Monday, November 1, 2010

Fairy Tale for Late Autumn: The Maiden Notburga and Her White Stag

Grimm’s Saga No. 351: The Maiden Notburga

In the lower Inn Valley in Tyrol lies Rostenburg Castle,* where in times of old a pious maid served a royal family. Her name was Notburga and she was a mild and charitable maid. She distributed whatever she could to the poor but because the greedy royal family despised her charity, they beat the pious girl and finally chased her away. She found refuge with poor farmers at the nearby Mount Eben

God soon punished the evil mistress of Rostenburg Castle with a miserable death. Her husband now felt that injustice had been wrought against Notburga and brought her down from Mount Eben back to the Rottenburg, where she led a devout life. Finally the angels came and took her up into heaven. Two oxen bore her corpse over the River Inn and although its waters raged, the surging flood became gentle and quiet when the saint approached. She was buried in the Chapel of Saint Ruprecht.

There is another saga people tell on the River Neckar. Towers and walls of the old Hornberg Fortress still stand on this river. In times of old a powerful king lived there with his beautiful and pious daughter, Notburga. This maiden loved a knight and was engaged to marry him. But he had set out for distant lands and never returned. The maid cried night and day after his death and refused every other suitor. Her father was hard-hearted and thought little of her sadness. One day he said to her “Prepare your wedding finery, three days hence a groom shall arrive; the one I have chosen for you.” But Notburga said in her heart: “I would rather go away, as far as the heavens are blue, than break my word.
At night when the moon rose, she called a faithful servant and said to him: “Take me into the forest heights, high above St. Michael’s Chapel. I will stay there hidden from my father and live my life in the service of God!” When they had reached the highlands, the tree branches rustled and a snow-white stag came running and when it reached Notburga, it stood still. She sat on the stag’s back, held on to his antlers and was quickly carried away. The servant saw how the stag easily swam with her over the River Neckar and disappeared on the other side.

The next morning when the king could not find his daughter, he had everyone search for her. He sent out messengers to all parts of his kingdom. But they all returned without finding a trace of the girl. The faithful servant did not want to betray her. But when it was lunch time, the white stag came to the servant at Hornberg, and when the servant wanted to give him some bread, the stag bowed his head so that the old man could place it in his antlers. Then the animal jumped away and brought it to Notburga in the wilderness. He came every day and received nourishment for her in this manner. Many saw it, but no one knew what it meant, except the faithful servant.

Finally the king noticed the white stag and forced the old man to reveal his secret. The next day at lunch time, he mounted his horse and when he saw the stag return for the food, he hurried after, chased the animal through the brush, across the river and followed it up to cave perched high above on a cliff. The king dismounted and entered. There he found his daughter with folded hands, kneeling before a cross. Next to her rested the white stag. Because she had not been touched by the sun’s rays, she was as pale as death and the king recoiled at the sight of her.

He spoke “Return with me to Hornberg Castle.” But she responded “I have promised my life to God and do not wish to live among mankind.” The king could not say anything to dissuade her and she would not answer him. He fell into a rage and wanted to exert force. But she held fast to the cross and when he pulled her arm it separated from her body and remained in his hand. He was overcome by such horror that he hastened away and never more returned to that cave.

When the people heard what had happened, they venerated Notburga as a saint. The hermit who lived near St. Michael’s Chapel sent all penitents to her when they sought help from him. She prayed with them and took on the heavy burden they bore in their hearts. In the autumn when the leaves fell, the angels came and carried her soul to heaven. They wrapped her body in a shroud and adorned it with roses, although all the flowers had long since withered. Two snow-white steers, who had never been under yoke, carried her across the river without wetting their hooves and the bells in the nearby church began to ring on their own. In this way her body was brought to repose in St. Michael’s Chapel. 

Today there still stands in the village church of Hochhausen on the River Necker the image of Saint Notburga hewn in stone. You can still see Notburga Cave, also known as the Maiden’s Cave and this is still known to every child in the area.

According to another version of the story it was King Dagobert who held his court at Mosbach. His daughter fled from him because he wanted to force her marriage to a pagan Wendt. She was only kept alive in a cave by a snake who brought her herbs and roots, until she finally died there. Wandering will o’the wisps revealed the girl’s grave and the king’s daughter was later found. Two steers pulled the wagon carrying her corpse and they remained standing at the place she is now buried. A church now marks the spot. Many miracles happen at that place. A picture of the snake is also carved in the stone at Hochhausen. An altar portrait shows the same, but here Notburga appears with her beautiful hair, before she was beheaded to satisfy her father’s rage.

*I believe this is the castle referred to in the fairy tale. Your comments are most welcome!

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