Lorelei and Hildegard

The Legend of Lorelei – or – Loreley, as it is written in some Germany literature, lives on in the history of the Rhine (Rhein in German), and the section of the river that claims the folk story is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as named in June, 2002.

Lorelei is a feminine water spirit, who, as the romantic story goes, was the cause of death to the crew of ships and rafts to pass a narrow and dangerous path. A rock between Kaub and St. Goarshausen, called the Loreley was said to emit ghostly voices through a natural echo.

Most of the trouble for the sailors came from the lovely Loreley. Her enchanting good looks and beautiful voice bewitched the sailors and caused many boat accidents in the narrow curvature of the river.

I saw the rock a few years back and was enthralled with the folk story, and it means even more to me today, as I sit at the window and watch the barges glide down the river, steered by masterful sailors.


The story of Lorelei is a legend, but a real woman with importance to the Rhine was Hildegarde Von Bingen who lived from 1098 to 1179 and spent years in a nunnery from the time she was eight years old, but made a huge impact with her writings on subjects such as natural science and medicine, poetry, and hymns. She was considered a visionary, a shrewd politician, a prolific composer of music, and unlearned religious recluse whose correspondents included some of the most important politicians and minds of the Middle Ages, a sharp-eyed naturalist, a competing orator, and a highly competent farmer. I gleaned some of this information from “The Rhine” a guide from Mainz to Cologne.


And now I know why there are so many stores, streets and products with the name Hildegard. And today, while on my long walk to the center of Bingen, I met Hildegard Willig. Hildegard was standing at a red stop light talking with another woman, and I asked them for directions. Hildegard stepped right up to help me, and even walked all the way to the Information Center with me. She chattered away in English, the whole time telling me how awful her English was, but I understood everything she said.

She had thin red hair, and watery blue eyes, and because of some distress with her eyes, she was on her way to the eye doctor, but first, she had to show me the way. We went down the street, over the bridge, under a tunnel that had a mural painted by children, until we came out above again, on the other side of the river inlet.

Then, she began to tell me something about herself, and pulled off a stocking from her arm to show me she had just a stump of an arm.
“It was burned off,” she told me. I don’t know the story.

So she went all the way to the Information Center and told the woman I had some questions. She asked for a pen and wrote her name and address down so I could send her a card when I get back to California.

Now you know the story of the myth of Lorelei and the two Hildegards.

Today the weather continued to be almost a total white out. I don’t bother with the camera, because the day is just too dark. But I’ll be here for nine more nights and some sun must shine on at least one of those days.

I still love it here, however. It fascinates me.


2 Responses to Lorelei and Hildegard

  1. Laureen….I need to know more about Hildegard Willig…..her arm ?

    • Paula: thanks for the question. I do not know anything more about her arm, except that it was burned. She didn’t elaborate, and didn’t seem to want to, so I didn’t pursue it further. She was a nice person, a very talkative lady, and seemed to love using her English. It didn’t seem to cover all of my questions, but she did well to get me where I wanted to go.
      I asked her if she would like to meet me for coffee some day and she got very quiet. Later she gave me the story that her daughter was coming for a three week visit. I don’t think she wanted to meet again, and that I can understand….I am a stranger, after all.

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