Thanksgiving Crosses to the end of feudalism


   People today know very little about what it means to be a serf. In Polish literature, there are thick volumes written on the subject of serfdom, but the Polish feudal lord depicted within their pages is shown as the guardian of his serfs. Such a literary image continued to be propagated by the grandchildren of these same feudal lords. One can not hold it against them; it would be unbecoming to write unflattering things about their own grandfathers. This is quite natural. The poor and almost illiterate peasantry could not respond with its own writings, so that as an eyewitness, it was unable to preserve in writing the memory of these events for future generations. In Lemkivshyna, only oral legends about the Rusyn's fate during feudal times managed to survive. Nobody scoffed at Polish serfs for their nationality and religious convictions, but the Rusynss suffered greatly. It was not accidental that on Lemkivshchyna a sorrowful song about Zelman survived for a long time, to whom one had to bow very low and whose hands one had to kiss, in order to be allowed to pray in a tserkva on Sunday.

   Many legends survived in the Carpathians about corrupted Polish gentry, with no limit to its excesses.

   Therefore it should not come as a surprise, that when serfdom was abolished in 1848 by the empress Maria Theresa, among those that cheered the most were the Carpathian Rusyns-Lemkos. People were crying from joy, tserkva bells were tolling, and Divine services were conducted.

   Near churches, at crossroads, on hills and on top of mountains, "Crosses of Thanksgiving" were being erected. However, it is also true that some of the Lemko villages belonged to the king, and within these villages the people suffered less from oppression by the nobility.

   Almost none of the "Crosses of Thanksgiving" have survived. Made of wood, they were destroyed by time. There exists among Lemkos a certain amount of literature on this subject. The best known are the works of Volodymir Khyliak from the village of Verkhomlya, near Krynytsya. His most famous work is entitled "Shibenychyj Verkh" ("Gallow's Peak"), which in a comprehensive way, utilizing the beauty of the language, describes the Lemko people's hard life under Polish domination.

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Copyright © 1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Tuesday, April 15, 1997
Most recent revision Wednesday, January 14, 1998