A legend about St James – the town’s patron saint
Years and years ago, Saint James set off on the Amber Tract. It was an arduous and exhausting journey. Many times the holy man stumbled over tree roots protruding from the ground or fell into deep ruts left by carts which merchants from ancient Rome, Greece or Byzantium drove to the Baltic Sea to buy precious amber [...]. And so is Saint Joseph walking forward. He sighs from time to time in the hope of meeting some people who would give the exhausted wanderer a roof over the head to catch some decent rest. Another night approaches and – alas, where will he hide from the chill? He sees a meandering river and sits on its banks, resting his head on a pine tree and Saint James begins to ponder. He feels a pang of hunger – so he reaches for his sack but it is completely empty – not a breadcrumb left. He nods his head sadly – will his days end here, in the midst of this deep forest? ‘Save me, my Lord!’ – he prays.
Suddenly, he sees a lovely young maiden going out of the river. She gives him some water in a gourd – and then vanishes. The saint rinses the throat, washes his feet and sits back by the pine. But then, suddenly, there’s some commotion in the forest. A brown bear treads heavily through the woods, holding a huge honeycomb in a paw [...].
Now Saint James ate his fill. Then he drank some water and lay down on soft moss. But autumn was in the air so the night was chilly and misty. Under his cloak Saint James was trembling from cold. ‘If I had a flint and steel’ – he thinks – ‘I’d make a fire and feel warm’. But he had lost his flint and steel somewhere during the journey .... ‘Oh, help me, my Lord’ – he pleaded. All of a sudden he heard the crackle of twigs. Raising the head he saw a beautiful large stag with its head lowered to the ground. The animal rubbed its large glistening antlers against a bunch of twigs lying in front of it. Soon brightly yellow flames shot out and the fire dispelled the darkness of the night [...]. Saint James could sleep safe and warm. In the morning he fried a large handful of mushrooms, which grew abundantly in the forest. He had also gathered some herbs and boiled them with honey to drink. Feeling much stronger the saint picked up his walking stick with the sack and set off. After a while he reached a clearing in the forest and there, above a hill he saw a faint trail of smoke. ‘If there’s smoke,’ – he thought – ‘there’ll be some people too.’ So he headed towards the hill and from its top, down in a river valley, he could see a small wooden village and fishing nets hanging from poles. There were some women on the river bank, washing clothes with paddles. He came up to them, bid them good morning and asked about the name of the village. ‘Our village doesn’t have a name’ – they replied – ‘Nobody has thought of a name for it. We all say – I’m going home – and that’s all.’ Saint James thought for a while and said ‘You have so many alder trees here. What do you call them in your language?’ ‘Olszyna’ – the women told him. ‘So why don’t you call your village Olsztyn?’ – he said. The women dropped the washing and ran to their cottages, telling everybody they met that a pilgrim had arrived from the wide world and invented a name for their village. Who knows what interesting things he was going to tell the villagers. The fishermen were sleeping after a night spent catching fish but when they heard their wives’ loud voices, they jumped from their beds to see the wayfarer and hear his stories.
Fishermen are not a talkative folk but they love listening to others. This time, however, when they saw how tired the stranger was, they first gave him some tasty fish to eat. [...]. Saint James told them about the faraway world, about his journey and hardship. The villagers in return talked about their everyday troubles and worries. As days passed Saint James began to feel so comfortable among those simple people and green alders that he stayed in the village for good.
He loved the villagers with all his heart but he was not used to sitting idle all day, so he began to weave baskets and trugs. From time to time he sat on a fishing boat and went with the others to some distant lakes – Długie, Łukiel, Wadęskie – just to help them fishing.
Now the people who lived in Olsztyn got used to the kind old man so much that they worried he could leave them one day.
They thought and thought of a way to keep Saint James in their village. One day they came up with an idea.
As soon as spring came, they started to make bricks but kept it secret from the saint [...]. Once they had enough bricks they started to build a church near the river bank. As they wanted Saint James to like the church, they did all they could for the building to be the most beautiful one in the world. When they finished their work, they asked Saint James to become patron saint of the church. Saint James saw the good hearts of the people and the beautiful church – he was so moved that he promised to stay in Olsztyn forever and to be the guardian of the church and the village.
Many years passed since then. The village grew into the town and its residents placed the image of Saint James the Elder in the town’s coat of arms as a sign of gratitude and love. Wearing a pilgrim’s robe, holding a walking stick in one hand and a gourd with water in the other – Saint James looked just like the legend said. And then, when the town was surrounded with walls and a gatehouse was built – today known as the High Gate – the gate too was dedicated to the saint.
And so, for many, many years, Saint James has been the patron saint of the church, the coat of arms and the gate to the town of Olsztyn.