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Poles Hope Deadly Knights will Now Bring Some Good
The Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Bruno Platter, background centre, prays over the remains and effigies, during a ceremony honouring three of the medieval Teutonic grand masters, at the Cathedral in Kwidzyn, northern Poland, Saturday, July 31, 2010. They were medieval warriors who spread Catholicism by the sword and seized Polish lands with great cruelty. But that's not stopping the Polish city of Kwidzyn from capitalizing on the aura surrounding the Teutonic Knights. The city, dominated by a massive red brick fortress that was once a base for their notorious raids is consecrating a church crypt and displaying the newly discovered skeletons of three of the order's 14th- and 15th-century military leaders or "grand masters." AP Photo/Alik Keplicz.

By: Monika Scislowska, Associated Press Writer

KWIDZYN (AP).- The Teutonic Knights have long been reviled in Poland, where the Germanic warriors swept in during the Middle Ages and converted pagans to Christianity at the point of a sword.

Many here see them as an early incarnation of a Germany that has attacked Poland over the centuries, most recently in World War II.

But now one Polish town is putting all grudges aside and celebrating the memory of the Teutonic Knights in an attempt to highlight the rich history of this once-German municipality and stimulate tourism in a region still catching up with Western Europe economically.

In an elaborate ceremony Saturday that drew hundreds of people, Roman Catholic priests consecrated the newly discovered remains of three of the order's 14th- and 15th-century leaders — or "grand masters" — with a Mass in the city's St. John the Evangelist Cathedral.

The cathedral is part of a massive red-brick fortress that was once a base for the knights' notorious raids, an imposing reminder to the town's 40,000 inhabitants of its German past.

"This history belongs to this city," said Wojciech Weryk, who leads a drive to promote Kwidzyn. "It is a very good product from the point of view of history and tourists."

The ceremony was celebrated by priests and modern-day representatives of the Teutonic order, which today exists as a religious order in Austria and six other European countries, and is devoted to helping the poor, elderly and orphans, and doing educational and pastoral work. It was led by the Rev. Bruno Platter, who holds the title of "Grand Master of the Teutonic Order." For part of the ceremony he was clad in the order's trademark white coat with a black cross.

"Looking at this monumental cathedral which our order built in the 13th century, we feel a strong link with this place and we draw strength from it," Platter said.

Kwidzyn was once the German town of Marienwerder and one of key fortresses of the Teutonic Knights in the Middle Ages. But the city fell to Poland in 1945 when Hitler's defeat forced Germany to relinquish a swath of territory to the eastern neighbor on whom it inflicted six years of occupation and death.

Weryk says there are some people in the town who object to honoring the Teutonic Knights, but he argues that such feelings have no place in the European Union.

Many of the local people also feel proud that their historic town has something new to boast of.

"We are happy that something so significant was found here and that we will have something of interest in our cathedral," said Janusz Urbanowicz, a 64-year-old retired carpenter. "We know that this was the cathedral of the Teutonic Knights and that this was Prussia before the war. But we are glad this historical finding was made and that it will bring more tourists."

During the ceremony, Platter blessed three closed oak coffins holding the remains of the grand masters below a glass floor in the crypt of the cathedral. Their skeletons were discovered during archaeological work in the crypt in 2007 and were identified by DNA and other testing.

"Kwidzyn is the only place where the remains of medieval grand masters have been found," Platter told The Associated Press. "They are of very high historical and archaeological value."

Plastic replicas have also been displayed showing the men as they are believed to have looked — with long white hair and beards and colorful dress — based on a 16th-century mural in the cathedral, said Bogumil Wisniewski, a city archaeologist.

The testing identified them as Werner von Orseln, the knights' ruler from 1324-1330; Ludolf Koenig von Wattzau, who ruled from 1342-1345; and Heinrich von Plauen, from 1410-1413.

Fragments of original gold-painted silks found on their skeletons on displayed in the crypt separately.

The Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem was founded in the late 12th century to aid German pilgrims in the Holy Land. It evolved into a military order whose knights wore trademark white coats with black crosses. Later, they forcefully brought Christianity to swaths of northeastern Europe and ruled an area near the Baltic Sea coast in what is now northern Poland.

Their bad image in Poland was reinforced with a popular 19th century novel "Teutonic Knights" by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Nobel prize winning author of "Quo Vadis."

Every year Poles celebrate the anniversary of the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, also known as the first Battle of Tannenberg, which marked the end of the Teutonic order's military power and eastward expansion along the Baltic Sea and the beginning of its decline.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people turned out to watch 2,000 actors dressed in armor re-enact the battle on its 600th anniversary.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

The Teutonic Knights | Kwidzyn | Wojciech Weryk |

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