How the Devil lost his thumb

Germany’s pretty little spa town of Bad Aachen is towered over by its stunning cathedral, referred to locally as the Dom.

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It is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe; ground was first broken for this spectacular building in 796 AD and it was consecrated in the year 805 AD so it has seen its fair share of history. I walked by the Dom every day for a year on my way to classes at Aachen University, and ventured inside on numerous occasions to stare in wonder at the interior of sparkling mosaic and stained glass.

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On my third or fourth foray inside the cathedral, I was struck by a couple of rather unusual statues gracing the entryway; one of an over-sized pine cone; the other, facing it, a rather tortured looking wolf with a hole in its chest.

aachen cathedral, aachener dom, germany, legends, devil's thumb, the wolf and the pinecone, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney          aachen cathedral, aachener dom, germany, legends, devil's thumb, the wolf and the pinecone, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

An elderly lady noticed me staring at the wolf and asked if I knew the legend behind the statues. When I professed ignorance, she proceed to tell me the story of how the devil lost his thumb.

Way back when the cathedral was being constructed, Aachen’s city coffers ran dry and the townsfolk were looking around for a quick injection of cash. The devil saw an opportunity and offered them the cash they needed to complete the cathedral. In return, he demanded the soul of the first living being that entered the cathedral upon its completion. The Aachen townspeople huddled together and came up with a plan to outwit Old Nick. They agreed to the deal, took the cash and finished construction. Then they went to the surrounding forest and captured a wolf, released him in front of the cathedral and chased him through the front door. The devil, so excited his deal was paying off, grabbed the wolf’s soul before he realized he had been tricked. Noticing he’d been had, the poor old devil flew into a rage and stormed out of the cathedral, slamming the doors behind him with such force he tore off one of his thumbs. So Aachen got its cathedral and the wolf lost his soul, but is forever memorialized by that statue in the entryway, with the pine cone representing his stolen soul. Poor old wolf.

Don’t believe me? Well, next time you’re in Aachen, pay a visit to the Dom. Stand in front of the doors at the entrance …

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… and if you’re very brave, have a feel around inside the mouths of the two lions on the doors. You might just discover the devil’s severed thumb still lurking within.

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The devil, as they say, is in the details.

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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16 Responses to How the Devil lost his thumb

  1. tgeriatrix says:

    I have to go back to Aachen,because I missed this last year.

  2. aj vosse says:

    If he’s in the detail where would we find the angels? 😉

  3. 76sanfermo says:

    Must be spectacular and your photos are awesome!

  4. prathima says:

    What an interesting legend! It’s learning about things like this that make a trip memorable, no? Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  5. Very well written and very interesting. Thanks for adding to our bucket list.

  6. A rather impressive cathedral, legend or no!!

    janet

  7. Pickleope says:

    Wow! What a title to a blog post and what a story to go along with it along with some visuals! You used to live in Germany? Sprichst du Deutsch? Weil ich es nicht tun, und die Verwendung von Google Übersetzen statt.
    I pledge my undying love to the the person(s) who cast the lion mouths and included the Devil’s thumb. That’s amazing.

  8. To step into a place that has stood for that long…I can only imagine it. The US is only a baby compared to Europe and Asia 🙂 Very entertaining post! Loved it. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Pat Bean says:

    This blog earned a Bean Pat as blog pick of the day. Check it out at http://patbean.wordpress.com

  10. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful images and great story. 👍

  11. Marie says:

    Love the legend. A place to add to my list.

  12. Pingback: Travel theme: Indoors | Where's my backpack?

  13. Pat says:

    Great story writing and photos.

Comments are closed.