Get better acquainted with one Northern Croatian Easter tradition.
The Kostel village is located in Krapina-Zagorje County, close to Pregrada and Hum na Sutli in Northern Croatia.
This place is filled with history and local people are the ones who keep local traditions and customs – and in this village, Easter is a big deal.
The event is called the Easter Pistols of Kostel and it has begun on Easter Saturday for almost 500 years. On White Sunday, the event is over and everyone partakes in a colourful procession to the chapel. In the
procession, you can see historical army uniforms and local participants. The Easter pistols are connected with the religious traditions of the Parish of St. Mirko. Local people adopted this heritage and this way, they greet the wake of nature during Easter.
Kostel (its name originating from the Latin word ”castellum”, meaning fortress) was founded back in the thirteenth century, and is one of the oldest towns in Northern Croatia. The history of the custom dates way back to the year 1523, when Count Keglević from Bužim moved to Kostelgrad. The count Keglević had armed personal guards who watched the grave of Christ during Easter night, and fired the pistols to celebrate Easter and Christ’s resurrection. This tradition stayed with local people who have kept that very same Easter tradition for centuries now.
The locals even have their own community and set of rules connected to the Easter pistols, and this custom has gradually spread all over Northern Croatia, too.
On Easter Saturday, some participants fire the pistols around their houses. Then they gather and fire the pistols during Saturday evening and on the evening of the Easter wake. On Easter morning, the firing can be heard from the nearby hills, and then everyone comes with their families to the Easter morning mass, and on the way to the church, the same pistols can be heard, as well as during the mass and the procession itself.
The main Easter mass doesn’t have any pistol firing, while before evening mass, there is the largest number of participants from the village and the surrounding areas who start to fire the pistols in the afternoon, accompanied by a brass band.
White Sunday is the Sunday after Easter when this event ends with brass music and aprocession. Locals walk to the opposite hill, more speficially to Kostel, to St. Stephen and St. Roko Church. While this is the official end for the event, the Kostel pistol organisation has various other events in both April and May.
This heritage has been listed as part of Croatia’s intangible heritage since the year 2012.
Over the last few years, the Easter pistols have hosted different historical ”troops” who participate in the event, and last year was the first year when this tradition was held on the walls of the Kostel fort.
The Kostel pistols historical troop is still very much alive and has thirty active members and fifty more additional members, their pistols are handmade and are based on old sketches. To be a part of this historical troop, you need to be an adult Croatian citizen with origin or family in Kostel, and go through a two-week educative course on the handling of the involved weapons, as well as some basic military education.
The troop often participates in different events throughout Croatia but also in international events – this year they participated in the St. Blaise (Sveti Vlaho) festivities down south in Dubrovnik.
This Easter will mark the 494th time this event has taken place, it began yesterday (March the 28th), and will continue until April the 8th.
SOURCES: (text and photos): Kostelska Pistola, Kostelska Pistola Facebook page, Pregrada, Hrvatski vojnik, Pregrada, Visit Zagorje