Brotherhood of the Rooster in Krakow (Bractwo Kurkowe)

Washington, D.C. A rare and very rewarding glimpse into the medieval society of Poland was provided here to a large audience on March 17, 2006 at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland under the auspices of Ambassador Janus Reiter and Consul General Pawel Bogdziewicz. Cultural Counselor Mariusz Brymora opened the event by introducing the Rooster King (Piotr Skalski) and his Brotherhood of the Rooster/Shooting Society of Krakow. All were colorfully attired in the complete and correct style of the 16th and 17th century Polish nobility.

The Brotherhood/Society was founded in 1257 as Kur's Fraternity and later was also know as the Krakow Shooting Society. It was comprised of craftsmen and merchants whose responsibility was to defend Krakow against the numerous and always threatening invaders. Almost every large Polish city of the times maintained such a defensive militia. They had favored permission from the royal court to wear the finery of the nobility and landed gentry (szlachta), which was not allowed for the other townspeople. They trained first with bow/arrow, then the crossbow, and finally with firearms.

Medieval Rooster King Still Reigns. Piotr Skalski (left) is the present King of the Brotherhood of the Rooster/Shooting Society in Krakow. Suspended by a flat, silver neck chain is a beautifully hand crafted, life-size silver rooster - adorned with a royal silver/gold crown and red bejeweled eyes - which has been the official symbol of the King's power and of the Brotherhood/Society since it's founding in 1257. Recently, the Rooster King and his retinue held court at the Embassy of Poland in Washington, D.C.

The name designation of Rooster is derived from the targets used by the Brotherhood in shooting contests. Early on live chickens and roosters were used as targets and this practice eventually evolved to the shooting at a wooden rooster (kur) figure. And this is how the original name "Kur's Fraternity" was established, because 'kur' means 'rooster' in colloquial Polish. The association with Rooster became even more apropos with the introduction of firearms since the shape of the hammerlock strongly resembled a rooster/cock's head. So when the hammerlock was pulled back in preparation for firing, the descriptive term used was to "cock' the firearm" hence the moniker connection with Rooster.

From its very founding, the Brotherhood has been dedicated to the proactive participation in the multifaceted civic life and rituals of Krakow and the fostering of religious traditions of the Catholic Church. Specific major objectives include the construction of appropriate monuments, the founding of commemorative plaques, the bestowing of its coveted Brotherhood awards, and to create special and unique flags, banners and standards. Most recently, for example, they have erected sizable monuments to Pope John Paul II in Krakow's Strzelecki Park (2000) and in Rome, Italy for the 25th Anniversary of the Pontificate (2004).

The Rooster King and Retinue. The King and Brotherhood members are depicted (right) in full and authentically correct costume of 16th and 17th century Poland. The attire is comprised of a kontusz/long coat, zupan/long gown, voluminous trousers and belt. The high leather boots are red with a black exception for the highest rank. Atop everything, the fur hat is adorned with unique, exotic feathers which are fasted with a clip, which in the past usually incorporated a prized family jewel. The attire is completed by a very decorative, wide sash often in conjunction with a karabela/ceremonial sword.

There was very important and official Brotherhood ceremonies conducted at the Embassy event concerning the U.S. Department of State and elder U.S. President George W. Bush. Gifts and special mementos were presented to Michael Sessums, Poland Desk Officer, and to Ann Hall, Designated Consul General in Krakow, who will assume that office later this summer. Janet Garvey, Director for Northern and Central European Affairs, accepted a special Order of the Brotherhood of the Rooster medal on behalf of President Bush, who accepted honorary Brotherhood membership 3 years ago at Wawel Castle when he visited Krakow (many other esteemed and prominent persons have been so honored with honorary membership, including Pope John Paul II). Hannah Reiter, wife of the Ambassador, was also favored with flowers and unique gifts. The evening's closing rituals was proof positive that the Brotherhood was still dynamically upholding its original charter and altruistic mission 749 years after it's founding, and that it will continue to flourish in the future for all the uncountable years to come.

You can find out more about the Brotherhood of the Rooster at their web site:

Baltimore, Md., June 16, 2006
text and photographs by Richard P. Poremski, contact the author by e-mail
This article was published originally in Polish American Journal, Buffalo, NY.

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