On the pavement in front of the Old Town Hall, there are several rows of crosses made of white cobblestones in memory of this mass execution. But why are there 27 crosses?
In November 1620, a great battle took place on the White Mountain. Almost 50,000 mercenaries took part in the battle, the number of fallen soldiers is unknown, it`s estimated between 2 and 5 thousand men.
The battle lasted two hours and, despite its short duration, influenced Czech history for 300 years, including violent re-Catholicization.
By February 20, 1621, a total of 61 persons were arrested and kept in prison in the White Tower at Prague Castle. Each of the imprisoned men had to answer 236 questions. Some confessed to high treason, some begged the emperor for mercy, and some laughed at the questions. Some of the detained men were tortured during interrogations.
The trial with them lasted until March 29. However, it did not proceed fairly – the defense did not get to speak at all, and the court’s statement that the guilt was “generally known” was enough to prove guilt. 30 men were sentenced – 27 to death, and 3 to be expelled from the city. Of course, everyone’s property was confiscated.
A scaffold, which took days to build, had been set up at the place of execution. The public executioner was a man named Jan Mydlář. He was himself a Protestant, and sympathized with the accused, but dared not be open about his political leanings.
To show his support for the men, he wore a black executioner’s hood, rather than the usual red one. He had also sharpened his swords – all four of them – to a razor-like edge.
Some of the condemned were hanged, others were beheaded, some had their right hand cut off, and some were quartered after death. Twelve severed heads were placed on the wall of the Old Town Bridge Tower, the last of which were not removed until ten years later.
Among those executed was Jan Jessenius. The doctor who was the first in Bohemia to perform a public autopsy, as well as the rector of Charles University and a diplomat. His tongue was cut out before his head was cut off. City official Mikuláš Diviš received a special punishment, being nailed to the gallows by his tongue. However, he was allowed to go home an hour later.
After World War II, twenty-seven crosses were installed in front of Prague’s Old Town Hall in memory of the Czech martyrs, while a nearby plaque lists the names of all 27 victims.
The 28th cross was put together from cobblestones just a few years ago by members of the art group ZTOHOVEN. It is a remembrance of Martin Fruwein.
He tried to escape from prison after being tortured. However, he fell from the White Tower of Prague Castle into the Stag Moat and was dead on the spot. (The second version of his story says that he committed suicide by this jump.) Nevertheless, he did not escape the execution – his already dead body was decapitated and his hand was cut off.
Before the execution, two of the condemned were offered pardon. Knight Kašpar Kaplíř from Sulevice refused it. He was already 86 years old and he did not want to spend the rest of his life in prison.
However, Jan Theodor Sixt from Ottersdorf was pardoned. He was already on his knees to put his head on the execution block when two running men appeared. They were John’s nephews with a message of pardon. Literally seconds before execution. Jan was taken back to prison, from where he was later released and died in exile in 1654.