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Discoveries in Węgrów

The Magic Mirror and What Not

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The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

Węgrów (read: [‘vengroov] is one of the oldest cities in the neighbouring area. The first mention of the settlement dates back to 1414. Market Square and its surroundings are the most impressive attractions of Węgrów, among them the centrally located Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A statue of St.Andrew of Padua

A statue of St.Andrew of Padua

Our friends from Siedlce – Martha and Chris - invited us to visit Węgrów and its environs since, to their opinion, there was no reason to delay the meeting with the Magic Mirror of Master Jan Twardowski. The famous Magic Mirror is the only item belonging to Twardowski in Węgrów. Thus, Węgrów became the world capital of legends related to this remarkable figure. There is Master Jan Twardowski Trail in Węgrów. The trail is about two kilometers long. It is advertised for visitors, who want to see and to feel the fairy-tale atmosphere of this charming city. However, we did not have to follow the entire trail. We only visited the sacristy, where the Magic Mirror is kept, and the Baroque Basilica itself.
We learnt a lot about Jan Twardowski (1515-1573), a legendary 16th-century magician, also known as the Polish Faust, a hero of legends and fairy-tales known as Pan Twardowski (“Mr.Twardowski”) and liked by both children and adults. The real Twardowski was a German nobleman born in Nuremberg and educated in Wittenberg before arriving in Krakow. His probable name was Laurentius Dur, which was written in Latin as Durus (Latin for "hard") or Durentius. In the Polish adaptation, the name came to sound as Twardowski. He allegedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and knowledge of magic. However, he wanted to outsmart the devil, so he added a paragraph to the pact signed with him, saying that the devil could take his soul to hell only in Rome, to which he did not plan to go at all.
For some people, Twardowski is a sinister magician who served the unclean forces, and created intrigues being at the service of the court. Other people suggest that he was a wise and brave nobleman, who was not afraid of the devil himself. Adam Mickiewicz was inspired by Twardowski’s story and in 1822 he dedicated a wonderful humorous ballad called “Mrs. Twardowska" to it. There are movies dedicated to this character that were based on Twardowski legend: Pan Twardowski (1921) and Pan Twardowski (1936).
Our friends from Siedlce hired a local guide, Mr. Jan Mielniczek, who took us to the Basilica and to Jan Twardowski monument in Market Square, as our friends had requested. First of all, our guide took us to the church sacristy, whose outer door is to the right of the entrance.

Entering the sacristy of the Basilica, Węgrów

Entering the sacristy of the Basilica, Węgrów


The inscription over the entrance door to the sacristy of the Basilica, Węgrów

The inscription over the entrance door to the sacristy of the Basilica, Węgrów

The inscription above the entrance door reads in Latin, Per te accessum habeamus ad fillium benedictas - “Through you we may have access to the blessed son”. The legendary John Twardowski’s Magic Mirror is kept here in the sacristy. Our guide spoke a lot about the incomprehensible legacy Jan Twardowski had left us. The famous Twardowski Mirror, a mysterious mirror from the second half of the 16th century that allegedly has magical powers, stands inside the sacristy above the entrance door that is on the right wing of the church.

From the poem of Juliusz Harbut

From the poem of Juliusz Harbut

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According to our guide, Mr.Jan Mielniczek, Węgrów belongs to a narrow group of towns an cities associated with the life and activities of the greatest Polish sorcerer, Master Twardowski. Apart from Krakow, Warsaw, Bydgoszcz, Poznań and Knyszyn, Węgrów is also the city whose history is connected with the Master. Our guide quoted a verse from the poem of Jiliusz Harbut "Little Rome":
"All the way from Krakow to Węgrów
Twardowski arrived on a rooster,
One leg barefoot, the other one with a shoe."

(Juliusz Harbut - Little Rome vol. 4. Warsaw 1938).
The Magic Giant Rooster was the Great Magician's pet whom he called in emergency. It was a unique means of transport for Twardowski because he usually traveled on bat wings. In Węgrów, the sorcerer used to stay in a tenement house near the parish church. In that house he set up a studio, where he pursued his profession. The second studio was located in the dungeons under the town hall, which many years ago was located in the center of the market square.
As legends say, taking advantage of the friendly relations with the city owners, Twardowski could visit Węgrów, and work safely in his workshop. This is where he performed magic and alchemical experiments. Knowing that he could count on the help and protection of the city authorities of Węgrów, he fled from his persecutors - Mikołaj and Jerzy Mniszech, the court schemers, - who had believed that Twardiwski was the man who knew too much and who had to be done away with. Unfortunately, the Great Magician did not make it and was killed on his way to Węgrów in 1573, one year after his main protector - the king - had died.

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Inside the sacristy of the Basilica, Węgrów


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The Magic Mirror above the entrance door to the sacristy of the Basilica, Węgrów

You can see 22 portraits of church dignitaries and the famous people, who were church benefactors. According to legend, the magic mirror belonged to the sorcerer Jan Twardowski, and whoever looks in the mirror would see his or her future. The mirror has dimensions of 56 mm x 46.5 mm, has the thickness of 8 mm and weighs about 17.8 kilograms. It was made of an alloy of silver, tin, zinc, bismuth and antimony. It may have been made by German alchemists. You can see a Latin text is carved on the black wooden frame of the mirror: LUSERAT HOC SPECULO MAGICAS TWARDOVIVS ARTES LUSUS AT ISTE DEI VESUSU IN OSEQVIVUM EST. Its translation sounds like this: "With this mirror, Twardowsky performed magical things, but it was done for the glory of the Lord."

The Magic Mirror information board, Market Square, Węgrów

The Magic Mirror information board, Market Square, Węgrów

According to our city guide, Mr.Mielniczek, the figure of Twardowski and his famous mirror have attracted many generations of curious people to Węgrów. Every year, thousands of tourists come to the Basilica wishing to see the legendary magic mirror with their own eyes, to experience the charm of the old sacristy and the beauty of the entire temple, and to encounter something unknown and unique, which stays in their memory for a long time.

The image of the Magic Mirror from the booklet of Jan Mielniczek, our guide

The image of the Magic Mirror from the booklet of Jan Mielniczek, our guide

The mirror used to have extraordinary properties:

  • it was used to summon spirits (the spirit of the late queen Barbara Radziwiłłówna)
  • it showed the future (Napoleon saw his defeat in the War of 1812)
  • demons, devils and ghosts were seen in it, but it was also supposed to bring happiness to lovers.

The mirror is unique throughout Europe. It has been kept in the church for more than 300 years. According to our guide, many people wonder what the church had to do with the magic mirror. First of all, it was Jan Dobrogost Krasiński, the city owner and the church benefactor, who offered the mirror to the priests. The mirror had been inherited in the Krasiński family since the time of Bishop Franciszek Krasiński, who was a friend of the Polish magician Jan Twardowski. The priests thought the mirror had belonged to a "converted wizard" and decided they could keep the famous mirror in the church because the Catholic church in Węgrów was the place where the mirror could not be used for evil purposes. It was hung in such a position that no person could look at himself/herself in it. The idea behind it wad that the mirror was supposed to remind the faithful of the dangers arising from the temptation of contacting the unclean forces for whatever reason. It is confirmed by the inscription on the mirror frame. The mirror turned out to be a trophy gained in the fight for human souls, because Twardowski had managed to avoid condemnation.

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This is a reproduction of the canvas "Rome Inn" painted by Wojcech Dunaj. The painting is kept at the Municipal Public Library of Węgrów. I took the reroduction from the booklet of our city guide, Mr.Mielniczek, called “In the Footsteps of Master Twardowski", which he kindly presented to us after the tour giving his permission to publish the images in my blog.
After many years, in an inn called Rome, the devil finally caught up with Twardowski. Twardowski (not knowing he was in Rome, even though in an inn bearing that name), was dragged into the hell by the evil forces through the chimney. In that dramatic moment, Twardowski prayed fervently, singing canticles to Virgin Mary, which made the devil abandon him. Twardowski landed on the Moon, where he stays to this day, observing the actions of people on Earth. A spider became his only companion in the misery since that spider was the form of his faithful servant, for whom Twardowski himself had created such a personality. Thus, it was not Neil Armstrong in 1969, who arrived to the Moon four centuries later, but the great sorcerer, who was the first inhabitant of the Earth to appear on the Moon. Who could have thought!

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Market Square, Węgrów

Three cracks cut the surface of the mirror. Of course, legends explain them as well. These are the explanations we have heard.

  1. The oldest explanation dates back to the 16th century. Using his magic mirror, Twardowski at the request of King Zygmunt August caused the appearance of the specter of the beautiful Barbara Radziwiłłówna, a young royal spouse, who died at an early age causing much grief to the king. Despite the warning that the attempt to get closer to the ghost is forbidden, the king, overwhelmed by emotion, tried to embrace Barbara. At that moment the spirit disappeared, and the mirror burst into pieces.
  2. Another story concerns the priest of Węgrow, a vain man who enjoyed contemplating his face in the mirror until the mocking mouth of the devil appeared it it. The terrified priest threw a bunch of heavy keys at the mirror, thus crashing it.
  3. Emperor Napoleon I is the hero of the next explanation. He allegedly became a victim of the Mirror. Passing Węgrow during his Moscow campaign, the brave emperor wanted to see for himself the magical properties of the mirror. However, after looking into it, he jumped away from the mirror in horror. Having recovered a little, the emperor tore the mirror from the wall and threw it down, splitting it into three parts. Probably, the mirror image was a prophecy of his defeat, his exile and death on a remote island... This explanation of the cracks somehow became the most popular one.

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A view of the organ of the Basilica, Market Square, Węgrów
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A view of the Basilica belfry from Market Square, Węgrów/A portrait of John Paul II under a side altar

People noticed that the Magic Mirror really possessed incomprehensible properties. Giving their feedback about the mirror, people said they had experienced strange feelings. On the one hand, they were tempted to immediately look into the mirror, and on the other hand, some mysterious force filled the people with irresistible fear. The church attendants whispered that the ghost of Twardowski lived in the Mirror, and on a full Moon you could see the Hell inside it.
Anyhow, today the mirror hangs much higher than human height and it is impossible to look into it, for your own safety. The tour of the sacristy, where the Mirror hangs, takes place exclusively under the supervision of a strict guide.

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The side gate at the Basilica, Węgrów_Hersules (left), Diana (right)

The side gate at the Basilica, Węgrów_Hersules (left), Diana (right)

About 50 years ago, two students of the Faculty of History went to Węgrów to photograph the Twardowski Mirror for the Catalog of Monuments of Poland. They were surprised to find out that none of the 250 pictures came out. The cassette with the photo film simply cracked in the camera.

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

To the left of the entrance door to the Basilica, you can see this modest memorial. It commemorates the victims of the Kotun massacre (1940) and of Smolensk air crash (April 10, 2010).

A portrait of Jan Dobrogost Krasiński, the city owner and the church benefactor

A portrait of Jan Dobrogost Krasiński, the city owner and the church benefactor

After a tour of the sacristy and the church, our guide took us inside the church and showed us around telling many interesting stories about the church and its creators. You can’t help admiring the monumental silhouette of the temple. As our guide explained, it has been emanating with the glow of great art for centuries. Today we owe this masterpiece to the owner of Węgrów, Jan Dobrogost Krasiński (1639-1717). This outstanding statesman and esthete not only financed the reconstruction of the church in 1703-1707, but also employed Michelangelo Palloni, an outstanding mural painter, for the decoration of the temple. There is a set of nine painted altars that have aroused admiration from the moment of their creation. The artist used only natural paints, which have preserved their inimitable beauty until today.

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Side altars of the Basilica, Market Square, Węgrów
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Side altars of the Basilica, Market Square, Węgrów
Visiting the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

Visiting the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

The interior of the church also contains other extraordinary works of art: the Baroque Main Altar, the majestic portraits of the founder - Jan Dobrogost Krasiński and the Basilica consecrator (Bishop Łucki A. Wyhowski), Rococo altars with the paintings of Szymon Czechowicz, and an amazing canvas “The Dance of death".

The Death Dance painting inside the church

The Death Dance painting inside the church


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You can see a monument to the left of the church entrance. It is dedicated to Virgin Mary. Its inscription reads, Holy Mary! Pray for us, sinners, to your only begotten son! This figure was erected by the spouses Walenty and Franciszka Makowski. for the 10th church dean Stanisław Broniszewski in 1901 by the stonemasonry studio of Ludwik Szpilkiewicz."

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High above the entrance to the Basilica, I saw a huge marble plaque dedicated to the foundation of the church. The iscription is in Latin. I saw the dates in Latin: MDCCIII and MDCCVII. The plaque reminds us of the years of the construction of the church and its founder. It reads, "To God the Best, the Greatest. This construction of this temple started on April 1, 1703 and was completed in 1707 due to the efforts of Jan Dobrogost Krasiński. The temple is dedicated to the Assumption of Virgin Mary."

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Węgrów

The memorial plaque at the wall to the right of the entrance explans to us the origin of the honorary title of the church.
The inscription reads, "Pope John Paul II on April 4, 1997, established this temple as Minor Basilica. On May 13, 1999 a solemn announcement of this title was done by Fr. Cardinal Józef Glemp, the Primate of Poland, Fr. Bishop Antoni Dydycz, the Ordynarius of Drohiczyn, in the year of the Holy Father's visit to our diocese."

Market Square, Węgrów

Market Square, Węgrów

Then our guide took us to Jan Twardowski monument in Market Square. The monument was dedicated in September 2023 and became a popular attraction of the city. My wife and I liked the monument a lot.

Twardowski Bench, Market Square, Węgrów

Twardowski Bench, Market Square, Węgrów


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The bronze figure of Master Twardowski is holding his magic mirror with his right hand. This is the only place, where you can approach the mirror (its bronze replica) and look into it as long as you wish without any fear of evil forces. The famous magician does not look sinister at all. On the contrary, his figure looks appealing and his face looks friendly, therefore I immediately put my hand on his shoulder and had a picture of us taken.

Gdańsk House, Węgrów

Gdańsk House, Węgrów

Then our guide attracted our attention to the Gdańsk House - a former inn from the 18th century built in a Baroque style. It has a picturesquely disheveled peak crowned with a star. the Gdańsk House owes its name from merchants of Gdańsk, who used to stay here at the time when Węgrów was the hub connecting the important trade routes from the four corners of the country: the Great Lithuanian Route from Warsaw to Vilnius (west-east) and the route from Gdansk to Łuków and Liw (north-south). The merchants were engaged in trading grain and cattle. Those merchants also included the Scots living in Gdańsk.
The building houses the Municipal Public Library, as well as the Podlasie Textile Museum, dedicated to folk art from around Węgrów. The basement of the House of Gdańsk contains a gallery for temporary and permanent exhibitions. Emperor Napoleon I allegedly stayed here during the retreat of his army from Moscow in 1812.

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At the city park, Węgrów

A few hundred meters north of the Market Square, the Protestant district (Gabriel Narutowicz Street) begins with authentic one-story, wooden residential houses from the 18th-20th centuries and a classicist evangelical church of the Holy Trinity built in 1836-1841 for the Lutheran commune.

St.Peter of Alcantara and St.Anthony of Padua Church, Węgrów

St.Peter of Alcantara and St.Anthony of Padua Church, Węgrów

We visited the Baroque style St.Peter of Alcantara and St.Anthony of Padua Church that was a part of the former Reformed Monastery built in the eastern part of the city in 1693-1715 on the site of an earlier wooden chapel. We found out that until 1864, it served as a monastery church of the Reformed Fathers, and then it was changed into an Orthodox church since the area belonged to the Russian Empire at that time. The monastery was banned by the tsarist authorities in 1864 since the parish had been accused of taking an active part in the January Uprising of 1863.

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St.Peter of Alcantara and St.Anthony of Padua Church: at the entrance
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St.Peter of Alcantara and St.Anthony of Padua Church: My Granddad in the Polish Army exhibition

We admired the Baroque interior of the church and its polychromes and murals created by Michelangelo Palloni in 1706-1711. The wooden main altar dating back to 1690 is the work of Andreas Schlüter. In the altar there is a crucifix, one of the most beautiful in Poland. Jan Dobrogost Krasiński (1639-1717), the owner of Węgrów, is buried in the mausoleum of the Krasiński family in the crypt of the church.

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The Way of the Cross statues at St.Peter of Alcantara and St.Anthony of Padua Church, Węgrów
The Cultural Dialog Center, next to the former monastery

The Cultural Dialog Center, next to the former monastery


The Cultural Dialog Center in Węgrów

The Cultural Dialog Center in Węgrów


At the entrance to the City History Museum next to the Cultural Dialog Center in Węgrów

At the entrance to the City History Museum next to the Cultural Dialog Center in Węgrów


At the entrance gate, it is worth looking at the inscription October with the Polish Kotwica fighting sign from 1943. The action conducted throughout the country was aimed at weakening the combat spirit of German soldiers by reminding them of the German defeats at the end of World War I. This is the only such inscription in the city. In case of capture, its creators were threatened with death. The memorial plaque tells us the entire story of that resistance movement.

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The WWII inscription OCTOBER with a symbol of an anchor, Węgrów
The Polish Uprising of 1944 memorial at the park entrance, Węgrów

The Polish Uprising of 1944 memorial at the park entrance, Węgrów

The inscription on the memorial plaque reads, “This inscription "OCTOBER" with a symbol of an anchor that represented the Fighting Poland made in October 1943 by Smola sabotage unit of the national army in Węgrów as part of the national action reminding people of the defeat of the German army in October 1918 that led to the capitulation of Germany in World War I.
The inscriptions, painted in several places in Węgrów damaged the fighting spirit of Hitler soldiers.
The actions of this type were punished with death.
In the revenge for that action, in October 18, 1943. the occupation authorities posted announcements with the following content:
“In the towns of Sokołów and Wegrów, the word October was written on the corners of houses. This means that the sugar ration for October was issued by mistake. Since the perpetrators have not been reported so far, the allocation of sugar for November is withheld."
This is one of the last street signs in Poland from the period of World War II, preserved to our times.”

The Polish Army memorial,  Węgrów

The Polish Army memorial, Węgrów

There is another war memorial at the entrance to the former monastery. It is dedicated to the Polish Army. You can see a bronze crowned Polish eagle with raised wings and an inscription, “God, Honor, Motherland”. The inscription on the pedestal reads,
“To the soldiers of the National Army
Eternal memory, honor and glory”
.

Walking along the old streets in Węgrów

Walking along the old streets in Węgrów


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A traditional old house in Gabriel Narutowicz Street, Węgrów

We also walked along the streets of the Old Town. We saw the famous tower of the former College of the Communion Priests. The priests of the former College of the Communion Priests belonged to the Congregation of the Priests of Common Life, also known as the Bartholomites. The late baroque building was designed by Jan Reisner in 1712 for Communion Priests, who ran a seminary and a high school here.

The former College of the Communion Priests, Węgrów

The former College of the Communion Priests, Węgrów

For the participation of the Bartholomite priests in the November Uprising, the tsarist authorities closed the collegium in 1833 and expelled the priests from Węgrów. It was the policy of the Russian government as part of the tsarist repressions after the November Uprising of 1830-1831, also known as the Polish–Russian War of 1830–31. Now the building is owned by the church again.
At present there is only a part of this building (Kościelna Street and Strażacka Street) and one tower with the beautiful, baroque dome in Mickiewicz Street.

Adam Mickiewicz General Educational High School, Węgrów

Adam Mickiewicz General Educational High School, Węgrów

Our hosts took us to an old school building. This is where Chris, one of our hosts, used to study at the local school. He kindly took us to his old school and showed us around. There is an inscription on the school wall. It reads, "1918 - 2018. In tribute to the founders of the co-educational gymnasium of the Polish Matrix School in Węgrów, currently Adam Mickiewicz General Educational High School. In memory of Józef Gołębiewski, Karol Szamota, Stanisław Wangrat and of the teachers, educators and the school staff. The plaque was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the school, September 22, 2018."

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We were impressed by the memorial dedicated to the victims of the Stalinist terror located nearby. The inscriptions on the memorial plaques told us a tragic story of the heroic struggle of the Polish people during the WWII.

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Dining opportunities in the Old Town, Węgrów
Our walking tour of Węgrów ended at a coffee house called “Ciasteczkowa Mama”. It is located in Market Square.
Ciasteczkowa Mama Coffeehouse, Węgrów

Ciasteczkowa Mama Coffeehouse, Węgrów


Our city guide, Mr.Mielniczek, presented us with his booklets called “In the Footsteps of Master Twardowski”. Now we have a booklet written by our guide as a souvenir of our visit. I read now and then it trying to comprehend the opaque legend. The book has a lot of quotations and nice historic pictures from the 19th-century journals and reproductions of canvases devoted to the Great Polish Magician. The author of the book is telling us that Twardowski is present in the life of contemporary Węgrów. A street, a monument, a modern shopping mall, a playground and a tourist trail are named after him. There is a magical cabinet with strange mirrors in the Municipal Library. The city organizes cultural events, performances, literary, historical and artistic competitions, fairs, and film screenings about Twardowski. Master Twardowski is an ideal topic for the promotion of the city, which is constantly used.

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  • (left) A 19th-century engraving depicting a painting from 1832 from the collection of Bartrand, a merchant from Marseille, dedicated to the French poet, translator of the Polish poetry by his friend, the Pole Antoni Oleszczyński. The title of the engraving "Faust Twardoski" (original spelling) may indicate that until the 19th century the figure of Twardowski was identified with Faust (from the collection of Cieszkowski Municipal Public Library, Węgrów).
  • (right) Master Twardowski. "Tygodnik Ilustrowany" 1862, No. 168. The photograph comes from the book "From the Basin of the Bug and Liwiec, Around the Węgrów district (1810-1939)

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The Magic Mirror warning poster, Węgrów
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  • (left) Master Twardowski on his Giant Rooster, a legend of Węgrów
  • (right) The modern-time humorous portrait (a logo) of Master Twardowski dwelling on the Moon, Węgrów

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  • (left) Twardowski signs a contract with devil, an engraving from the beginning of the 20th century (from the collections of the Municipal Public Library of A. Cieszkowski in Węgrów)
  • (right) The Spirit of Barbara Radziwillowna by Wojciech Gerson

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Posted by Vic_IV 21:30 Archived in Poland Tagged basilica mirror magic pan masovia mazovia minor siedlce oginski wegrow twardiwski

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I've never heard of this very famous mirror, but what fascinating stories there are about it. Great blog.

by irenevt

Thanks, Irene. It was also new for us. We had intended to pay a visit to that city, and we were lucky our friends had invited us to make this outing.

by Vic_IV

Thanks for giving me a look into a part of the world I will probably never visit. I was impressed by the many flags flying in the town. Australians are not into flags much.

by dadmin

Pam & Nico, we saw many flags flowing in the city because we were there on the eve of Constitution Day, when it is customary to decorate cities and villages with a huge number of national flags...

by Vic_IV

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