kovářství ve 14. stoletíPraise of smith craft

A medieval smith was an important and reputable craftsman. It had been like this even since the Antiquity, when the craft of metalsmithing metals was a sign of advanced civilization. Smiths were always accompanied by fire, forge, anvil and characteristic ringing clacking. Both in the country and in towns, his main business was shoeing horses and repairs of all metal things. Blacksmiths’s was one of the centres of the social life where a number of people gathered. It was quite usual that the smith pulled out teeth and his wife was a herbalist. The smith worked with fire every day and the branch was considered to be a mysterious craft, veiled by many cults, myths and superstitions.

It has to be reminded that in the time when the astronomical clock was created, i.e. in the late Middle Ages, drilling was not known yet for processing of metals. The soft iron of that time could only be bended or sawed when cold; other work needed to be done by hot process and this was the domain of smiths. Cutting the material and chopping it off is the basic work of a smith. By extrusion and flattening, the product obtains its future shape. Using fire, it is possible to weld and forge parts together, e. g. a hoop and reinforcements. Holes were punched and for joints of two structures, forged gussets were used. The smith could also join material by hot welding. If using punched holes, rivets were used for joining parts. This is how the creator of the astronomical clock, the horologist Mikuláš of Kadaň, worked. He was already considered to be a clockmaker but, at that time, this meant to be also a locksmith and, above all, a smith. The locksmith and clockmaker craft were included in the same guild in Bohemia up until the beginning of the 18th century.

The greater part of his work on the clock has been preserved until today, for six hundred years. The mighty column structure of the fundamental frame is capped by four forged spikes. The horizontal and vertical bars are attached to the frame by wedging through forged holes. Other parts of the machine and elements with new functions were attached to the frame later. Initially, the frame was constructed on an internal wooden structure. This structure burned down in 1945; today the frame is embedded in concrete and that is why it remained on its place during renovations.

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The original forged wheels of the main machine are unique. There are three of them: one for the movement of the zodiac (365 teeth), one for the Sun (366 teeth) and one for the Moon (379 teeth). The hoops are 116 cm in diameter and 10 mm thick. Their surface bears clearly visible ancient marks of their making. For joints, both welding and rivets was used. Partially deflected and deformed reinforcements are marks of centring. The teeth are of triangular shape; they were pre﷓forged and then sawed into the precise shape. On the inward edge of the wheel for the movement of Zodiac, there is a counterweight because the ring of Zodiac on the perimeter of the astronomical dial is positioned eccentrically and the entire system must be well﷓balanced during rotation.

Today’s smith craft has moved over mainly to the area of decorative grill elements and fine art. Such important and traditional craftsmen as smiths deserve to have their own patron. Contemporary smiths profess the Greek god of fire, Hephaestus (Vulcan for Romans). No wonder, he was the celestial smith. He was of noble descent as his father was Zeus. Little Hephaestus was faulty, ugly and weak, so he was immediately thrown away from the Olympus. As usual in mythology, two lesser goddesses took care of him, raised him and taught him the craft. When he made beautiful jewellery later, he was summoned back up to the Olympus and he obtained a “divine” workshop with twenty bellows. He moved clumsily but he created palaces on the Olympus, made and armour for Achilles and Diomedes, Hades’ invisibility helmet, Helios’ carriage and Hermes’ winged helm and sandals. His fame might have got to his head so he was condemned again. As he fell, he broke even more but he recovered at the Lemnos island and resumed with his smith’s business. When Prometheus stole fire from gods and gave it to humans, he stole it from Hephaestus. Quite an eventful life, although a mythological one.

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In Christian hagiography, smiths’ patrons are not so dynamic. In Bohemia, these are Matthew the Apostle and St. Eligius, who had a consecrated chapel in the original Klementinum. Eligius lived in the 7th century; he was mainly a goldsmith and coin﷓master at the court of Frankish kings. That means, he also made beautiful things like Hephaestus. A legend says that when he was shoeing a horse, he took off its leg, sheathed it and put it back on. He is usually depicted with goldsmith’s tools but also with an anvil, bellow and horseshoe. Besides goldsmiths, coiners, armourers, smiths and metal-workers, he was also worshipped by veterinarians.

Text, photo & repro: Stan. Marušák

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