There was a time when wishing would make things so, when times were less complicated and an oath to god was rewarded without haste. And so it came to be that there was a pious and fair maiden who swore to god that she would not marry. That alone might be enough of an explanation for most fairy tales, but the truth behind that statement is interesting.
There was, indeed, a fair maiden whose father was a king and, as kings are wont to do, he was anxious to marry off his daughter to his own gain. The maiden, as headstrong and egalitarian as she was beautiful, grew tired of the endless parade of losers her father presented as suitors. The king should have learned, but failed as many parents do, not to push his will upon his daughter. Which was how it came to be one day when her father invited another vain and obnoxious – and, it should be noted, as rich as all get out – prince before his daughter.
“Ugh! Father, I promise, you bring another buffoon into this palace for me to consider and I swear to god you’ll never see me married!”
Exasperated, the maiden sought solace in the chapel where she made her request.
“God, please, I beg of you, help me to repel these ill-equipped half-wits! Give me a full beard that will both repulse them and send my father the message that I am serious!”
And so it was. The maiden was instantly granted a long beard of curls as rich and beautiful as the ones atop her head. Naturally, no man in any fairy tale was interested in marrying the bearded lady, and this so enraged the king that he did the only logical thing he could think to do. He had her crucified, and she died, and achieved mystical, instant sainthood.
Or so the tale insists.
Feeling something he called remorse, something probably closer to conspiring with the church to keep the people from revolting over such a revolting act, the king had a statue of his daughter made to serve as an ossuary set in an alcove of the chapel. He was careful to have the court sculptor turn her beard into the ripples and folds of a veil that the priest insisted was a symbol of her devotion to god. The people of the kingdom thus called her their saint and no one dared correct them.
Naturally, a true saint must perform a miracle, and that came when a wandering minstrel paid a visit to the maiden’s statue one day. It is said that as he was the first to kneel before her and recognize her innocence that she rewarded him by letting slip one of the golden shoes with which she had been fitted. But this can’t be entirely accurate, for many had come before and knelt before her statue and recognized her innocence. It would be romantic to think that the sainted statue had finally fallen in love and wished to pass along a token of her affection to the musician, as maidens will, but no. Quite simply, the shoe had been fashioned with soft gold and merely slipped off.
The minstrel was initially accused of theft and when he protested that it had been a gift the people of the kingdom demanded proof. Crammed full of people, the chapel quickly overheated, which in turn softened the gold of the remaining slipper on the statue. As the minstrel was making his plea to the maiden’s image the other slipper fell at his feet. The people, uneducated and with as much faith in superstition as anything else, declared it a miracle. Out of such things are miracles born.
The fairy tale says that the minstrel was granted his freedom and sent merrily on his way. The king and the priest were well aware of the publicity that would follow and prepared accordingly. Soon people came from all over the land to pay their respects to the bearded lady saint everyone called Solicitous. And the people of the kingdom were most accommodating, opening new inns and selling candles and small printed prayer cards with the maiden’s image on them. And once a year the kingdom held a carnival in her honor, complete with the crowning of a local girl as the saint of the carnival. Perhaps crowning is the wrong word, as the maiden chosen was adorned with a fake beard for the duration of the carnival. After all, what is a carnival without a bearded lady?
Though the king felt the occasional pang of remorse over losing his daughter, he lived happily to a ripe old age and no one ever faulted him for crucifying his own daughter.
Howdy, stranger. New here? The New Grimmoire is my take on The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes. Yes, all of them. This one happens to be number 239 from the book, a story originally entitled “Saint Solicitous.” Technical difficulties have kept me away for the last couple of weeks, but a new tale is posted here pretty much every Thursday.