Sacrificial Bridges.

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londonbridge

"I want to cross the Magdeburger Bridge."

It is broken down.

"Who broke it down?"

The goldsmith, the goldsmith

With his daughter.

"Have it built again."

But with what?

"With chains and with poles."

All creep through, all creep through,

The last one we will seize.

--Trans. by A.L. Ashliman

If that sounds familiar, it's because there are quite a number of European bridge-related traditions that involve taking prisoners, very probably indications that human sacrifice was originally required to ensure the success of the construction. Most of us have sung about Old London Bridge, pictured above, c. 1500, but there are others as well. The sacrificial element in the tale of the Sachsenhauser Bridge in Frankfurt is even more obvious. Here, as in the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, an animal is permitted to stand in for the human victim:

There are two arches in the middle of the Sachsenhäuser Bridge. At
the top they are closed partially only with wood which, in time of war,
can easily be removed so that the connection can be destroyed without
blasting. The following legend is told about this bridge:

The builder had agreed to complete the bridge by a certain date. As the
date approached he saw that it would be impossible to meet the deadline. With only two days remaining, in his fear he called upon the devil and asked him for help.

The devil appeared to him and offered to complete the bridge during the
last night if the builder would deliver to him the first living being that
crossed the bridge. The contract was settled, and during the last night
the devil completed the bridge. In the darkness no human eye saw how he did it.

At the break of day the builder came and drove a rooster across the
bridge ahead of himself, thus delivering it to the devil. However, the
latter had expected a human soul, and when he saw that he had been
deceived he angrily grabbed the rooster, ripped it apart, and threw it
through the bridge, thus causing the two holes that to the present day
cannot be mortared shut. Any repair work that is completed during the day just falls apart the next night.

A golden rooster on an iron bar still stands as the bridge's emblem.


Source: Jacob and Wilelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816), vol. 1,
no. 186. Via D. L. Ashliman's folktexts.


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