Matthew came from a mighty Czak family whose members had faithfully served under the Hungarian Arpad kings for centuries. Hungarian chronicles trace the origins of the Czak family back to an old Magyar, called Saboltcha. We are told that the first Czak was Saboltcha’s grandson.
Mathew, too, who was the third bearer of the name “of Trenčín” served in arms and service under the last Arpad ruler, Andrew III. Later, he became the lord of Bratislava and then of Trenčín. Top of his career came when he was promoted to the position of Hungarian palatine, only second to the king. His savage and greedy character would ultimately plunge him into conflict with royal power. After Andrew’s death and dying out of the Arpad family, Mathew Czak took advantage of the interregnum that soon followed. It was through alternating support of individual pretenders to the throne who would legalize his forceful seizures and robberies, that Matthew was able to gather enormous wealth and power. At the peak of his reign, he had in possession (according to various sources) around 40 – 90 castles, 12 to 26 seats, and 24 cities and towns, and ruled over most of territory of today’s Slovakia, including part of the Zadunajska region and a number of lands in Moravia. His unofficial title “Dominus Vagi et Tatrae”, meaning “Lord of Váh and Tatras” was more than an empty compliment. Matthew turned Trenčín into the center of his immense dominions, with its own court. We are told that he also had a money minting facility there. Since none has been found up to this date, it could well be that the story is just one of the rumors spread by his numerous enemies. And Matthew did have many of these, indeed! Enemies would include his robbed neighbors and even the king and church leaders. Since Matthew would not spare the properties of his weaker neighbors, but would rummage and take into possession both royal and church produce, he was put under church curse twice. There was an interdict pronounced over his possessions – prohibition to serve sacraments. Although the king Robert of Anjou proved himself to be a canny foe also to Matthew, yet their mutual fight seemed to be without a winner. When Matthew was on his deathbed in the Spring of 1321, his power had not been broken, but there was no heir and successor to his throne.
Tomb of Matthew Czak of Trenčín has never been found. This must have troubled his contemporaries and fascinated investigators, “mysterologists”, and all kinds of romantics.
That this powerful and wealthy lord would not take enough care to secure a majestic place for his last resting place, seemed unimaginable. It could as well be such thinking that might have provoked and spread a tale of hidden tomb that holds the lord of the castle together with his manifold riches laid inside the chests of iron, silver and gold. However, one cannot help notice the similarity between this tale and that of the death of Attila - “the whip of God”.
During the 18th and the 19th centuries especially, many a treasure seeker would unwearyingly search for the tomb of Matthew. One time they would try underneath the Matthew’s tower, other times below the plum tree in the lower court, or inside the secret catacomb near the Jeremiah’s citadel. Yet others believe him to be buried deep under the Vah’s riverbed, or somewhere in the Cherry Grove in the Brezina woods. Another tale suggests that Matthew escaped before the royal army through a secret tunnel and lived the rest of his life in a cloister at bigger Skalka – supposedly the place of his tomb.
Notwithstanding the legends, reality is probably more sober. It appears that Matthew really died at Trenčín castle at the time when the royal army laid siege of it or was even approaching it. Hated by his ardent enemies, church and at the prospect of being betrayed by some of his friends (some had already betrayed him), he knew that even his death would produce all but mercy in these people. It appears that Matthew did not trust in the abilities of his designated successor – Stephen Czech, and would be secretly buried by a handful of his faithful ones at a place always to be held in secret. Sadly, he was right. Stephen could not hold the castle and shortly after Matthew’s death his dominions would disintegrate. Who could ask for mercy from the king? Those who buried Matthew may as well have fallen during the last defense of the castle, or survive the attack and die later, taking their secret with them. We can only guess what really happened back then.
Speaking of the treasure, this may as well be a different story. Notwithstanding the church curses (really, nothing unusual back then), Matthew considered himself a good Christian. This can be supported by several sources that record numerous secret visits of the Skalka abbot John to the castle to hold the Mass, despite the interdict. It is a known fact that Christians would not be buried with treasures. Maybe those that had access to the treasures left behind at Matthew’s death took them; the rest was left to the mercy of the royal army. What was left was only the legend itself.
Rule of the Zápoľský family at Trenčín castle produced one of the oldest and most admirable Slovak stories – the story of Omar, Fatima, and the Well of Love. A story is told of a Turkish nobleman (“pasha”) Omar and his love for beautiful Fatima who was held in captivity at the castle by Stephen Zápoľský.
To set her free, Omar promised to dig a well at the castle to make it really invincible. The story has it that Omar together with his 300 companions would spend three years trying to dig through the unyielding rock in search of the precious water. Finally, at the cost of the lives of almost all of his men, he was able to accomplish what he had promised. After saying: „Zápoľský, water hast thou, but not the heart“, Omar could take his dear Fatima back home with him. The story further tells us that as the couple was leaving, the bushes along the curved road to the castle would trap Fatima’s veil. Therefore, a tavern that would rise at this place in the 16th century was to bear the name “Veil”, later changed to today’s “Fatima”.
Originally, the building used to be a parish house, adjacent to the Church of The birth of Virgin Mary. However, the story of the well again would not render true picture of reality. In reality, works on the well began in the third decade of the 16th century, when soldiers of the Habsburg garrison at the castle, together with subjects living in Trenčín’s dominion, first began to dig.. It took them about forty years to reach the depth of almost 80 meters below the rock’s surface. Alexius Thurzo completed the well around 1570. Despite the fact that they never reached the spring, rainwater level in this artificial reservoir would still reach sufficient height. Today, the level is 12 - 15 meters high.
Nearby Gothic Chapel houses a permanent display featuring the castle’s Well of Love.
Eternal lord of Trenčín and Liptov, Stephen I. of Ileszhazi, was not only a mighty and wealthy magnate, but also one of the most significant representatives of the Lutheran faith in the Hungarian kingdom. It does not come as surprise that his relationships with the ruling Habsburg dynasty were often strained. While his behavior toward the archduke Matthias in Vienna was relatively respectful, incessant conflicts would exist between him and the court of the emperor Rudolph II. This antipathy reached its climax at the end of the 16th century.
In 1581, Stephen, through marriage with Katarine of Palfy, acquired a number of properties, including two grape-growing towns in the Záhorie region – Pezinok, and Svätý Jur, which would yield him rich annuities every year. Wealthy and self-confident magistrate office in both towns wanted to shake off the shackles of servitude and dependence, and win the towns the status of free royal cities. Therefore, the magistrate office with promised support from the Emperor, offered Ileszhazi that they would ransom themselves from servitude – this was quite understandable. Thus, Rudolph would not only limit the wealth and power of this annoying Hungarian magnate, but also receive additional income for the Emperor’s treasury. This, however, was met with a determined “no” of Stephen Ileszhazi, who most likely did not hold his peace either, whenever the Emperor’s conduct would come in question. The conflict culminated in 1601. Despite an early insipid support of the Hungarian Assembly, Stephen was not protected against indictment and charges of high treason and defaming the emperor’s Majesty – capital crimes of that time. Royal emissary Stephen Šomodi summoned Ileszhazi to appear before the Hungarian Assembly.
In March 1603, chairman of the Hungarian Assembly – Mikuláš Ištvánfy, pressed by the Prague court, issued a resolution condemning Stephen Ileszhazi to lose his throat and lands. Stephen did not wait for the sentence to be carried out and fled to Krakow palatine in Poland. He would not come with empty hands, though. Stephen took all he could carry with him. We are told that his relative – Farkasz Esterházy sent after him another 39, 000 tolars and other valuables. When emissaries from the royal chamber came to Trenčín castle to claim Stephen’s possessions, majority of the valuables had already been out of their reach. This situation infuriated the Emperor who wrote a letter to the Trenčín magistrate office, in which he strictly ordered to prevent Ileszhazi from entering the castle again.
City leaders of Trenčín were thus plunged between two millstones. While they could not resist the Emperor, they did not welcome the idea to contend with this unloved yet mighty and adamant lord of the castle either. It was an uncertain time, Boczkay revolt was impending, and the winner was not clear yet. Finally, they sent a letter to the Emperor’s chamber saying that Ileszhazi has a secret tunnel to the castle, and that they are not able to preclude him from entering it. The excuse was too evident to be ignored; however, this maneuver would give rise to the legend of a secret tunnel at Trenčín castle.
Most likely, this scenario was not totally new and it appears that these Trenčín lords may have been inspired by older myths, maybe as old as the times of Matthew Czak. Older literature mentions a secret tunnel that at that time lead from the castle to Skalka, and through which he was to escape from his besieged seat in order to avoid death in 1321. Another legend is told of the castle well. Once, they let a duck into the well that would later come out on the Váh River. Lateral dead-end tunnel that leads off the well’s hole and starts at one third of the well’s depth is most likely a result of the futile search for spring. The tunnel was at times considered the secret passage to Skalka. Finding of a subterranean tunnel in front of the Lower City Gate, during restoration works on the surroundings of the early barbican in the fifties of the 20th century, and discovering another offshoot of this tunnel about 40 years later during the construction of new facilities in this part of the town, again revived these legends.
Once again, ideas about a secret tunnel to the castle would circulate amongst the public and in local press. Reality was different, however. It was an underground line of passage that made it possible to bring supplies to the defenders of the barbican after the City Gate would close by a falling grille and barricade. This line of passage provided for safe escape should the barbican fall into the hands of the enemy. After all, what secret tunnel would open up at the most frequent place of the early city? If we could imagine what enormous effort it took to dig up the castle well in that unyielding rock alone, the scenario of a secret tunnel leading from the castle would seem absurd. Moreover, with frequently changing castle’s owners and keepers, such “secret” tunnel would definitely not remain secret for long time.
Here it would be appropriate to mention how Stephen Ileszhazi got equal with royal emissary Stephen Šomodi, whom he blamed for having played major part behind Stephen’s condemnation. After Stephen joined the revolt of Stephen Botchkay in 1604, he returned to his lands and castle of Trenčín. On the night of August 30, 1606, Stephen’s armed men dragged Šomodi out of his house in Trnava and transported him to Trenčín. There, together with a royal thirtyman Matthew Kološvári who carried out the confiscation of Stephen’s possessions, he was hanged without trial. We are told that the body stayed on the gallows for five hours as a warning sign, before taken down and given to Šomodi’s widow. No less cruel was Stephen’s revenge on the leader of hayducks, Belošič, also called White Steč, who had caused much damage to the possessions of Stephen’s friend in Bytča – Juraj Thurzo. He ordered Belošič to be beheaded without mercy.
In the 16th century, around the place of today’s VÚB and close to the Upper „Water“ City Gate, there was a townhouse. J. Branecký narrates a tale of a witch who was hanged in this house around the middle of the 19th century. For some reason, devils would not accept her soul into the hell but instead would join it to haunt in the house.
Nobody wanted to live here because of big noise and tumult, so the original owner sold the house to Pavol Baračka, captain of Trenčín Castle and second lord of the district of Trenčín. Baračka was known to be fearless of any man or thing. However, because of exceedingly active ghosts, he would not be allowed to rest in peace either. So he came up with a great idea.
His jurisdiction would extend over a prison house filled with all kinds of robbers, murderers, and villains. He ordered that four rebels, who had already been condemned to die, be cast in the cellar of his haunted house. The following day found two of them already dead and the remaining two were redeemed from their future suffering by the speedy and merciful act of the headsman. The story tells us that Baračka’s experiment was so successful, that crime in the District of Trenčín dropped to a minimum. Robbers and bandits were moving to farther regions to avoid that “hellish” prison of the captain of Trenčín castle.
It is most likely that this tradition was to be believed and continued, for after the death of Baračka the house was bought by Juraj Motešický and changed into permanent prison. As part of safety measures, a chapel was built attached to the prison house in 1827, since some prisoners had already escaped while taken out to attend Masses at the Parish Church. Juraj Chlebaňa who was condemned after having stolen a ram from the sheepfold of the Senator Szilvay, rendered a more detailed description of the ghosts. His account gives us the exact number of twelve devils and one chained witch. Devils had black fur growing all over their bodies and horse-like hoofs on their feet. The witch was so ugly that poor Juraj could not even look at her. At midnight, all of them began to dance and yell. To make the performance even more impressive, they would blow sulfur smoke. Chlebaňa’s account of the story was partly supported by a prison guard who claimed to be awakened by the hellish noise, although his sleep would generally be deep and sound. The prisoner saved his life only by constantly repeating the name of the Lord, which apparently had a demoralizing effect on the devils. His saved life was not to last long, however. Two days later, while attempting to escape, he was shot to death by hayduck Veselica.
Just to add that Pavol Baračka preferred to move into his mansion in Trenčianske Teplice – now place of a restaurant bearing the same name.
Crypts inside the churches of Trenčín still have in store interesting life stories. Besides the members of the mighty Ileszhazi family, here are buried castle captains, district officers, common landlords, members of the Jesuit order, commanders of Trenčín garrison who died far from their homeland, and their wives, often owners of great names.
Crypt of the Piarist Church, for example, stores the remains of the wife of Earl Pfeffershofen, with maiden name of Plassin de Mylleyton, who died in 1708. Buried here is also General Pott, bearer of the Order of Maria Theresa, who died on February 1, 1850. The most tragic story; however, is told of the body of Katarína Szugoňová, daughter of the lord of Budatín castle. This known tale tells us that her father ordered to wall her inside the Budatín tower because she did not want to marry the old Ján Jakušith, Lord of Vršatec. She had already had a secret lover – a young earl Francis Forgáč. At last, to save her own life, she consented to marry Jakušith. However, what happened afterward did not really come as surprise. Katarína was not faithful to her husband and had an affair with the young Forgáč. When the cuckold Jakušith finally learned about the matter, he, together with several of his armigers, awaited the young earl and slew him on January 23, 1647. The news of the murder spread and created a big reverberation. The victim was not a common man. Francis Forgáč was Lord of Tekov district and the captain of Tekov.
It seems that Katarína at last got reconciled with her destiny as a record in the Jesuit annals tells us of her burial in 1712. At the time of her death, she was a well-known rich widow of Ján Jakušith and a generous patroness of the church, who funded the construction of two rows of church pews and donated 20 guilders for the establishment of a drugstore called “Way to the Holy Ghost”. This drugstore was in operation until the second half of the twentieth century. Preserved letter of Forgáč’s mother, in which she calls her relatives to attend the funeral of her son, tells us that rather than the legend, this might have been a criminal case instead.
Antonia de Andricky was daughter to a rich earl Andrický. Antonia fell in love with a landlord whose name has not been preserved. This, however, would not please her father, whose ambitions were higher and totally foreign to marrying his daughter to some “vagrant”. When once in fury, he uttered this infamous sentence: “I would rather see you dead than married to a beggar like this.”
His hasty words were to be fulfilled immediately. Antonia fell to the ground dead. A summoned doctor only confirmed that she was dead. The young countess was to be buried on June 1, 1796. The dead body, however, had a suspicious yellow color and flexible fingers. This created more suspicion and outrage in the people who did not believe her to be dead.
Because of this, mayor of the city and the rector were forced to choose a compromise. They would not bury the dead body; instead, it was to be placed in an open casket inside the crypt’s corridor. Since the condition of the body did not change the following day, a mason was sent for to wall the casket inside the burial embrasure. The face; however, would still have a healthy pink color and the fingers would be flexible. Still one day later, when the frater church keeper was about to inscribe the name of the buried on the wall of the burial chamber, he heard the voice of Antonia calling for help. Overwhelmed by terror, he passed out. Monks, who later found the unconscious church keeper, said they did not hear a single sound. Thus, the story of the church keeper was widely regarded as the result of hallucinations of this man who was known as very fearful, and the matter has been left unnoticed ever since.
Today, we are left to only guess what was true about this scary tale, and what was added by popular folk imagination. Maybe better not to try open the crypt of the countess Andricka, though.
The Headsman House on the Street of Matthew Czak has also been adorned by a number of legends. Originally, a renaissance townhouse of the 16th century, the building used to be a home to Trenčín city headsman. Damp and dark cellar would be the last place of wailing of condemned criminals before the hand of the master headsman would finish their miserable life at the execution place below the city walls. The place was near the Lower City Gate, next to the road leading toward the outer city and farms. Later, the gallows was moved farther from the city, to a part called Dolný Šianec.
Most common forms of execution were beheading and hanging. In Hungary, beheading was not carried out by axe, or by laying the head on the stump. They would use a special double-edged sword with a dull end. The condemned would kneel down or sit on the chair. The headsman usually executed with the city execution sword. Alternatively, he also executed with his own sword, in which case he would charge a higher execution fee, also called the fee “for sharpening”. Written accounts tell us that the city of Trenčín had three execution swords. Two of them have been preserved in the collections of Trenčín Museum.
Trenčín was also affected by so-called Witch trials and burning of witches. Even today, when the night gets windy, we may be able to hear sorrowful howling of condemned witches awaiting their dreadful death in the flames of the stake.
Trenčín, being a free royal city with the privileges of Budín and Stoličný Belgrade granted to it in 1412 by the Hungarian king and Roman Emperor - Sigmund of Luxemburg, also enjoyed the right of sword (reaffirmed again in 1454 by Ján Huňady), and thus had its own headsman.
In the second half of the 16th century, Trenčín had its headsman by the name of Stanislav Chrbinský. In 1596, this headsman was tried under the damage suffering law and executed by sword on the charges of stealing from church money depositories and adultery.
Another Trenčín headsman by the name of Pavol Sloboda was of an unusual origin. He was a landlord from Ivanovce. In 1663, after the raiding Turks had burned his lands, killed his whole family, and slew his fiancé, Pavol, overwhelmed by despair and poverty, asked to be given this generally despised office, quite unsuitable for a landlord. The legend tells us that he became very skilful. Pavol married the widow of his predecessor, Ján Ostrovský; yet, his wife and his only son would both soon die. This master headsman, haunted by his unhappy destiny, decided to be hired to join an army fighting the Turks. We are told that at the battle of Parkan in 1683, Pavol was fighting bravely with his execution sword, and found his death two years later at the battle of Nové Zámky.