Teil Zwei: Tannhäuser und der Papst Urban IV.

“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:10, NABRE)

In German folklore, the legend of the knight known as Tannhäuser is a very peculiar one. Those who are aware of the famous work of Richard Wagner will be familiar with the story. But in case those who are not familiar with it, they are in for a treat.

The story goes something like this: the traveling knight, one day, encountered a mountain, where there supposedly existed a subterranean cave. During his exploration of such cave, Tannhäuser came across Venus/Aphrodite, the Greco-Roman Goddess of Love. After spending an unspecified amount of time, making love to the goddess while he was there, Tannhäuser starts to reconsider his sojourn within this underground cave, and return to the surface world. He began to miss the life he left behind.

Venus/Aphrodite, disenchanted by the sudden change in thinking, did whatever it takes to allow the knight to continue staying. One of the goddess’s plans is as described:

“Lady Venus, however, tempted him with whatever it might take to make him change his mind. She offered him one of her comrades for a wife, pointing out her red lips that never ceased smiling.

Tannhäuser answered that he desired no woman other than the one he was now thinking of, nor did he want to burn forever in hell. He was not interested in the red lips. He did not want to stay here any longer, for to do so would destroy his life.

Then the she-devil tried to lure him into her room, tempting him with love, but the noble night cursed her loudly, calling upon the Heavenly Virgin to help him escape.”

Eventually the Greco-Roman Goddess allowed the chivalrous knight to return back to the surface. In regards to whether or not Our Lady did in fact interceded on the behalf of Tannhäuser that remains entirely unclear. What is clear, however, is that first thing Tannhäuser did after returning to the surface is to pay a visit to Pope Urban IV. There, he pleads to receive penance from His Holiness, after making love to the Greco-Roman goddess.

“Filled with remorse, he set forth toward Rome in order to confess his sins to Pope Urban, and thus do penance to save his soul. However, after he confessed that he had remained an entire year with Lady Venus in her mountain, the Pope said: “Not until leaves begin to grow on this dry stick that I am holding in my hand, will your sins will be forgiven!”

Tannhäuser said: “Had I but had only one more year to live, I would have shown remorse and done penance such that God would have taken mercy on me.” Grieving that the Pope had cursed him, he left the city and returned to the demonic mountain, intending to stay there forever and ever. Lady Venus welcomed him as one welcomes a long absent lover.”

For in the eyes of His Holiness, Tannhäuser could not be forgiven any more than the possibility of flowers growing on His Holiness’s staff. Ironically, three days after the departure of Tannhäuser, flowers began to blossom on the staff of the Pontiff. Convinced that it was a miracle, Pope Urban IV sent messengers to find Tannhäuser, but the searches only to dead ends. They were already too late, for the knight had already returned to the pleasure place of Venus/Aphrodite.

“There he will remain until Judgment Day, at which time God may send him to a different place.”

The moral of story is as simple as can be, especially in the eyes of a clergyman. “And a priest should never discourage a sinner but should forgive all who present themselves with remorse and penance.”

The following is from the internet document entitled “The Mountain of Venus” by Sabine Baring-Gould:

“The story of Tannhäuser is a very ancient myth Christianized, a widespread tradition localized, existing in various forms scattered over Europe — and indeed there are at least three other Venusbergs [mountains named after Venus] in Germany. The root of all forms of the story is this:

The underground folk seek union with human beings.

(1) A man is enticed into their abode, where he unites with a woman of the underground race.

(2) He desires to revisit the earth, and escapes.

(3) He returns to the region below.

There is scarcely a collection of folk-lore which does not contain a story founded on this root. It appears in every branch of the [European] family, and examples could be quoted from Modern Greek, Albanian, Neapolitan, French, German, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, Icelandic, Scots, Welsh and other collections of popular tales.”

-J. Enriquez

Works Cited

Ashliman, D. L. “Tannhäuser.” University of Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 9 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Baring-Gould, Sabine. “The Mountain of Venus.” Flawless Logic. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.