Dr. Herbert Gruhn, "About the ‘Weals’ in the Giant and Wolf Mountains" [Die Walen im Riesen- und Isergebirge], Wanderer im Riesengebirge, 1929

The following is a retranslation into English of a German-to-Polish translation by Tomasz Pryll of an article from a 1929 issue of Der Wanderer im Riesenbegirge. English proofreading by Joseph Pashka.

In the Alps and the German Central Uplands (Středohoří, Mittelgebirge), one can hear very odd legends, according to which, mysterious strangers from Italy professionally and expertly extricated treasures from the mountains, and by using magic incantations, secretly sent them to their country in the south. These Italian prospectors for gold and precious stones are commonly known as the Venetians [Venediger], whereas in the Fichtel Mountains (Fichtelgebirge), the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) as well as the Giant Mountains [Riesengebirge, Karkonosze] and the Wolf Mountains [Isergebirge, Góry Izerskie] they are called the Weals[1]([Welsche]). Stories about the Weals from the Giant and Wolf Mountains have been collected and published by Robert Cogho [Die Walen oder Venediger im Riesengebirge, 1898], Prof Dr. Richard Kühnau [Schlesische Sagen, Elben-, Dämonen- und Teufelsagen], or Will-Erich Peuckert [Volkssagen aus dem Riesen- und Iser-Gebirge, 1967].
Still, in these legends is embedded a historical truth which researchers have been searching for.
The oldest written record of the Weals’ activity in the Giant Mountains can be found in a parchment manuscript, dating from the first half of the 15th century, kept at the Municipal Library in Wrocław. It was originally thought to have been written by one Antonius of Florence, known as Antonius the Weal, mentioned in the City Annals of Wrocław for the years 1410-1433; but in 1922, on the strength of linguistic and factual arguments, Karl Schneider demonstrated in his Die Walen im Riesengebirge [The Weals in the Giant Mountains] that the text had been written by a German-speaking inhabitant of Silesia. It is a description, in the German language, of paths leading to places where gold can be panned and amethysts found. Also described, with landmarks, is a route leading from Jelenia Góra, through Piechowice, to a glassworks in Szklarska Poręba, mentioned in a document from 1366, and then into the upstream part of the Kamienna River valley. Through the landmarks mentioned: the Black Mountain, the White Valley, the Forks [Widły, a.k.a. the Weal Stone, Waloński Kamień], and the Evening Castle, we can trace back the areas visited by the gold and precious stone prospectors. The text of this manuscript had been included in the German-language itineraries, written between the 16th and 18th centuries, known as the Weal Books [Walenbücher]. They are mentioned by Caspar Schwenckfeld (1490-1561). In his Gazophylazi Gaudium(1667), Johannes Pretorius reprinted several of them from a damaged manuscript, confirmed by de Wyl, that he had received from the Jelenia Góra apothecary, Sartorius. [The Czech Jesuit] Bohuslaus Balbinus mentions in his Miscellanea regni Bohemiae (1679, Vol. I, 17) that he was in possession of an old, hard-to-decipher little book containing eight fragments about the Giant Mountains. The Legnica-based doctor and mineralogist, Georg Anton Volkmann, who was a frequent guest in the Giant Mountains, saw the Weal Books with his own eyes: “very old, the paper half-rotten, from which I gather they were originals” (Silesia subterranea, 1720, p. 117). And although the Enlightenment period didn’t treat the Weal Books seriously, calling them a “collection of folk tales,” requiring “many centners of indomitable faith,” in the Giant and Wolf Mountains they have survived in numerous copies to this day. Cogho sought to borrow such copies, summaries of the numerous Weal Books, for the Giant Mountains Museum [Riesengebirgsmuseum]. His efforts weren’t always successful, for many of the owners refused to let him as much as see what they considered their treasures, let alone take them away. Quite recently J. Meißner found a mid-18th-century Weal Book in Wiesemühle in Morchenstern (Smržovka). Fragments of such books are also kept – besides the Giant Mountains Museum in Jelenia Góra – in the museum in Hochenelbe (Vrchlabi) as well as in the Wrocław municipal library and archive. However, their significance in finding an answer for the Weal question is dubious, for their contents have been heavily altered by copyists. We know from Karl Schneider’s research that all the older Weal Books, concerned with the Giant and Wolf Mountains, whose authors purport to be Italians or South or Middle Germans, were written in Silesia. How they came to be distributed among the population hasn’t been explained yet. Perhaps their roots go back to the old miner books, mining permits, or registry books. . . .


Signs on trees and rocks, marking paths leading to finds, play an important role in the Weal Books. Georg Anton Volkmann mentions [in Silesia Subterranea] that in the Giant Mountains one “from time to time finds all kinds of markings and drawings of human faces, hands, discs, knives, pickaxes, and crosses.” In his 1855 Die alten heidnischen Opferstätten und Steinalterthümer des Riesengebirges [Old pagan sacrifice sites and rock altars in the Giant Mountains], Mosch mentions “strange signs and figures” found by forest workers in the area of the Rothfloßfelsen [Czerwone Skałki on Czarna Góra] or the Mitternachts-Feueresse [Krzywe Baszty?]: “Little can be recognized today under the thick moss cover. In the nearby Forks, as foresters and forest workers assure us, one can find indecipherable signs hewn in rock, among them the renditions of a knife and fork.” Mosch’s sources were telling the truth. The sign on the Forks (Weal Stone) has been preserved to this day. This block of rock with a carved image of an outstretched hand is currently in the collection of the Jelenia Góra museum, which acquired it courtesy of Privy Councillor Dr. Seydel in 1901 when the Forks were partially blown up due to the construction of a railway. Weal signs have also been found by Cogho, Regell, Loewig, and recently also by Peuckert.


As early as 1588 Simon Hüttel, the chronicler of Trutenau (Trutnov), saw Weal signs in the Giant Mountains when, with three companions, he was trying to identify former gold mines in Pfaffenwald: “We found numerous shafts, crosses, and signs, as well as a beech tree with the date (year) MD2 [1502] carved in its bark, and next to it a large hand, pointing to the east, carved in a fir tree; there is also a sign there of a hammer and pickaxe.” It is quite likely that these signs can be traced back to the Meisen miners who in 1511 “began boring through rock in Hoppenberg (Šibeniční vrch)” near Trutnov a “shaft that was later called a gold mine.” Thus the Weals emerge from the deep shadow of legends and folk tales and begin to function as historical figures. In 1563 a man from Italy is trekking through the mountains. He is Petrus Andreas Matthiolus (1507-1577), a doctor from Siena, in search here for healing plants. In his case the name “Weal” [Wale], denoting all strangers, acquires its original meaning, and stories about the Italians turn out to contain a grain of truth. Another subject fitting the pattern of Weal stories is Leonhard Thurnheysser zum Thurn, an Italian doctor and alchemist, an expert on these mountains. According to  Dr. Boehlich, he prospected in the Giant and Wolf Mountains in the 1560s, searching for gold and precious stones. His findings sound like a summary of the finds mentioned in the Weal Books. And that he is no stranger to these mysterious books can be deduced from his words that, “in Bohemia these places are better known to Weals and Dutchmen from afar than to the Bohemians themselves.”


What the Weal Books say about the prospecting for, and findings of, gold veins and concentrations of precious stones does not seem to be mere fantasy. Caspar Schwenckfeld says that in his time gold was panned in Aupengrund [Riesengrund, Obří důl], near Weißes Wasser [Bílé Labe], by the Great Pond, in Mummelgrund [Mumlavský důl], by the river Izera [Iser], as well as in small streams around Jelenia Góra. In the Izera, not only gold can be found but also all kinds of precious stones. Around 1601, people collected reddish lumps of iron from the river Kamienna [Zacken] near the glassworks in the hope of finding gold, but to no avail.
On October 4, 1534, a group of seventeen entrepreneurs received from Ferdinand, the king of Bohemia, a privilege to extract and process for twenty years “beautiful minerals the size of a shiny nut” in Obří důl. The project was a failure. According to Schwenckfeld, the “fine gentlemen spent a lot of effort and money” on what was a large silver ore vein, but “reaped no rewards, as cobalt devoured and ruined everything they smelted.” Treasure hunters operating in the area of the Abendburg (Evening Castle) used black magic and exorcisms, encountering “mockery and ridicule”; soon they left, “doing harm to many people.” A similar lot befell one Waldner von Greuffelstein, a swindler from Pannonia, who claimed to have dowsed a treasure under the Evening Castle, a treasure he must have read about in a Weal Book. He swindled money from numerous townspeople to dig up the treasure but, despite using all kinds of magic spells, failed to do so. Around 1693, “several swindlers colluded” to produce gold from a yellow rock commonly found in the mountains, “cheating many people.” Others produced turquoises from blue hornfels and sold them to simpletons. Illegal miners had become so widespread in the mountains that, following a complaint from Count Schof Gotsch, the Silesian Chamber of Commerce ordered mining master Pardt to put an end to this.


Schwenckfeld recollects that black shiny stones found in the Izera and the nearby meadows, known as Schierle [schorl tourmaline], considered gold-yielding, were “commonly purchased by foreign Weals.” One of the latter was Anselmus Boetius de Boot of Bruges, gemmarius [jeweller] of Emperor Rudolf II. Sent in these parts by the emperor, de Boot partly described his findings and discoveries in Historia gemmarum et lapidum (1609). Keenly interested in precious stones found in the mountains, Rudolf II ordered another man, Hans Heinrich Kobrscheit, to prospect for them in the Iserwiese [Jizerska Louka, Hala Izerska]. On July 8, 1595, the emperor granted Johann Eckstein and Leonhard Stadler a permit to prospect for precious stones in the Giant Mountains, reserving himself the right of pre-emption. On November 19, 1601, the above privilege was renewed. In the same year, parson Simon Thaddeus Budeccius from Teyn [Týn] (above the town of Rovensko pod Troskami, Turnov district) received permission to start prospecting for metals and precious stones in the Giant Mountains on the basis of notes left by his ancestors and his father (such “notes” most likely meaning Weal Books). Furthermore, he received the right to arrest, in consultation with officials and local residents, all foreigners collecting precious stones and other treasures without the permission of the King of Bohemia. In 1607, Rudolf II granted a prospecting permit to a jeweller named Willibald Heffler, who reportedly found a jasper deposit in the Giant Mountains. Heffler used the jasper to make jewellery which he presented the emperor with. In 1623, a burgher from Leipzig, the “famous chemist and medic,” Johannes Zimmermann, was granted a permit to prospect for precious stones and pearls in the Giant and Wolf Mountains at his own expense “with the kind wish that in doing so he be not only protected from wicked people but also that, should anyone assault him or his family, such a wrongdoer be, after his case has been heard, seriously punished physically; and that the lord of the land receives a tenth part of any profit” (David Zeller, Hirschbergischer Merckwürdigkeiten, Vol. II, 1726, p. 22).
Gold and treasure seekers appear in records as recently as the 18th century. Visiting the Hampelbaude (Strzecha Akademicka), G. A. Volkmann heard about a stranger who had been excavating, crushing rock and burning fires in the Teufelsgrund (Čertův Důl). When the Schaffgotsch administration ordered the man arrested, he disappeared without a trace (Sil. sub., p. 198). During his official tenure in Giehren (Gierczyn) in 1746-1756, the then famous Saxon mountain expert, metallurgist, and alchemist, Johann Gottfried Jugel, visited an allegedly gold-yielding place in Seifershau (Kopaniec), where he told the miners to dig, but to no avail.
It can, therefore, be demonstrated that until the 16th century our mountains were explored by all kinds of doctors, alchemists, free miners and vagabonds, dowsers, shamans, gilders, as well as legal and illegal prospectors for precious stones and minerals. Their mysterious and secretive doings found their way to folk tales and legends, which conveyed an image of real people dressed in a costume of magic and mysticism. People who looked strange and spoke a foreign language; in folk beliefs about an immensely rich city on a lagoon, home to gilders and precious stone cutters, they had become the Weals of Venice…



[1] Old English wealh, plural wealas, “foreigner, stranger, Celt”; cf. www.thefreedictionary.com/Wales [Translator’s note].

Źródło: Dr. Herbert Gruhn, "About the ‘Weals’ in the Giant and Wolf Mountains" [Die Walen im Riesen- und Isergebirge], Wanderer im Riesengebirge, 1929


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