The Black Coach of Prague

There are many ghost stories surrounding a medieval city like Prague but the most spectacular ghost (if you see him) is the flaming skeleton riding a black coach.

I step off the tram, just as the clock marks 11:45 pm. The dark fingertips of the night are crawling around the nooks and crannies of Mala Strana, Prague’s Lesser Town. The bustling crowds of tourists who invade during the day are nowhere to be seen. I can hear laughter in the distance as stragglers cross the famous Charles Bridge. The tram groans its way south, leaving me in the main square under the sight of St Nicholas’ belfry.

A photo of Malostranske Namesti - Prague, Czechia

Malostranske Namesti – Prague, Czechia

The neighbourhood is replete with stories, legends and numerous things to see and do. It’s no surprise almost all tourists end up here at some point or another. As they trawl up to the castle on Nerudova street, they may just miss the entrance to Jansky Vrsek street on their left. (it’s not far from the Two Suns – if you see those, you’ve missed it)

I start my uphill walk. I must have paced the cobblestones on this street hundreds of times by now – tracing Mozart’s steps, looking for Laura the headless ghost, or simply hunting the Herculean golden apples. This time I am looking for the flaming headless skeleton.

According to legend, every Friday at midnight a black coach drawn by black horses appears in this street. The rider is a headless skeleton completely surrounded by flames. After driving along this street for an hour, the coach and flaming occupant sink into the ground. [1]

A photo of Jansky Vrsek - Prague, Czechia

Jansky Vrsek – Prague, Czechia

About three-quarters of the way up the hill, Jansky Vrsek street appears to my left. It is a short, dimly lit street. The silence surrounds me like an unwanted cloak and I half-shrug as I start my walk down. I walk the length of the street in less than 5 minutes. It is odd that the legend claims the skeleton would spend an entire hour in such a short street. I figure the superstition of the witching hour is what influenced storytellers.

I had tried to discover the provenance of this story but could find no further explanation. The name of the street could be a clue – “Jansky Vrsek”. “Jan” is the Czech version of John. The street is named after a Church dedicated to St John the Baptist which was situated close to the junction between Jansky Vrsek and Šporkova street, the first winding street to my right. The church dates back to the 13th century. It had a graveyard which was put to good use during a famine. [2] I also discovered that the neighbourhood burnt down in the 14th century. [3] Is this why the skeleton is aflame? Does the skeleton “sink into” the graveyard that once was here?

A photo of Jansky Vrsek, where the old church stood - Prague, Czechia

Where the old church stood – Prague, Czechia

The church is no longer here, having long since been converted into houses. The graveyard is either buried underneath people’s cellars, or perhaps was moved to some other location. I can see how a story associated with a graveyard would have remained long after this was removed.

I pause in the dead of night. The sodium light feebly coats the facades of buildings which have seen so much yet reveal so little. The rational part of me wonders how a coach navigates the stairs at the top of the street. The irrational part of me figures it’s time to go home.

 

Have you heard of ghost stories in your city? Leave a message below!

References

[1] Prague Ghost Stories, Nallion, Erin; Expats.cz, Prague Ghost Stories; 2013-10-01
[2] The Church of St John the Baptist; Wikipedia; (Retrieved 2017-03-27)
[3] Obora; Wikipedia; (Retrieved 2017-08-23)

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