Women as caretakers of the memory of Jan Hus – Fida Pfister


During the celebrations of the anniversary of Jan Hus we met a lot of people in different roles. At the places of memory of Jan Hus, politicians from Czech Republic as well as from Konstanz, members of different associations, academics and historians held speeches. At church celebrations participated politicians as well as the members of the church and at the unofficial, spontaneous events during the commemorations, there was a blend of visitors, members and organizers of different associations and a few researchers. I would like to share a few thoughts on the role of a character that connects all these events: Fida Pfister, a widow with whom Jan Hus stayed till his captivity in Konstanz, and who is impersonated by a Konstanz citizen. Fida Pfister is actively taking care of Jan Hus´s memory and she does it on her own initiative. At the time of the anniversaries, Fida comes to the places of memory of Jan Hus and Hieronymus, to the Hus stone as well as other places connected with these historical figures. She talks with visitors about Hus and Hieronymus, hands souvenirs, and takes care of the places of memory ‒ she brings flowers and candles to decorate the place.

During two week-long stays in Konstanz during fieldwork, in May and July, we had an opportunity to see Fida in different situations. During the official events of 600th anniversary of Hieronymus from Prague, Fida was part of the official program, cooperating with city representatives, people from the church and other organizers. During the much smaller celebrations of 601st anniversary of the death of Jan Hus, there was basically no official program. But Fida followed her mission to spread and cherish the memory of Jan Hus as keenly and passionately as before. She brought candles and roses, so everyone could grab one and lay them to the memorial. As usually, she handed out souvenirs – different pictures and portraits of Jan Hus she made herself. She also founded a book where people can sign and write words of thanks to Jan Hus and Hieronymus.

Although Fida was part of the official program, she had to fight for her place in these events, because the organizers didn´t originally support her idea to take part. She wasn´t officially included as part of the celebrations at the beginning, before the organizers understood the importance of her character. Fida Pfister appears where she thinks it is important to be. Although, for example, on Hus’ 601st anniversary there was no official program at the Hus stone, Fida was there. Fida´s place at the side of official program, fighting for her place and relevance can be seen as a parallel to the role of many other women – the role of the women, fighting for their place in society, for their dignity and for acknowledgement of their value for what they do, whether or not others understand the importance of it. The responses of some of the visitors implicate that she is doing something unique. Many thanks and positive feedbacks from the visitors imply that her performance of historical heritage makes sense and influences people. Fida, who, as a widow from long ago, is telling people stories about Jan Hus, a good man, whom she knew and appreciated, has an almost theatrical role in these celebrations.

Fida wears a historical costume and she introduces herself as Widow Pfister, telling people that Jan Hus stayed at her place when he was in Konstanz. Her appearance and her effort to communicate with people, to tell them about Jan Hus and hand them souvenirs catches attention. Her character brought me to the idea to focus on and study the role of women in these celebrations. She is motivated by her own interest, not to gain money or as a part of her job; her activities can help us understand the role of Hus and Hieronymus for people and reasons why people care about this topic. I was captured by her devotedness and motivation ‒ it is her hobby and mission.

It was also interesting how people reacted to us ‒ researchers. They often asked what our job there is and what our research is about. People interested in history or religion tended to share their knowledge about Hus and his life and work. I think it shows the typical understanding of historical figures and how we understand history. It is like our understanding of history at schools ‒ all about dates, “big” events and names. But history is not only about facts, it is also about relationships and about regular people and everyday life. History is not something that happened in the past, it is something we live in. The power and meaning of history lies not in the facts themselves, it is in recognizing its importance and learning from it. The power of Jan Hus and Hieronymus, as well as other historical figures, is in bringing people together, basically continually, until today. It influences tourism, international relations, and personal relationships. It seems that many people who take part in these celebrations and commemorative events realize that. I heard in many speeches words about importance of the power of Jan Hus or Hieronymus to bring people together even today. Some emphasized that it is only because of Hus or Hieronymus that we are all here.

Fida Pfister is not the only woman who takes care of the memory of Jan Hus, although how she does it is indeed unique. In contrast to the official, serious speeches of (mostly) male politicians, active citizens, academic workers and church representatives (there were very few women), I felt that women take care of basic needs of everybody – refreshments, time schedule, etc. I had a similar impression of the role of women who work at the Hus museum at Konstanz, whose part in the celebrations were almost invisible, but I saw their contribution in organizing the events. I think it is similar to the struggle of many women these days in looking for the balance between being independent, successful in the public sphere and at the same time being a good wife, mother and taking care of her loved ones. Fida Pfister is impersonating the caretaker, a typical role of women, taking care of others’ needs. Fida from these days had to fight for her acknowledgement. She is strong and independent woman who knows how to fight for herself, as was the widow from long ago, who offered a place to stay to Jan Hus.