthed in the Czech lands – most recently, in the form of three male skeletons within a rampart in Moravia.