There are always stories about cities that simply have to be told because they are impressive, incredible or just plain exciting. I have heard Plzen legends that simply have to be told.
Why does Plzen have a camel on its coat of arms?
The city coat of arms of Plzen consists of 5 different elements.
- a red shield with a female greyhound (bottom right)
- a green shield with a camel (bottom left)
- a silver shield with two golden pope’s keys placed upright and turned away from each other (top left)
- a golden shield with an armor bearer looking to the right, holding the right half of a black eagle (top right)
- a red shield with a castle (center)
An angel stands behind the city coat of arms in many pictures, holding it in his hand. The angel was introduced by the Plzeners around 1433 as a heraldic bearer.
The two upper fields of the coat of arms symbolized the Pope, his office and Bohemia’s relationship with the Roman Empire. The central shield in the middle of the coat of arms was added by the Plzeners in the second half of the 15th century. It represents the seal from the time of the city foundation.
A greyhound is also not one of the typical symbols usually found in city coats of arms. In the 15th century, people believed that the greyhound was a symbol of loyalty to the Catholic Church and the Bohemian king. Therefore, they included the silver bitch in the coat of arms.
One of the many Plzen legends is about the story of the camel in the city’s coat of arms:
The Hussites besieged Plzen five times. Each time without success. In 1433 the Hussites carried a camel during the siege. They had received the camel from the Polish king Ladislaus II in gratitude for help in the fight against a German knightly order. The Plzeners were delighted with the unknown animal and were eager to possess it. During a raid they captured the animal and brought it to the city…. The offer of the enemies to buy back the camel was rejected by the inhabitants of Plzen. When the siege was ended with the help of the Nurembergers, they gave them the camel as a thank you.
This is a legend and whether it is true who knows? Another story says that the citizens of Plzen received a camel from the Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg. The symbol was then included in the city’s coat of arms. Originally, the shield is said to have been blue and not green.
Why do Plzen residents touch this exact spot on the lattice gate of St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral?
I’m sitting on a bench on Republic Square and enjoying the sun during a phone call. As I do so, I watch the people walking across the square. Some stroll leisurely, some walk quickly and purposefully, and then I see something that really amazes me. Determinedly, people of all ages walk to a lattice gate at St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. And they all walk right up to a particular lattice bar, touch a spot, pause briefly inside, and then move on. From my bench, I can’t see why people are drawn there. But, and I must have sat there for 20 minutes, it was a constant coming and going. Yes, sometimes there was even a “queue”, although there were other bars. But nobody touched these.
After the phone call I was now also drawn to this place. The metal gate shows a small row of angels’ heads at “grasping height” and one of these heads is polished by the many touches in the meantime and hardly recognizable as a head. According to a Plzen legend, it is the little angel to happiness.
According to legend, the little angel’s head is said to bring not only luck, but also small miracles. The Rakovnik executioner is said to have married in St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. However, since executioners were not allowed inside the cathedral, a friend represented him in front of the altar while he himself prayed at the outer back altar of the cathedral. When his prayer was finished, he stood up, holding on to this angel’s head. Plzen residents observed him doing so and spread the word that this very angel was responsible for the executioner’s happiness. And thus began the story of the Angel of Happiness.