Legends of the Vosges

In 16th Century Salm, legends are real, superstitions run deep, and witches are everywhere.

Legendes de la Maix
Sign at the entrance of the Lake de la Maix, taken in May, 2012.

Superstitions, Myths, and Legends are told all over the world and have survived the centuries as appealing alternatives to history.

Before scientists could explain natural disasters or phenomena,  people created these delightful yet bizarre stories to try to explain why such things happened.

Map of the pilgrimage to the Lake de la Maix
Map of the pilgrimage to the Lake de la Maix 2012

Many of these stories end in horrible death, pain, or embarrassment when characters succumb to temptation, carelessness, or greed, act dishonestly, or are driven by foolish pride.

These stories weave their way through our imagination, working their magic as they try to explain the unexplainable, offer comfort to the grief-stricken, or simply try to make sense of the chaos of everyday life.

The following four legends are mentioned in the novel,

The Baptism of Angels

The most prevalent in the novel is the legend of the Baptism of Angels, the story of a place of respite, a sanctuaire de répit.

Legends of the Vosges. Cemetery of the Innocents
Legends of the Vosges. Cemetery of the Innocents 2012

In medieval times, Catholic Church theology described Hell as being divided into four parts, Hell of the Damned, Purgatory, Limbo of the Patriarchs, and Limbo of Infants.

Infants who died without being Baptized were not damned to hell, but could never be admitted into heaven. Though they did not commit personal sins, their Original Sin had not been purged. Theologians hypothesized that these unbaptized children would spend eternity in Limbo.

Our Lady of Grace Garden Statue Blessed Virgin Mary Miraculous Medal. Taken 2012

Imagine the heartache of losing a child multiplied by the thought that your precious baby was doomed to spend eternity in torment. Limbo offered little solace to grieving parents.

Places of respite sprung up all over Europe as people sought divine intervention of the Blessed Virgin. “Respite baptisms” gave peace of mind to parents in the knowledge that their babies’ souls would join other family members in heaven and their bodies would be buried in consecrated cemeteries.

This is an excerpt from the novel, FROM THE DROP OF HEAVEN.

“When the land of Salm was not yet called Salm, Good Stones of Bethlehem gave a wonderful gift to a virgin named Mary. She could not find a room and was about to give birth. The Good Stones opened and formed a cave where the child was born.


The Devil Fiddler

The first story on the sign is Le Diable Violoneux, The Devil Fiddler. It explains how a lake appeared on the side of a mountain, while advising the dangers of not attending Mass.

Fiddler in the Tree” by Special Collections at Johns Hopkins University is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

In the novel, Martin played his violin in the shadow of the chapel at Lake de la Maix. Furious that a celebration commemorated the memory of a witch, Bishop Michel started a legend that it was, in fact, the devil playing the violin at the lake. More

The Wild Hunt of the Hellequin

The Damned are Taken to Hell and Received by the Demons” by rjhuttondfw is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Of all the tales I read during my research, the one appearing most often is the Wild Hunt of the Hellequin. This tale has been referenced as far back as the 1100’s, and some suggest it is the origin of King Arthur of ancient Britons. Visions of spirits usually occurred at crossroads where souls of the dead passed frequently, at Samhain (Halloween) or between Yule and Twelfth Night or Solstice, . These legends were intended to terrify and give everything a diabolical meaning.

The Legend: Before the land of Salm was called Salm, there was a prince named Hellequin , who so enjoyed the hunt that he had hunted every day, even on Sundays. So determined in the chase was he, that he had followed his prey to the foot of the altar where a priest had been celebrating Mass. More

La Chatte Pendue
The Legends of the Vosges. The Rock of La Chatte Pendue
Legends of the Vosges. The Rock of La Chatte Pendue Photo taken 2012

Other than this rock that looks like a cat on a well known hiking trail, I had a hard time finding the origin of the story. It is included in a wonderful group of virtual writings by Monique Francois’ on Salm.

The Legend: Before the era of the witchcraft trials, there was a period of rumors. They started quietly, half-formulated whispers and slander, impossible to defend. The rumors continued until even the most respected woman in the town was accused. The next day, she just disappeared. More

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