“Train your eyes and hands for the defence of your Homeland” – About the Brotherhood of the Rooster of Kraków

The traditions of the Brotherhood of the Rooster in Europe date back to the 14th/15th centuries. They were the first formation tasked with preparing city residents to defend themselves in the event of danger.
Along with the towns founded under the Magdeburg law, fortifications were also built (over time, both the construction and defence of individual fragments of the walls and towers were assigned to different craft guilds). This meant that in the event of a hostile invasion, weapons were taken up by people who used needles and twine on a daily basis (tailors, shoemakers, bakers and goldsmiths).
This potential threat was quickly recognised and the Brotherhood of the Rooster (a shooting society) was established. The task of the Brotherhood was to train people in military arts under the slogan: ”Train your eyes and hands for the defence of your Homeland”. At first, bow shootings were organised, to be later followed by crossbow shootings, and finally firearm shootings from the 16th century.
In 1562, the city authorities of Kraków issued a decree including a set of rules governing the works of the brotherhood. According to these rules, shootings were to be held several dozen times a year; but the most important shooting was the one organised a week after the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi during which a rooster shooting competition was held to determine the king of rooster shooters. Aside from the honourable title, the prize was an exemption from all municipal taxes.
A rooster or a parrot?
Where did the tradition of rooster shooting come from and why did this bird become so important to the brotherhood that they named their organisation after it?
For centuries, the rooster had been a symbol of vigilance, and probably that is why it was recognised as a symbol that best reflected the daily attitude of the members of these shooting societies. Initially, during exercises in the art of defence, a living animal was shot at, although later those were replaced by wooden models. In appreciation of the brotherhood, the Kraków authorities donated 100 florins to the society on the 21st of October 1564, founding the so-called lordly jewel as a prize in the competition for the title of the king.
A unique and extremely valuable insignia of a silver rooster (covered with elaborate gilding, incrusted with precious stones and with an enamelled Kraków coat of arms) was created thanks to the councillors’ donation. It can still be seen in the collection of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków and is considered one of the most important examples of the Renaissance goldsmithery of Kraków.
Interestingly, it is worth emphasising that not all European brotherhoods identified themselves with the rooster.
For example, in Cologne this honour was granted to... a parrot, which was considered  to be a royal bird. And numerous brotherhoods, mainly from German-speaking areas, were called brotherhoods of the parrot (it happened, for example, in Hanover, Wismar, Bern in Switzerland, and Aalborg in Denmark).
One training place of the brotherhood was Celestat, initially located outside the walls of Kraków, later moved to the Zwinger next to St. Nicholas’ Gate in the 16th century, where it was located until it was destroyed by fire in 1794. At present, the name Celestat belongs to a Neo-Gothic palace located on Lubicz Street (near the Central Railway Station), owned by the brotherhood. A collection of mementoes of its rich history resides there (the permanent exhibition of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków: The History of the Brotherhood of the Rooster of Kraków).
The operations of all Polish brotherhoods of the rooster were suspended on the 1st of September 1939. Subsequently, brotherhood shooting ranges became places for the execution of Poles (for example, in Inowrocław).
After several gaps in its operation, the brotherhood continues to function to this day (it is one of the oldest active organisations in Poland). Members of the Brotherhood of the Rooster wear elaborate costumes and żupans (the traditional dress of Polish noblemen) as they accompany local authorities during important municipal and state ceremonies.
Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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