The Three Maidens of Auw an der Kyll
There is something especially magical about Eifel forests. Whenever we take a walk through one, I can’t help but look out into the darkness and imagine knights riding through on horseback or medieval vagabonds sitting around a campfire. My husband teases me about looking at much of the Eifel through Hollywood-tinted glasses, but, as I always tell him, stories come from somewhere. I mean, it was just a few weeks ago that he, too, stopped on one our walks, looked around, and said, “Is it any wonder we have so many legends and fairy tales in this area – with landscapes like these?”
One such legend is that of the three maidens in Auw an der Kyll.
Between 623 and 634, the Eifel was part of the Austrasian territory ruled by King Dagobert. Although many of his subjects were Christian, the legends say that he still held on to many of the old Pagan beliefs. He was married several times and historians believe that he had more concubines than they can count. But he had many family members who had converted to Christianity. In particular were three sisters (or possibly daughters) named Irmina, Adele, and Clothilde, who lived extremely pious lives in a monastery. The King wasn’t happy about this and wanted them to come back to the court. However, no amount of pleading or enticing would change their minds. Finally, the King decided that if they wouldn’t come back by choice, he would bring them back by force. And so he sent a group of soldiers after the three maidens. But the women, who had learned of the King’s plan, fled the monastery on the only animal they had – a donkey. The soldiers chased them into the forest, high up above the valley, and trapped them at the edge of a cliff. The Kyll River was below them, and with no bridge, they had no means of escape.
The women prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. As the soldiers rushed closer and closer, Mary spoke to the frightened maidens and told them that if they jumped, she would bring them to safety. So, they did. They jumped from that cliff, but instead of falling to their deaths, the donkey was lifted over the river, where he landed safely on the other side. The soldiers, however, plummeted over the cliff and drowned in the Kyll. To show their gratitude, the women built a chapel to honor the Virgin Mary right there in the valley.
And as a remembrance of the the three maidens, crosses were erected on both sides of the river.
Where they jumped –
And where they landed –
The crosses are very easy to find if you’re interested in visiting them. The spot where the donkey landed is in the town, in front of the railroad tracks. There is even a parking lot right next to the cross. The cliff is directly across the river, and if you look really closely, you can see the cross from the town. Just walk up the road that crosses over the river and watch for a path to open up on your right.
There is even a small sign that says, “Esels Lay.”
It’s just about a ten minute walk, and although it’s not a difficult one, it is definitely a muddy one!