Mysteries below and above Štiavnica
Both miners and scientists once believed that precious metals grew like mushrooms in the forest; that it was enough for the sun and moon to shed light on a site, and then gold and silver would grow from the earth’s vapours. Thanks to geologists, we know now that this is not true. Miners, however, believed in daemons, elves, and witches, and also in the knights hidden inside Mount Sitno. Nobody has managed to contradict their existence, yet.
Toiling at their hazardous work belowground, faith was the source of support for miners. Before entering the mine, they prayed to St. Barbara, who protected them from danger and diseases. Barbara, however, lived around the beginning of the 4th c. CE. So, in the times before, the miners had to work without appropriate protection. When underground, the miners had to follow certain rules: never curse or whistle; always leave tiny bits of food for the mine spirits; and watch carefully for the elves, for the elderly looking mining elves could warn the miners against misfortune, but also indicate the presence of a precious ore vein.
Legends of Mount Sitno
Subterranean Banská Štiavnica is vaster than what we see in the daylight on the surface. Occasionally, creatures you would not encounter anywhere else come from the bowels of the earth to the surface: spirits of tragically deceased miners, prisoners from the Knocking Tower, and the former inhabitants of miner’s houses. It is also said that a spirit resides at the Scharffenberg hill, guarding the deposits of golden veins, which one day could be of good use to the people of Štiavnica. Furthermore, a sword spins at the entrance to the cave by the Black Well, and it will cut off the heads of those crazy enough with the desire to find the bandits’ treasure that they try to enter. And we should not forget about the troop of immortal knights hidden in the bowels of Mount Sitno, ready to burst out fighting when Slovaks face their greatest danger.
Mercury you are and to gold you shall (re)turn
Although the earth below Banská Štiavnica was at all times full of gold and silver, people were always attracted to attempts to produce gold from more accessible metals. This was the goal of alchemists and their supporters. Jan Konrad Richthausen von Chaos, who was officially a mining counsellor, the supreme minting master in Austria, and the main chamber earl in Banská Štiavnica from 1660 to 1663, was in favour of alchemy, too. Jan Konrad talked Emperor Ferdinand III into believing that he, Jan Konrad, had discovered the philosopher’s stone, and he presented the transmutation of metals to the Emperor. Jan Konrad transformed three pounds of mercury into two pounds of gold. The Emperor had the gold made into a memorial medal.
Witches in flames
While to be unique today is cool, in medieval times it was a reliable route to being burnt at the stake. Many women who understood the laws of the universe and the power of herbs were considered by others to be dangerous witches. Truly unfortunate, for example, was 80-year old Dora Struhárová. She was sued for using charms which made cows lose milk. Although thoroughly tortured, Dora did not admit to practicing magic, so she was executed and, for safety’s sake, burnt in 1642. Defiantly behaving the opposite way, a woman we know only as Barbara proudly associated herself with wizardry. When investigated, she boasted that she had studied the discipline at the servant Gajdošová’s for three years, and that they regularly went to Mount Sitno to shout at the devil, asking him to grant them supernatural powers. The archival resources do not say whether these walks to Mount Sitno brought Barbara the results she desired, or ended up just simple rambles in Štiavnica’s magical countryside.
Light at the end of the tunnel
If you see a conspicuous light in the mine, pay attention to it. If it oscillates wildly, get out as fast as you can. It is a warning sign of an approaching disaster. You do not believe it? Neither did a mining foreman, until the following happened to him:
Sometime in the 1950s, shortly before Christmas, the foreman and his aide were cleaning sticky mud out of an old mining tunnel during their afternoon shift. The tunnel was perfectly straight – they could see the outside forest even from a great distance. It got dark fast and it snowed quietly outside. When the miners took a break to eat, the aide suddenly noticed a shimmering light at the mouth of the mine. He thought somebody was wandering about the tunnel, so he went to find out what was going on. However, he did not meet anybody, and saw no traces on the ground. He returned disappointed and was ridiculed by the foreman. But shortly after, the foreman also noticed the shimmering light at the exit from the mine. Now, both went to investigate. When they came to the exit, the light disappeared. That made the foreman angry. They decided to search the surroundings – somebody must have left tracks in the fresh snow! They ran out. Nothing. The snow was untouched. Just a few seconds later, it happened... In the mine, from just where they had been only a few moments before, came a thunderous rumbling. A powerful blast of air gushed from the tunnel. The mine was swamped. Had it not been for the light, the foreman and his aide would have died under the masses of mud. From then on, the foreman ceased ridiculing the old mining superstitions and customs. And always, as he finished eating the food his wife had packed him, he left a tiny bit for the mysterious saviour. He was thankful that the light he had seen at the end of the tunnel was not his last one.
Old Pacher’s suffering
You will not find a person among the people of Štiavnica who has not experienced a spooky moment, or at least known a ghost story. A man named Karol Kácha, now deceased and once the head of the town’s funeral service, knew more ghost stories than anyone else in the town. He was a respected spiritualist and was invited to cast out spirits all over Czecho-Slovakia. But he did not manage to cast out the spirit of old Pacher, for he wanders about the Pacher Mine even today.
Under Trinity Hill, there is a complete old mine and its related facilities called the Pacher Mine – according to one of the mine’s owners. It was known that the mine’s namesake, old Pacher, was not a very compassionate person. One day one of his miners was crushed by a boulder in the mine. The miner had worked in the mine for many years. He was a virtuous man, taking very good care of his 9 children and wife. However, they did not think he would leave the world so soon, so he had not saved very much money for his family. Therefore, the young widow had to resolve a dilemma: If she paid for her husband’s funeral, her children would die of hunger. If she fed her children, her husband would rot in her yard. She decided to look for help at Pacher’s. She went to him and very reverently described her sad situation. But the mine owner had no mercy and kicked the woman out onto the street. It is said that the widow cursed Pacher, but that is not true. She was a pious and virtuous woman. It was enough that she sighed and looked up at the sky: “Lord, you can see this. Will you just let it be?”, she said. And the Lord did not miss her plea. Later, when Pacher died, they buried his body, but his soul did not find peace. It still wanders about Trinity Hill and the Pacher Mine, where old Pacher had his seat and office. In the building where, today, there are cloakrooms for the visitors to the Glanzenberg mine, one can often hear old Pacher crying with painful regret, “Ohhhh, how I wish I had sacrificed my money to help the widow and avoided this endless suffering in the afterlife!”