Black magic, a pact with the devil, exile to the moon, and an eavesdropping spider… they are all indgredients in the story of Pan Twardowski, a magician said to have lived in Krakow some 500 years ago, who has sparked the imaginations of poets, artists and musicians.
Twardowski was said to have the power to make the old young, to bring the dead back to life, and to turn hills upside down. It is said that he gained his powers by signing a pact with the devil – receiving unparalleled knowledge and supernatural skills in return for a promise that, should he ever visit Rome, the devil would claim payment in the form of Twardowski’s soul.
The magician joined the court of the Polish king Zygmunt August, and won the monarch’s favour by conjuring the spirit of his dead wife Barbara. To do this, he used a magic mirror – and there are churches in Węgrów and Sandomierz which have mirrors, both of which are said to have belonged to Twardowski. After reuniting the king and his wife, Twardowski’s fame and power spread throughout Poland, but eventually the devil caught up with him, tricking him into visiting a tavern called Rome. Twardowski, however, had one more trick up his sleeve… he challenged the devil to spend a year with his wife before he gave up his soul. The devil agreed, but could not put up with the magician’s wife, and Twardowski escaped to the moon where he still lives today.
The post script to the story is of particular interest in Kraków; Twardowski keeps a spider on the moon, and each day he sends it on a thread down to the Krzysztofory Palace on the corner of Rynek Główny and ulica Szczepańska, to catch up on the gossip from the city.
Elsewhere in Kraków, there are traces of the enigmatic sorcerer. The Jagiellonian University has a book said to have belonged to Twardowski, and stained by the touch of the devil. The Polish journal Focus gathered evidence from historians, which suggested that he had a house on the corner of Rynek Główny and ulica Wiślna. He also had a ‘school’ for acolytes, probably in what is now Park Bednarskiego, near the church of św. Józefa in Podgórze. Maciej Miezian, of the City Historical Museum in Krakow, and author of “Krakowskie Stare Miasto: Ścieżkami władców, artystów, alchemików”, believes that Twardowski carried out his experiments at the school and his home, but also at Krakus Mound, and the rocky outcrops of Zakrzówek – now a beauty spot just a short walk from the city centre.
In an interview with Focus, Mr Miezian added: “Of course we can not forget about the Krzysztofory Palace… where, every day, Twardowski lowers a spider on a thread from the moon, to bring the latest gossip from the Market.”
The stories are certainly colourful. They provided inspiration for the poet Adam Mickiewicz, the composer Stanisław Moniuszko, the film maker Krzysztof Gradowski, and more. But what of the historical Twardowski? Nobody can be sure, but the story is said to be based on a real person – even if it has been somewhat exaggerated. Most historians agree that it was probably Laurentius Dhur, an occultist from Germany. Other than that, the identity of the mysterious Mr Twardowski remains obscured by legend and time.