The dead also speak - you just need to know how to listen to them.

The dead also speak - you just need to know how to listen to them.

Ilona Skujaitė

Source: 15 min.

After fleeing to Sweden, Kotryna Jogailaitė became a member of the royal Vasa family and was buried in a shrine in their pantheon in Uppsala. Here you can see not only marble kings laid to rest with the sculptures of their dead wives, left and right, but also cleverly encoded signs of eternal love and speeches for future generations. Jewels and clothes of murdered people were taken out of the royal coffins, which had not decomposed for almost 500 years, with absorbed blood stains and traces of abuse.

Born and died under the sign of the crown

Around Vēlines, a silver bridge descends from the sky, which leads all the way to St. At Christmas, the spirits of the dead come from Annapils to visit our world - at least that's what I heard grandmothers in Lithuania say. This is a dark, rather scary and mysterious time, during which in 1526, on November 1st, on All Saints' Day, Kotryna Jogailaitė, the youngest child in the family of Žygimantas the Elder and Bona Sforza, rulers of Lithuania and Poland, was born in Krakow.

It is not known whether a personal horoscope was drawn up for the newly born queen, like her famous brother Žygimantas Augustus, in order to predict the future, but Catherine's husband, King John III Vaza of Sweden, turned his wife's grave into a real work of art, not allowing anyone to forget her past.

Kotryna Jogailaitė's monument in Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden. 

In the nearly 700-year-old Uppsala Cathedral, there is a small Karaka chapel dedicated to Kotryna Jogailaita and her husband Jonis Vaza, distinguished by its splendor. I walked under the sky-supporting Gothic vaults of this sanctuary, unable to believe that she had once walked here. I tried to imagine how Catherine, decked out in a mantle embroidered with the tiniest crowns and covered with mulberry fur, panting with excitement, walked the same floor with a slow, solemn step towards the altar with her husband to be anointed and crowned Queen of Sweden.

As a good Catholic, she probably also prayed to her father-in-law, King Gustav Vasa of Sweden, and to the monument of his first two wives - a marble bed, where sculptures of his dead queens lie on both sides of the king, in which the third, youngest, Katarina Stenbock, probably no longer fit (from indeed, she lived so long, almost 80 years, that there was no longer anyone to immortalize her with a piece of gorgeous marble next to her husband).

A fragment of the monument to the Swedish king Gustav Vasa in Uppsala Cathedral. 

It is possible that Kotryna Jogailaitė saw here with her own eyes the bones of St. Eric, the patron saint of Sweden, placed in a gold coffin, richly studded with precious stones, which were the only ones not thrown away after the reformation in Sweden. As Annika, the kind guide of Uppsala Cathedral, told us, until then, many Catholic relics, such as holy body parts, were stored in this shrine, but then they were disposed of, with the exception of St. Erik. According to her, King John III Vaza melted down the old sarcophagus of the saint, because he desperately needed money to run the state and fight wars, but instead he ordered a golden coffin with carvings to be made, in which the remains were moved, and Catherine allegedly made sure that a crown of impressive beauty hung above it . It is said that for this good work, a similar crown was hung above her monument, which is still there today.


"Talking" tombstone

I have seen the photos of Kotryna Jogailaitė's monument many times. I knew that after her death, her husband, Jonas III Vaza, ordered the production of an ornate Renaissance headstone, and it was created by the most famous sculptor of the time, Willam Boy. However, saying just that is the same as saying nothing.  

As I approached her grave, I felt like I was attending a loved one's funeral, knowing that when I crossed the threshold of the armory, I would see a dear person in a coffin, but his frozen body and face would no longer be a reflection of this world. It is very likely that Kotryna Jogailaitė was carved out of the stone as she lay during her funeral - on a high platform, dressed in a beautiful dress, adorned with a crown and jewels, her hands folded in prayer, her face illuminated by eternal peace.

Undoubtedly, the first thing that catches your eye is that it is a monument to the queen. It is not only covered with crowns, but also studded with coats of arms: the symbolism of the three crowns of the Kingdom of Sweden, the Lithuanian Vytis and the Polish eagle are displayed on the side of the platform in the most visible place, and on the wall above the head is a snake from the coat of arms of her mother Bona Sforza.

The monument is so tall that I can only see the stone face of Catherine from the side. It is remarkably similar to the portrait of her in her youth, painted by Lucas Cranach the Younger, also used on the cover of my book The War Bride. The most surprising and even exciting thing is that every detail of the sculpture is carved and finished down to the smallest details. I can't help but touch the stone lace and crowns the size of a 5 cent coin that dot the whole dress every few centimeters. Just embroidering such by hand on thick fabric would be bloody work, and here it is a stone. And it's warm, cozy, but not freezing, like in a haunted cemetery during Halloween.

The author of the Kotryna Jogailaitė monument is William Boy, who recreated the queen's clothes in stone down to the smallest details.

Examining the masterpiece of the Renaissance era, I begin to think that perhaps John III Vaza wanted to immortalize the image of his wife in stone as realistically as possible. And it is probably not for nothing that Latin words are carved on the copper plates above the monument, telling the story of Kotryna Jogailaitė, her joys and sorrows. The guide Annika explains that the secret is encoded on the table in front of the monument - the letters I, L, M and C are highlighted in each word, or the Roman numerals 1, 50, 1000 and 100, and when they are subtracted from each other, the date of Catherine's death is formed - in 1583

And only after getting into this numbers game do I realize that I am visiting Kotryna Jogailaitė's grave and publishing a novel about her precisely on the 440th anniversary of her death.

Latin inscriptions on the tombstone of Kotryna Jogailaitė.

The real grave

At first glance, it may seem that the pedestal of the sculpture in the chapel is a sarcophagus with the remains of Kotryna Jogailaitė, but her real grave is right here under the floor of the cathedral. It is marked by a heavy stone slab with four gilt rings and a coat of arms, which again shows the crown of the Queen of Sweden, the Polish eagle, the Lithuanian Vytis and the Italian serpent of Bona Sforza. Perhaps it was very important to her herself that all the signs of her origin and royal destiny were repeatedly depicted in the place of her eternal rest.

Guide Annika tells that she is buried there alone. When one of the rings on the slab broke about twenty years ago, the tomb was opened, and the people who went down there saw the stone sarcophagus, everything in the room was clean and tidy.

Kotryna Jogailaitė's eternal resting place under the floor of the cathedral is marked with the symbols of the coat of arms of the crown, the Lithuanian Vytis, the Polish eagle and the snake from Bona Sforza. 

Kotryna Jogailaitė's husband Jonas III Vaza is buried with his second wife Gunilla Bielke also in Uppsala Cathedral, but in a different crypt. For a long time, Catherine's monument was alone in the chapel - an altar was installed in front of it, until a few hundred years later John unexpectedly returned to her. More precisely, here is his monument of impressive beauty, surrounded by heraldic signs and angels. It shows King John gracefully leaning on his arm as he gazes across the room at his stony wife. Guide Annika tells another incredible story: this monument to John III Vasa was being made for a very long time in Gdansk, Poland, after his death, but due to lack of money, the work stopped. He stayed there for about two hundred years, because no one invited him to Sweden because of wars and all kinds of poverty. And it ended up in Uppsala Cathedral only because some king of Sweden, while visiting Poland, unexpectedly read about this sculpture in a tourist guide and brought it to Uppsala. The monument was so large that it could not fit anywhere else in the entire cathedral, except in the Catherine chapel.

Monument of King John III Vasa of Sweden in Uppsala Cathedral. 

To beautify the interior of the 19th century. stained glass masters also wrote two short sentences on the windows of the column - the life motto of these two royal personalities. Next to John's monument - "God is our savior", and next to Catherine - "Nothing but death" (lat. nemo nisi mors). This is the eternal oath of her love and faithful wife, given in the Vilnius Cathedral during her marriage with John III Vasa, engraved on her wedding ring and repeated before the imprisonment of John in Gripsholm Castle, with whom Catherine freely chose to be imprisoned, to give birth to their children in poverty and pain.

And now, almost 500 years later, they both lie facing each other in Uppsala Cathedral - the stone queen and her stone king.

I mean, separate - or connect - death?

Secrets of coffins and the murdered

Stockholm and other cities around it have not seen war for nearly 500 years, as has Uppsala, so it is not surprising that there castles were not destroyed and churches were not looted. When visiting Sweden, it is sometimes hard to believe that you are actually seeing things that were described in old chronicles half a millennium ago, and not their modern copies.  

For example, the posthumous crowns and scepters of Catherine and John, removed from their coffins, can be seen in Uppsala Cathedral.

A pendant with the letter C (in Latin it is the first letter of the name Kotryna) given to Kotryna by her parents. He is also painted in the already mentioned portrait of Catherine's youth, which means that he traveled with her throughout his life through Poland, Lithuania, Finland and Sweden. And probably Catherine herself wanted to be buried with him. One can only imagine how important it was to her, and the word "jewel" takes on many more nuances when looking at this piece of jewelry.

Catherine's and John's jewels were taken out of the coffin and exhibited in Uppsala Cathedral. 

The golden cross of Kotryna Jogilaitė from the chapel that belonged to her, used in services, is also here. It is said that inside it may be hidden a piece of the real cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, until then kept in the Uppsala Cathedral, which Catherine could supposedly save from being thrown away. Guide Annika says that when this cross is shaken, something rattles inside, and this relic was used during the Good Friday service some 20 years ago.   

Uppsala Cathedral also exhibits an absolutely unique collection of clothes in the world, such as the preserved mantle of the bishop who crowned John and Catherine, which is said to have been used during this ceremony.  

And the bloody clothes of Catherine's and John's contemporaries - the murdered Swedish nobles Sturii. The mad king of Sweden, Eric, John's brother, once imprisoned and ordered seven nobles killed in Uppsala Castle, and one of them, Nils Sture, he stabbed himself in the chest. The hole left by his dagger in his jacket still gapes like an eternal reproach, as do the blood-stained clothes of Nils' father, Svantė Sture, and his older brother, Erik Sture. According to the cathedral guides, these are the oldest surviving clothes in the world. By the way, Erik Sturė together with Jonas Vaza visited Lithuania and Poland when the Prince of Sweden came here to look for a wife. These clothes were not worn and survived to this day only because Countess Marta Sturė, who lost both her sons and her husband after the massacre of the nobles that shocked the Swedish society, brought them here in a wooden box so that people would never forget what was done when looking at the bloody clothes.

In Uppsala Cathedral, almost 500-year-old clothes of murdered nobles with blood stains are on display.

When you're in Uppsala Cathedral, you really feel like you're hearing the whispers.

And I don't know why, but a few years before I visited this place, sitting at the computer in Vilnius outside the window as spring bursts, I described the coronation of Kotryna Jogailaitė in Uppsala exactly like this:

 "Here, in the holy place of Sweden, where the remains of many kings rest, wrapped in the royal mantle and feeling the weight of the newly placed crown, I grow up with this land. I feel that not only the eyes of the gathered people, but also the ghosts of the kings and queens buried here are watching every move of me and John. At the moment when the scented oils made me dizzy for a moment, I could actually hear them blessing us and whispering that they will gather here again when our bones lie beside them to testify before the Lord God himself whether we have been faithful and true to this land, this country to the people and to his royal oath.”

Excerpt from the novel "War Bride"

After visiting the cathedral in Uppsala, I feel as if I have been blessed by Kotryna Jogailaitė herself.

Happy birthday, queen!