Olsztyn – a town where Nicolas Copernicus resided in the castle, a town frequented by the bishops Martin Kromer and Ignacy Krasicki, a town where Napoleon Bonaparte stayed overnight while getting ready for yet another battle, and a town visited in our times by Pope John Paul II – has 650 years of exciting and colourful history. There were joyful moments, like arrivals of newly appointed bishops to Warmia and horrifying events, such as great fires, epidemics and wars, which decimated the population and ruined the town. Olsztyn was looted by Lithuanian raids in the 13th and 14th century. Later it suffered during the wars between Poland and the Order of Teutonic Knights, which ended with the Toruń Peace Treaty of 1444. Peaceful and prosperous years came to an end in the 17th century, when Swedish troops arrived at the town’s gates. And then, following the first partition of Poland in 1772, Olsztyn was annexed by Prussia.
For 306 years Olsztyn was subject of the Kingdom of Poland. Afterwards, for 173 years, it stayed within the borders of Prussia and Germany. In the 19th century Olsztyn flourished. Thousands of people were drawn to the town, which grew owing to the railway and road connections. Soon it became the second largest town in East Prussia, after Königsburg, the capital city of the province. In 1945 Olsztyn returned to Poland and became the capital of the Province of Warmia and Mazury. The town keeps growing. Today, with the population of nearly 200,000 people, it is also a university town, rich in magnificent historic buildings as well as various cultural and scientific institutions.
St James the Elder, patron saint of Olsztyn
Saint James the Elder, a protector of travellers and pilgrims, has been the patron saint of Olsztyn for 650 years. Saint James, one of the Twelve Apostles, was a fisherman and a disciple of Jesus Christ. For adhering to and spreading the new faith he was executed in 44 A.D., when Agrippa I, Herod the Great’s grandson, was the king of Israel. The cult of St James spread all over Europe, reaching Prussia and Olsztyn. The image of the saint has always featured in the town’s coat of arms, the municipal seals and in many sculptures and reliefs decorating the town’s buildings. The attributes of St James are a shell – a symbol of modesty, virtue and a promise to satiate pilgrims’ thirst, and a staff – a symbol of a wayfarer but also of power and distinction.
The coat of arms
The figure of St James has been in the coat of arms of Olsztyn ever since the town was established. Over the ages the saint has been featured
in different ways. Today is it a figure in a white robe, with a gold halo over the head, set against the blue background. In one hand he holds a golden shell and in the other – a walking stick.
The Anthem of Warmia was composed by Feliks Nowowiejski to the poem ‘Oh Warmia, My Beloved Land’. Each day at noon the anthem is chimed from the tower of Olsztyn’s New Town Hall.