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The Roman Ghosts
Before the gates of the old Roman town of Bonn rises a mountain of moderate height, called Kreuzberg, or "Crossmountain."
In early mediaeval times pious pilgrims went to this sacred place, in order to kneel on the holy steps of the old convent church so rich in memories of the martyrs, or to pray in the chapel. On the same spot at the beginning of the fourth century, the great saints of the Theban legion, Cassius, and his companions Florentius and Melusius, died for the Christian faith.
These martyrs were the guardian saints of the country round Bonn. Many a prayer sent up to them had graciously been fulfilled, since the time when St. Helena, the pious mother of Constantine, erected a chapel to their honour on Kreuzberg.
Once upon a time a simple peasant from the neighbouring country went on a pilgrimage to St. Cassius' burial place.
He came to ask the kind martyr for assistance in his distress. Dransdorf was his village, formerly called Trajan's village, because the general, who later on became Emperor Trajan, is said to have had a villa there.
A bad harvest had brought troubles on the peasant, but he firmly believed that through the intercession of St. Cassius he would receive money enough in one way or another to enable him to pay his many debts.
On arriving at Kreuzberg, he began his religious exercises by confessing his sins to one of the monks belonging to the order of St. Francis. Then according to custom he knelt in succession on one sacred step after the other till he reached the chapel. His wife had carefully put a candle in his pocket which he now lighted before the image of St. Cassius. Having thus fulfilled all the duties prescribed by the church, he turned homewards, well content with himself.
When he crossed the principal square of the town, where already at that time the magnificent Minster stood, he entered this church to pray once more, and to put another coin into the poor-box.
Twilight was creeping through the aisles, and a pilgrimage being not at all an easy thing, our peasant soon fell asleep over his prayer-book.
He only awoke, when somebody pulled him by his sleeve. It was the sexton with a big bunch of keys.
At first the peasant gazed drowsily at the unwelcome intruder, then with astonished eyes he looked round about him, until at last it dawned upon him, that he must get up and leave the church. Rousing himself he made the sign of the cross, and left the Minster with tottering steps. The night winds rustled in the old lime-trees of the square and seemed to whisper strange tales into the ears of the late wanderer.
The peasant crossed the open space sulkily, and steered his way towards the Sternthor, which led to Dransdorf. An ancient Roman tower, the remains of the high fortifications erected by the soldiers of Drusus eighteen hundred years ago, stands in the narrow lane, leading from the minster-square to the Sternthor. To the tired wanderer this tower seemed a splendid shelter, all the more so, as it would not cost him a penny.
He ,entered it, and tired out with the weary day, he was soon fast asleep as if he had never been stirred up from the bench in the Minster. No sexton with noisy keys was to be feared, and yet in his sleep the countryman had the sensation of somebody tapping him on the shoulder. He sat up and looked round. To his amazement he beheld a magnificent warrior standing before him, Clad in a coat of mail with a Roman helmet on his head. Two companions in similar array stood by his side.
They nodded genially down to him, and it struck him that he had already seen them somewhere else. After some moments he remembered the pictures of St. Cassius and his friends in the chapel on Kreuzberg. There was no doubt the three holy martyrs stood in person before him.
Our good peasant was so much awed at this discovery that he could not utter a word, but on a sign from his mysterious visitors, he followed them at a respectful distance.
They marched towards the Sternthor, straight into the building, the walls of which, were as thick as the rooms were long in the peasant's humble little cottage. In the middle of a high vault there was a table covered with sparkling gold.
At this unusual sight the peasant opened his eyes very widely indeed; but his astonishment changed into keen delight when one of his ghostly visitors filled his left pocket and another his right with the glittering metal. Meanwhile the third man took a tumbler from the middle of the table, and presented it to him with an encouraging smile.
He thought their language was very much like that which the vicar of the village church used in reading the service. Though the simple man could not understand a word of their conversation, he interpreted the kind invitation quite correctly, and shouting out a merry, "Vivat!" as a salute to his hosts, he emptied the tumbler at one big draught.
The whole building resounded with the echo, "Vivat!" The three warriors looked pleased and answered in a cheerful voice, "Vivat, Vivat!"
All at once it seemed to the peasant as if the vault was filled with a multitude of Roman soldiers who all called out to him, "Vivat!" as if happy to hear a sound of their native language in the country of the north.
The man from Dransdorf became quite high-spirited, and kept on shouting, "Vivat, Vivat!" Suddenly startled by the noise he made, he awoke and found himself lying on the floor of the Roman tower in the Sterngasse.
The events of the night only seemed to him like a strange dream. But when he felt in his pockets he found them stuffed with real golden coins of a strange ancient stamp.
Our friend's joy became quite uproarious.
After having sent up a heartfelt thanksgiving to St. Cassius, he gave vent to his delight by shouting through the quiet streets at the top of his voice, "Vivat, Vivat!"
A watchman stood on duty by the Sternthor, when the jocund peasant passed by. He made a step forward and, reaching out his arm, he gave the merry man a rude knock with his lance. Unmindful of this rough admonition, the peasant related the event in the Roman tower to the watchman, and finished his story by inviting the stern man of duty to an early draught at the nearest inn.
Rumours of the wonderful events spread far and wide, and soon every town and village knew the tale. The small lane leading from the Minstersquare to the Sternthor was called "Vivat" lane, and bears that name to the present day.
Some years ago a heavy winter gale destroyed the old Roman tower that had so long withstood the vicissitudes of time. The people of Bonn however did not wish to obliterate the memory of this curious story, and therefore named the street running parallel with "Vivat" lane – "Cassius Graben."Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine