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Richmodis of Aducht
It was about the middle of the fifteenth century.
The shadows of death hovered above the holy City of Cologne. A strange figure in dark garments hurried with quick steps through the streets and lanes. It was the plague. Its poisonous breath penetrated into cottages and palaces, extinguishing the lives of many thousands.
The grave-diggers marked innumerable houses with a black cross, to warn the passers-by that the destroying angel had entered there. The roll of the dead rose to such numbers that it was impossible to bury them all in the customary manner. Therefore the bodies of the unfortunate people were thrown together into a common grave, covered only scantily with earth and marked with a plain wooden cross.
Woe and sorrow thus filled the old City of Cologne.
On the New-market, close to the Church of the Apostles, in a splendid mansion, the rich Magistrate, Mengis of Aducht lived. Wealth could not save his house from the dreadful epidemic, his youthful and lovely wife, Richmodis, was seized with the plague and died. The grief of her lord was boundless. He passed the whole night by the remains of his beloved spouse, dressed her himself in the white wedding gown she had worn as a happy bride a few years before, decorated the coffin with sweet white flowers, and covered her with the precious jewels and costly rings she had loved so much. Then she was buried.
Night approached, and the clear starry sky looked peacefully down on the afflicted town.
Perfect stillness prevailed in God's acre. Suddenly a jarring sound like the opening of an old rusty lock was heard, and two dark shadows glided among the graves, on and on till they stopped before the fresh mould which enclosed the body of Richmodis of Aducht. – Those two knew the spot, and well they might, for they were the grave-diggers, and had prepared this grave themselves on the previous day.
They were present when the lid of the coffin was screwed down, and had with hungry looks coveted the glittering precious stones Richmodis was to be buried with.
Now they had come to rob the dead body. With spade and shovel the wreaths and flowers were quickly removed from the mound, the earth dug up, and the coffin laid bare. In feverish haste, spurred on by their greed, they burst the lid open, and the dim light of their lantern fell full on the mild pale face of the dead woman. With haste the bolder of the two wretches loosened the white waxen hands folded together as in prayer, and tried to tear off the rings.
Suddenly the body quivered, and the white hands spread ,out. Aghast the robbers dropped their tools, scrambled in utmost terror out of the grave, and fled as if chased by the furies.
A painful long sigh rose from the depth of the grave, and after some time the white form of Richmodis who had been buried alive, emerged from the tomb.
With wide open eyes, full of horror, she looked down into the ghastly bed she had just left. – Could it really be true, or was it only a frightful dream?
God's acre was silent, but for the rustling of the autumn leaves of the weeping willows. Stillness of death everywhere! – No answer came to her faint cry for help. – The horror of her situation however wakened her declining strength. She took up the lantern which the robbers had left behind them and with feeble steps reached the entrance of the churchyard.
The streets were desolate. The stars overhead alone perceived the slowly moving form, every now and then resting against the walls of the houses. – At last she reached the Newmarket and stood before the door of her home. Dark and quiet it seemed. But from the window in the magistrate's room a faint light shone forth. A quiver ran through the frame of the poor wife, and a wild longing desire seized her to be sheltered by his loving arms and to feel in his embrace that she had really returned to life again.
With a last effort she seized the knocker, and listened with newly awakened hope to the tapping sound Which rang clear through the night.
A few minutes elapsed. Then an old servant peeping .out .of the window in the door, perceived the white ghostly figure of his late mistress. Horror seized him, his hair stood on end. Richmodis called him by his name and begged him to open the door. At the sound of her voice the old man started, ran upstairs, dashed into his master's room uttering incoherent sounds, and stammering: "O Lord, the dead rise; outside stands our good Mistress and demands entrance!" But the Magistrate shook his head in deep grief: "Richmodis, my beloved wife is dead and will never return, never, never" he repeated in unspeakable sorrow; "I will rather believe that my two white horses will burst from their halters in the stable and mount the stairs to the tower."
A terrible sound suddenly filled the quiet house, a noise like thunder was heard, and Mengis of Aducht and his servant saw the two white steeds tearing and tramping in haste upstairs.
A moment later two horses looked out of the tower windows into the night, and shortly afterwards the Magistrate laughing and crying with joy at the same time, held in his arms his wife who had returned from the grave.
For many years Richmodis lived happily with her husband, surrounded by several lovely children. Deep piety remained the motive power of Richmodis' being, and nobody ever saw her smile again.
If you come to Cologne, reader, you will still see the old house of the Aduchts at the Newmarket, with two white wooden horses' heads looking out of the top window.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine