St Andrews commemorates Czech Hussite emissary burned at stake for heresy


A plaque commemorating Pavel Kravař, a Czech scholar and Hussite emissary from Bohemia, was recently unveiled in St Andrews in Scotland, close to the spot in Market Street where he was burned at the stake for heresy in 1433. The university master was the first of a succession of religious reformers who were martyred in the town during the Protestant Reformation. The commemoration was initiated by Paul Vyšný, a British historian of Slovak origin who worked at the University of St Andrews and who has long studied the trial of the Czech scholar. I spoke to Mr Vyšný over the phone from St Andrews to ask him what we know about Pavel Kravař, or Paul Craw, as he is called in Scotland:

Plaque commemorating Pavel Kravař in St Andrews, photo: archive of Czech Foreign MinistryPlaque commemorating Pavel Kravař in St Andrews, photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry “We don’t know a great deal about him and particularly his journey to Scotland, how he got here, is totally unknown. He would have possibly travelled over land and across Europe and through England or possibly came by boat from Holland, because there is a small harbour in St Andrews and in the Middle Ages it was quite extensively used.

“But this is only speculation; we have absolutely no information about his travel. The only information we do have is when he id arrive in St Andrews and then Scottish chronicler called Walter Bauer recorded his trial and his execution in St Andrews.

“The only other hard pieces on information that we have concern his education. It is presumed that he was born in a village of Kravaře near Opava in what is now the Czech Republic and it is assumed again that he was probably born in 1390 or 1391. He was then educated in France, he studied medicine at Montpellier and later graduated with a Master of Arts Degree from Paris in 1415.

“After that we know that he was at the University of Prague, where he probably was a teacher and the next recorded information we have is when he entered the service of the Polish King as a physician and a medic. There is an evidence of a letter he wrote at that at time. The next hard information we have is when he arrived in St Andrews in 1433 and where he was sentenced and executed.”

What do we know about his execution and is the site where he died marked in any way?

“Indirectly the site is marked because in the centre of the Market Place in St Andrews there is a stone cross set into the cobbles of the road surface and it marks the former location of the Merkat Cross, which was situated in the centre of the town, indicating the centre of the town. Not only were markets held in that area but it was also the place of public executions. One of the sources about his death in St Andrews indicated that the burning took place at that point and that is quite logically the place where it would have occured.

Unveiling of the plaque commemorating Pavel Kravař in St Andrews, photo: archive of Czech Foreign MinistryUnveiling of the plaque commemorating Pavel Kravař in St Andrews, photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry St Andrews subsequently during the course of the Protestant Reformation became a centre of a lot of religious activity and at that time there were four other individuals burned for alleged heresy at different places in the town.

They do have a memorial, an obelisk on the seafront which carries their names but Pavel Kravař is not mentioned there at all. It is only a couple of days ago that this plaque was unveiled and at last je has an official recognition in St Andrews.

Who initiated the unveiling of the memorial?

“I suppose I myself am responsible for that. It goes back quite a long way. My father, who came from Czechsolovakia, visited us here in St Andrews on one occasion and asked me whether I knew that a Czech Hussite has been burned at the stake in St Andres and at that point I said: no I didn’t.

“That really started my interest in the whole development and from there it progressed. Thanks to the Czech emigres’ cultural association in London, who encouraged me to pursue this, and eventually a plaque has been made and installed on the September 14 the

Ambassador of the Czech Republic in the United Kingdom came and ceremonially unveiled the plaque in the presence of the principle of St Andrews University.

“I think that is significant because the persecution of Pavel Kravař here in St Andrews was in fact carried out by the university. At that time Scotland was a firmly Catholic country and the university here was a catholic institution and they say his ideas as potentially dangerous, which is why he was received so hostilely and put to death.”

St Andrews University, photo: Jjhake, CC BY-SA 3.0St Andrews University, photo: Jjhake, CC BY-SA 3.0 Is he actually regarded as someone who helped to usher in the Reformation?

“I think indirectly. It was a hundred years before the Reformation but there was some evidence that at that time in St Andrews and elsewhere in Scotland there were stirrings of opposition to orthodox Catholicism. In fact that is possibly the explanation for his journey to St Andrews, because at the university here in about 1420 the members were made to swear an oath of loyalty to the Church and this fact could suggests that there was a stirring of opposition.

“And it could well be that the Hussite movement in Prague became aware of these views in Scotland and that is possible reason why Pavel Kravař came here. The timing also is quite significant because the battle of Domažlice took place in 1421when the Hussite movement was defeated an expeditionary force and after that the Council of Basil negotiations for reconciliations between the Church and the Hussite movement were to begin.

“So it is possible, and this is only speculation, because we have absolutely no concrete evidence that Kravař was sent to Scotland to find friends and allies who would help in the Hussite cause at the negotiations. Obviously if that was the cause, then he wasn’t successful.”

Finally, how well is Pavel Kravař known among historians in Scotland?

Stone cross marks the former location of the Merkat Cross in St Andrews, photo: Czech TelevisionStone cross marks the former location of the Merkat Cross in St Andrews, photo: Czech Television “I think amongst historian he is well known. But I think the absence of a memorial up to now in St Andrews means that amongst the general public he is not well known. But hopefully the installation of the plaque will now change that situation and more people will become aware of his existence and indeed of the significance of his existence.

“Obviously the Hussite movement in Prague felt that it was important to send someone to Scotland, establishing an important historical link between Central Europe and Scotland, and I think that is something that is significant and to be celebrated.”