Town Hall Square
Tallinn has a lot of legends that sometimes get confused and often overshadow actual events. If you walk in the direction of Saikäik (Bun Passage), you can find two long, stones that form an “L”, which is meant to represent a cross.
At this location, mythology and factual events collide.
I walked all over the Town Hall Square trying to find this cross in the pavement. It wasn’t until I told a tour guide what I was looking for, that they took me over to the location of the cross, and it became apparent why I was having such a hard time locating it.
You may have a hard time finding this cobblestone cross because, in the summer, cafés extend their seating into the square and depending on their placement, the cafe flooring can partially or completely cover this interesting piece of history. In the above photo, you can see that a corner of the flooring had been cut away so as not to cover this juicy bit of history. However, the panels were laid in a way that partially covered the cross, and chairs were stacked on top of it as well.
If you can not find the cobblestone cross, just ask someone at Balthasar Restaurant to point it out to you.
Tallin has its own, unique version of a famous cautionary medieval tale about the triumph of a seductive woman, Phyllis, over the greatest male intellect, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It is one of several ‘Power of Women’ stories that began in the 11th century. The story of the dominatrix and the famous intellectual was taken up by artists from the 12th century onwards, in media from stone sculpture in churches to panels of wood or ivory, textiles such as carpets and tapestries, engravings, oil paintings, brass jugs (aquamanile), and stained glass.
The original story varies slightly in the telling, but the core of it is as follows: Aristotle was captivated by his king’s seductive mistress, Phyllis. A very aggressive dominatrix, she managed to get one of the world’s greatest intellectuals to agree that she could ride him like a horse while whipping him with tree branches. Phyllis had secretly told one of Aristotle’s colleagues what to expect, and he witnessed Phyllis proving that a woman’s charms could overcome even the greatest philosopher’s will.
The version of the story in Tallin, Estonia has the exact same scenario, of a woman riding a man on all fours, but with a completely different story.
In Tallinn Town Hall there is a wooden memorial statue depicting a man on all fours with his wife on his back, with twigs in her hand. According to the local story, this man was a judge. This specific work of art has the following story.
The execution of those condemned to death never took place within the Tallinn town walls, the criminals were marched outside the town walls before the event took place. In the time of the Inquisition, criminals did not find out exactly how they were going to be executed until they arrived outside the town walls. Only at the execution site would they find out if they were to be beheaded, hanged, burned at the stake or put to death on the wheel.
A judge named Aristotle was well acquainted with a prisoner and let him know beforehand, out of pity, how he was going to die. Then, he went home and told his wife, Phyllis, what he had done. Phyllis was quite the gossip, and within a very short time, the entire town knew what the judge had done. The law at the time allowed no leniency in dealing with such serious matters.
Aristotle was made to strip nude and crawl the perimeter of the Town Hall Square three times on all fours, with reins in his mouth. His wife on his back, holding the reins in one hand and whipping Aristotle with branches in her other hand.
After finishing his third lap around the square, the judge was beheaded and buried in the marketplace in the location marked with the cobblestone cross.
The backrest of the Alderman’s Bench in Tallinn Town Hall, has a wood carving from the 15th century, reminding council of this particular version of Aristotle and Phyllis, and is meant to be a warning against wicked females, and that ‘what is said in this room must remain secret, even at home.’
On a Sunday in January 1695, the priest, Elias Christian Panicke, entered the ‘Riga’ Tavern in the corner of the Town Hall Square, sat at the bar and ordered an ale. When the drink was served, he took one sip and then immediately threw the ale to the floor in disgust; the drink was warm. He demanded another beverage to replace the drink that had just been wasted – Sophie the barmaid obliged.
After taking a sip of this second beer, the priest was outraged to find the drink was, once again, warm. In his state of rage, he threw the ceramic tankard at Sophie who fell, cracked her skull on the bar and died.
The customers were so shocked and upset by what they had witnessed that they dragged the priest outside into the square while one of them went to the Town Hall asking for a warrant to kill this man for what he had done. Given that the crowd would most likely linch the priest anyway the Town Hall granted this request and Elias Christian Panicke was beheaded then and there in the Town Hall Square.
The cobblestone cross marks the spot where the priest fell. This is the only time there has been an execution within the walls of The Old Town.
Though the main part of the story is true, details surrounding the execution tend to differ. Some say Sophie was killed with an axe – because she had served lukewarm soup, and another version claims that Elias killed Sophie because he was unhappy with the taste of an omelet.
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