The Legend of the Devil Fiddler


In the novel, FROM THE DROP OF HEAVEN, Martin played his violin in the shadow of the chapel at Lake de la Maix in Catherine’s honor. Furious that a celebration commemorated the memory of a witch, the bishop started a new rumor to scare the people away – and the Legend of the Devil Fiddler was born. This legend still exists today.

The Devil, seated on a podium, playing on a violin and using his tail as a bow, ladies, gentlemen and children watching from the ground, the trees of Hyde Park beyond; illustration to “The Bands in the Park” (1856) Woodcut. Courtesy

The Legend of the Devil Fiddler

High up in the mountains and pine forests of the Vosges, there was a break in the trees where the sun shone brightly on a peaceful meadow. Tall grass and wildflowers covered the area. Soft breezes wafted their perfume in the air. A single oak tree towered above a meadow. Its sturdy boughs arched toward the heavens and spread a cover of dappled shade through its branches. Its age-old roots weaved as tentacles deep into the earth.

At the edge of the meadow, a little chapel housed a beautiful statue of the Virgin where a hermit monk lived. Peasants brought bouquets of flowers in spring and asked the Virgin for the blessing of rain if the summer was too dry.

Each year on Trinity Sunday, pilgrims from Salm and all the surrounding hamlets and villages of the Vosges, gathered before dawn to commemorate the chapel and give thanks for the abundant blessings the Virgin had bestowed upon them. They began by processing to the chapel where the monk celebrated Mass, after which the pilgrims held an all-day celebration in the shade of the oak tree. At Vespers, another ceremony ended the celebration and everyone returned home in the twilight.

Dancing at Medieval Wedding Banquet by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

One year, the Mass seemed very long to the pilgrims, and it was midday before they were able to gather in the clearing for the festivities. After their meal, and maybe a little too much wine, the musicians pulled out their lutes and the young people began dancing. The monk, realizing his homily may have been a little too long, merely watched from his stoop.

After a while, a new musician appeared. Dressed simply, he carried himself with an air of confidence. His smile glistened brightly and his eyes sparkled as if a fire burned within him. He played a melody such that the simple folk of the Vosges had never heard. The sound came from a violin. Even the other musicians quieted their instruments to listen.

Devil Fiddler. Found on Nimble Tread: Epiphany From Abroad

Attentive to the captivated audience, the newcomer smiled charmingly and bowed. He brought the bow to the string and began to play. As if mesmerized, young and old clapped with delight. The violinist’s eyes began to blaze as he played faster and faster. The peasants danced, whirling for hours without becoming fatigued.

When the evening drew near, the monk rang the bells of the chapel for the concluding service at Vespers. The pilgrims hesitated, knowing it was time to end the celebration, but the violinist played an even more beautiful melody and the pilgrims could not pull away from the trance. Surprised that the peasants ignored their tolls, the monk rang the bells again, but the pilgrims were so intoxicated by the melody, they could not stop dancing.

God became angry!

The sound of the tolling bells of the chapel, the swell of laughter and shouts of joy of the pilgrims, and the melody of the violin filled the air with a deafening roar, so loud that nobody noticed black clouds gathering above them or the earth begin to quake.

Biblical paintings of Hell by Peter Howson. Image from

Suddenly the great oak split in two as if struck by lightning. Water began to bubble up, and before they realized it, the earth began to sink. The joyous tumult became ear-shattering screaming and wailing as a pit opened. The beautiful meadow collapsed bringing the great oak with it. The monk watched in horror as the black void grew, completely swallowing the revelers. Waves burst forth from the chasm, and within minutes, the entire meadow was gone.

The groans and wails of the pilgrims quieted. The sky cleared and the sun shone brightly on the newly formed Lake de la Maix. The monk fell to his knees, praying for the salvation of the lost souls when he heard the sound.

Grim Reaper Grim Reaper Playing Violin

At first, he thought it was just the wind rustling through the pines surrounding the lake. Then the echo became louder and louder. The sunshine blazed off the water, boring into his eyes, into his brain. In the brilliance, he could see the blazing eyes of the stranger. From those eyes came the sound of the violin, and the cries of the pilgrims, now prisoners in the depths of the lake, damned to dance until the end of time. As the sound grew louder, the melody changed into the rising of laughter, mocking laughter.

The laughter of the Devil.

(inspired by Monique Marie Francois webpage MAGIQUE PAYS DE SALM

Translation and content help by: Thomas Shutt,


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