Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Trumpeter of Krakow....

Ruben and I finished reading The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly this week. Riley also read it a couple of weeks ago through her Beautiful Feet Medieval Intermediate History study. Kelly's 1928 historical fiction novel won the Newbery Award in 1929 and I can see why.

The Trumpeter of Krakow is a dramatic adventure set in the city of Krakow in Medieval Poland. It is also a coming of age story of young Joseph, a 15-year old boy, learning how to protect his father's 200 year old family secret. Kelly's tale left me longing for so much more information. Was there really a Great Tarnov Crystal? Was the Heynal a real song and is it still played today? Was the Church of Our Lady Mary a real place and is it still standing today? As it turns out, the answer to all of these questions is yes!

The legendary Tarnov Crystal, was more commonly known as the "philosopher's stone" as far back as about 300 AD in Greek history. It was an alchemist's substance, which could supposedly be used to turn base metals into gold or silver. For many years, it was the most sought after substance. The Crystal is also known as the "elixir of life", as it's believed to be useful in achieving eternal life. Some say, the stone dates back to Adam in the bible, who received knowledge of it directly from God. That knowledge was then passed down through the biblical patriarchs and was the reason for their long years of living. Either way, the stone's history intrigued me and I think The Trumpeter of Krakow would also be a wonderful living book to read for science/chemistry purposes.

It turns out the Heynal is a real song and is still played today with the broken note, out of all four windows, every hour, just as described in the story. It is a five note Polish anthem. The song is still played with the broken note that stemmed from a Mongol invasion in 1241. Legend has it that the trumpeter in the sentry tower was playing the anthem to sound the alarm of invaders, but the Mongols entered the city before the gates were closed and shot the trumpeter in the throat, causing the abrupt ending of the Heynal. His inability to complete the Heynal resulted in the broken note. The broken note is still observed today as a way to commemorate that 13th Century trumpeter.

I really enjoyed reading Professor Carol Reynold's piece on The Trumpeter of Krakow and watching the YouTube video she linked, showing the modern day Heynal player. For those that don't know, Professor Carol leads European tours for the Smithsonian Institute. She is a retired university professor of music history, who has also written/produced home education courses on music history, and culture. She's a wonderful speaker!

Lastly, the Church of Our Lady Mary is in fact, a real place. It is better known as St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow. The main part of the church as it stands today was completed in the 14th Century. Although, the foundation was laid in the 13th Century. The original church on that foundation was destroyed in the Mongol invasion. It is a Brick Gothic church situated next to Marian Square, the main square of Krakow. The interior images are absolutely stunning! On every hour, the trumpet signal (Heynal) is played from the top of the taller two towers of St. Mary's. I would love to travel there someday and see it.

For me, The Trumpeter of Krakow was definitely an example of a living book as the story caused me to want to dig deeper. I was sad to see it end and yet, I loved the ending, although, Riley and Ruben disagreed on the conclusion of The Tarnov Crystal. The story's end allowed for lively discussion. The characters were rich. The setting was of interest. The history was very intriguing and there doesn't seem to be many books written about medieval Poland for students. Overall, I highly recommend reading The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly as part of your middle or high school medieval history study!


  1. Those chemistry books are an excellent intro to Chemistry & I didn’t study that subject either ☹️
    The Trumpeter of Krakow is a great book & as you said there aren’t many books about Medieval Poland. I’ll check out the video link you posted, thanks, Melissa.

  2. Thanks Carol...and you're welcome :)