From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Devil's Bridges: Animals beware

Devil's Bridge Switzerland (Chris 73)
People are interesting creatures.  When they think that something couldn't have possibly been built by human hands, they often assume that the Devil rather than God intervened.  Such is the case with many a medieval European bridge.

Professor D. L. Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh translated and/or edited a series of folktales that attempt to explain how these bridges were built.  Three of the referenced bridges are in Germany, one is in Austria, two are in Switzerland (one of which crosses over to France), two are in Wales, and four are in England.   Not only do these folktales attribute human architectural ability to the Devil, but they also attribute devilish animal brutality to the humans.

Two out of three of the Germany bridges started out innocently enough.  The Sachsenhauser Bridge at
Frankfort was begun by a human builder.  When he fell way behind deadline, he desperately called upon
the Devil for help.  The Devil agreed to finish the bridge on time if the builder were to give him the first living being that then crossed it.  The builder agreed to these terms, but arranged for a rooster to be the first one that crossed.

Needless to say, it didn't end well for the rooster.  Not only did the Devil kill it, but also tore it apart in a rage about being fooled.  The Bamberg Bridge legend ends similarly with the Devil taking possession of a rooster.  The switching of animal "souls" for human ones has been presented as amusingly clever.  No animal-friendly perspectives are offered.

This same type of scenario is repeated with most of the other Devil's Bridge stories.  If it's not a rooster that's being mercilessly sacrificed, it's a dog (so much for man's best friend).  If it's not a dog, it's a chamois (look it
up).  If it's not a chamois… (The pattern seems clear – within these Grimm tales, animals don't intrinsically


Copyright July 27, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved    

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