Our Lady Before Tyn
architecture,  baroque,  churches,  ghosts and phantoms,  Gothic lifestyle,  magic prague,  Prague and Bohemia,  Tarot and divination,  witchcraft

The Snow Witch of Týn forever repents her evil ways

A woman who became a snow witch repents her self-serving ways every winter

A woman who became a snow witch repents her self-serving ways every winter
If you look at old paintings and 19th century photos, you can see that Prague used to get pretty cold and snowy. Like most churches, the big church at Old Town Square, commonly called Týn Church, has worn stone steps that can get quite slippery in inclement weather. And these steps are behind one of the city’s more apologetic restless spirits — the Snow Witch of Týn.

Long ago, the church had a caretaker who was very diligent. The sexton, as he was officially known, kept the alley leading to the church and the area near the side entrances spotless. He also cooked for the priest who lived in another church building. He carried on his work for many decades, but like all people, age caught up with him.

The sexton was a selfless type. On the advice of the priest, he married a spinster from the parish to save her from a potential scandal, which has long been forgotten. It was not a happy marriage, but the sexton did not care. He was happy in his church service.

Old Town Square Prague magic Bohemia tarot snow witch
Old Town Square in 1924, by T. F. Šimon.

Despite his good intentions, he could not keep up with the work one winter. The sexton became quite ill and bedridden. He asked his wife to fill in and be of help, for once in their long relationship. The wife assured him that she would, but took the parish money and spent it on herself instead. 

Instead of cooking for the priest, she served him lukewarm dishwater with little bits of leftover food scraps. The priest’s health also began to fail due to his hunger, as he did not want to shop for himself and reveal that his faithful sexton had let him down.

When it snowed, the sexton asked his wife to be sure to sweep away a path around all of the church entrances. She said she would, but instead went back to sit in front of a fire made from wood she stole from the church.

The priest was a bit unsteady from hunger already, and in climbing the steps to the church he slipped and fell, hitting his head. He died a few days later. The sexton, hearing the news and suspecting his wife was the cause, never recovered from his illness either.

Church of Our Lady before Týn in the 1860s. snow witch
Church of Our Lady before Týn in the 1860s.
Týn Church Prague magic Bohemia tarot snow witch
Entrance to the Church of Our Lady before Týn

The widow was also scorned by the congregation once they pieced the story together. She was kicked out of the church-owned housing once a new priest and sexton came. She died homeless in the harsh winter.

But apparently at the end she repented her ways. The next winter she appeared as a ghost and brushed away the snow as quickly as it fell, so fast that hardly anyone has seen the all-white old lady who whips about like a miniature snow funnel. She isn’t all that sorry though, apparently. She only does the main and side entrance and does not venture at all into Old Town Square or Ungelt.

She is harmless, but don’t get in her way unless you want a good dusting.

Týn Church in Prague Prague magic Bohemia tarot snow witch
Alley leading to the Church of Our Lady before Týn
snow witch Church of Our Lady before Týn
Side entrance to the Church of Our Lady before Týn
show witch Týn Church magic prague
View to the towers from the entrance to Týn Church

Background

Týn Church is officially known as the Church of Our Lady before Týn, and has a long history going back to the 11th century when it was a Romanesque church for visiting merchants who lived in nearby Ungelt.

It was replaced by an early Gothic church in 1256. The present church was started in the 14th century in the late Gothic style under the influence of Matthias of Arras and later Petr Parléř, both of whom worked on St Vitus’ Cathedral.

The church fell into the hands of the Hussites for two centuries. The roof was completed in the 1450s, while the gable and northern tower were completed shortly thereafter during the reign of George of Poděbrady (Jiří z Poděbrad) in 1453–71. The southern tower was completed in 1511 by architect Matěj Rejsek. 

The church went back under Catholic control after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and lavishly redecorated. Gold symbols of the Hussites were melted and recast into an image of the Virgin Mary and other items in 1626.

Týn Church from east, in a print of the 19th century snow witch
Týn Church from east, in a 19th century print by Vincenc Morstadt
Knight of Pentacles magic bohemia tarot of prague
Knight of Pentacles from The Tarot of Prague © BabaBarock Ltd
magic bohemia tarot of prague five of pentacles
Five of Pentacles in the Tarot of Prague © BabaBarock Ltd

In 1679, the church was struck by lightning, and fire damaged the old vault, which was replaced by a baroque one. A disastrous renovation took place in 1876–95. This was fixed in 1973–95 and work is still ongoing in the interior. The church is also famous as the final resting place of Tycho Brahe, whose tomb is located at the altar.

The Church of Our Lady before Týn can be seen on the Knight of Pentacles in The Tarot of Prague. The two towers of the church are sometimes called Adam and Eve, and are not the same height. The difference was designed to avoid the vanity of trying to create perfection. A woman struggling in the snow at the steps of a different church adorns The Five of Pentacles. 

For more wintry tales, you can check out the cursed trio of Christmas ghosts from World War I, the tragic tale of Naked Cecilie and the legends of the winter goddess Morana. Our sister blog on anthropomorphic cats has a post about Iceland’s Yule Cat.

An article by BabaBarock with Raymond Johnston. Copyright BabaBarock Ltd, all rights reserved. Please contact us if you would like to syndicate or otherwise use this article.

2 Comments

    • karenmahony

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it Joan. We are hoping these pages will be a great resource for people interested in the magic and myth of the region – and of course background information to draw on for those who are using The Tarot of Prague.

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