Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The town of Piekary Slaskie: A Polish joke

A medieval coat of arms
We all know that ethnic slurs should be avoided, and it has long been my policy not to tell "Polish jokes." I always substitute the names of Italians or Irishmen, and the jokes still seem to be funny. But a recent news item has put that policy in doubt.

The town of Piekary Slaskie (pop. 60,000) is located in the uplands of Upper Silesia, the most industrialized and densely populated region of Poland. But its roots go back to the Middle Ages, and it's still an important place of pilgrimage to the Blessèd Virgin Mary, which makes it very dear to me.

As all good medieval cities should, Piekary Slaskie boasts a coat of arms. From time immemorial it was as pictured on the left: two men holding hands. But according to Adam Cioch, that all began to change in 2003. He writes,

.... Four years ago in fact, when the debate over the rights of gays and lesbians began to receive media coverage in Poland, a portion of the town's inhabitants became aware of the homosexual content of Piekary Slaskie's symbol. The municipal council then initiated discussions over the modification of the coat of arms, which quickly swerved to the ridiculous.

The "anti-gay" party argued that since the shields were causing a misunderstanding and since Piekary is the "spiritual capital of Upper Silesia" (because of its Marian sanctuary), the town ought to have a symbol "serious and proper." No need to add that the debate got its initial momentum from the local clergy before the media got hold of the affair.

As for the "pro-gay" party, it was for saving the ancient symbol as much for the preservation of tradition as for not ridiculing the city further in the eyes of the country. [a Simply Appalling translation]

A truly medieval coat of arms
Now the coat of arms is as it appears on the right. The church depicted in the middle of the shield was actually built in the 19th century in neo-Romanesque style to maintain the medieval character of the town. Now the town can boast a genuinely medieval mind-set as well.

And I had so been hoping to include Piekary Slaskie in my round of pilgrimages! But surely the Virgin will understand.


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