A forbidden door, the Virgin Mary, a stubborn heart and a burning at the stake; you find it all in this fairy tale.
Mary’s Child is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a girl who opens a forbidden door in heaven. She refuses to confess this sin to the Virgin Mary, who casts her down to earth and takes her speech. The girl marries and gets three children which are all taken. After confessing she lives happily ever after with her children.
The Virgin Mary cares for the woodcutters child
Close to a great forest dwelt a woodcutter with his wife. They had one child, a little girl of three years old. They were so poor that they no longer had daily bread, and did not know how to get food for her.
One morning the woodcutter went out sorrowfully to his work in the forest. While he was cutting wood, suddenly there stood before him a tall and beautiful woman with a crown of shining stars on her head. She said to him, “I am the Virgin Mary, mother of the child Jesus. You are poor and needy, bring your child to me, I will take her with me and be her mother, and care for her.”
The woodcutter obeyed, brought his child, and gave her to the Virgin Mary, who took her up to heaven with her. There the child fared well. She ate sugar cakes, drank sweet milk, wore clothes of gold and played with the little angels.
The Virgin Mary gives the girl the keys to 13 doors
When she was fourteen years of age, the Virgin Mary called her one day and said, “Dear child, I am about to make a long journey, so please keep for me the keys of the thirteen doors of heaven. Twelve of these you may open, and behold the glory which is within them. The thirteenth, to which this little key belongs, you are forbidden to open. Beware or you will bring misery on yourself.”
The girl promised to be obedient. When the Virgin Mary was gone, she began to examine the doors. Each day she opened one of them, until she had made the round of the twelve. In each of them sat one of the Apostles in the midst of a great light, and she rejoiced in all the magnificence and splendor. The little angels who always accompanied her rejoiced with her.
The girl opens the 13th door
Then the forbidden door alone remained, She felt a great desire to know what could be hidden behind it, and said to the angels, “I will not quite open it, and I will not go inside it, but I will unlock it so that we can just see a little through the opening.”
“Oh no,” the little angels said, “that would be a sin. The Virgin Mary has forbidden it. It might easily bring you unhappiness.”
The girl fell silent, but the desire in her heart was not stilled. It gnawed there and tormented her, and let her have no rest. And once when the angels had all gone out, she thought, “Now I am quite alone, and I could peep in. If I do it, no one will ever know.”
She sought out the key, and when she had got it in her hand, she put it in the lock and when she had put it in, she turned it around as well. The door sprang open, and she saw there the Trinity sitting in fire and splendor.
She stayed there awhile, and looked at everything in amazement; then she touched the light a little with her finger, and her finger became golden. Immediately a great fear fell on her. She shut the door violently and ran away.
Her terror too would not quit her, she was too scared to do any good, and her heart beat continually and would not be still. The gold stayed on her finger and would not go away, no matter how many times she rubbed and washed it.
The Virgin Mary returns and questions the child
It was not long before the Virgin Mary came back from her journey. She called the girl before her and asked to have the keys of heaven back. When she gave her the bunch, the Virgin looked into her eyes and said, “Have you also opened the thirteenth door?”
“No,” she replied.
Then the Virgin laid her hand on the girl’s heart, and felt how it beat and beat, and saw right well that she had disobeyed her order and had opened the door. She said once again, “Are you sure you did not open the thirteenth door?”
“Yes,” said the girl, for the second time.
Then the Virgin perceived the finger which had become golden from touching the fire of heaven, and it became clear to her that the child had sinned. She said for the third time, “Have you not opened the thirteenth door?”
“No,” said the girl for the third time.
“You have not obeyed me, and you have lied to me, you are no longer worthy to be in heaven.”
The girl lives a miserable life on earth
The girl fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke she lay on the earth below, in the midst of a wilderness.
She wanted to cry out, but she could bring forth no sound. She sprang up and wanted to run away, but wherever she turned, she was continually held back by thick hedges of thorns which she could not break through.
In the desert where she was imprisoned there stood an old hollow tree. This had to be her dwelling place. She crept into it when night came, and slept there. There, too, she found a shelter from storm and rain.
It was however a miserable life, and she wept bitterly when she remembered how happy she had been in heaven and how the angels had played with her.
Roots and wild berries were her only food, and for these she sought as far as she could go. In the autumn she picked up the fallen nuts and leaves, and carried them into the hole. The nuts were her food in winter.
When snow and ice came, she crept among the leaves like a poor little animal to escape the freezing cold. Before long her clothes were all torn, and one bit after another fell off her.
As soon however as the sun shone warm again, she went out and sat in front of the tree. Her long hair covered her on all sides like a mantle. And so she sat year after year and felt the pain and the misery of the world.
The king finds the girl
One day when the trees were once more clothed in fresh green, the king of the country was hunting in the forest. He followed a roe and as it had fled into the thicket which shut in this part of the forest, he got off his horse, tore the bushes apart, and cut himself a path with his sword.
When he had at last forced his way through, he saw a wonderfully beautiful maiden sitting under the tree. She sat there and was entirely covered with her golden hair, down to her very feet.
He stood still and looked at her full of surprise, then he spoke to her and said, “Who are you? Why are you sitting here in the wilderness?”
She gave no answer, for she could not open her mouth.
The king continued, “Will you go with me to my castle?”
She nodded her head just a little.
The girl becomes a queen
The king took her in his arms, carried her to his horse and rode home with her. When he reached the royal castle he caused her to be dressed in beautiful garments and gave her all things in abundance.
Although she could not speak, she was still so beautiful and charming that he began to love her with all his heart, and it was not long before he married her.
The Virgin Mary takes the queens first child
After a year or so had passed the queen brought a son into the world. In the night, when she lay in her bed alone, the Virgin Mary appeared to her. She said, “If you will tell the truth and confess that you did unlock the forbidden door, I will open your mouth and give you back your speech. However if you persevere in your sin, and you keep denying, I will take your new-born child away with me.”
The queen was permitted to answer, but she remained stubborn, and said, “No, I did not open the forbidden door.”
The Virgin Mary took the new-born child from her arms and vanished with it. Next morning when the child was not to be found, it was whispered among the people that the queen was a cannibal and had killed her own child. She heard all this and could say nothing to the contrary, but the king would not believe it, for he loved her so much.
The Virgin Mary takes the queens second child
When a year had gone by the queen again bore a son and in the night the Virgin Mary again came to her.
“If you will confess that you opened the forbidden door, I will give you your child back and untie your tongue. However if you continue in sin and keep denying, I will also take this new child.”
Again the queen said: “No, I did not open the forbidden door.”
The Virgin took the child out of her arms and away with her to heaven. Next morning, when this child also had disappeared, the people declared quite loudly that the queen had devoured it, and the king’s councillors demanded that she should be brought to justice. The king, however, loved her so dearly that he would not believe it, and commanded the councillors under pain of death not to say any more about it.
The Virgin Mary takes the queens third child
The following year the queen gave birth to a beautiful little daughter. For the third time the Virgin Mary appeared to her in the night. This time she said, “Follow me.”
She took the queen by the hand and led her to heaven. There she showed her her two eldest children, who smiled at her, and were playing with the ball of the world. When the queen rejoiced, the Virgin Mary said, “Is your heart still hard and stubborn? If you own up to the truth that you opened the forbidden door, I will give you your two little sons back.
However for the third time the queen answered, “No, I did not open the forbidden door.”
Then the Virgin let her sink down to earth once more, and took from her likewise her third child.
Next morning, when the loss was reported abroad, all the people cried loudly, “The queen eats her own children. She must be judged,” and the king was no longer able to restrain his councillors.
The queen is condemned to be burned alive
A trial was held. She could not answer, she could not defend herself. And so she was condemned to be burnt alive.
The wood was prepared, she was bound to the stake, and the fire began to burn all around her. Only then the hard ice of pride started to melt, her heart was moved by repentance and she thought: “If only I could confess before my death that I opened the door.”
Suddenly her voice came back to her and she cried out loudly, “Yes, Mary, I did it!”
The Virgin Mary makes all things well
Straight away rain fell from the sky and extinguished the flames of fire. A light broke forth above her and the Virgin Mary descended. The two little sons were by her side and the new-born daughter in her arms. The Virgin spoke kindly to her and said, “He who repents his sin and acknowledges it, is forgiven.”
She gave her the three children back, untied her tongue, and granted her happiness for her whole life.
Tips for Telling
- This tale has a lot of religious elements in it: the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, the Trinity, to name a few. How do you feel about that? It is important before telling this story to first ask yourself how this relates to you.
- Take the time when telling this fairy tale. There are quite a lot of very strong images in it, you need to take the time to paint hem with words. Your listeners need the time to come with you in the story.
- How does the girl feel throughout the story? It might help you to walk through the story scene for scene and imagine in each scene how the girl feels.
All Questions Answered
The story Mary’s Child was originally written down by the Brothers Grimm. It was told to them by a woman called Margarete Marianne Wild. It is the third story in their book ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’.
The Brothers Grimm collected this story and wrote it down in 1812 in their book ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. This story was told long before it was written down.
Not owning up to your sin brings you misery. When you sin, own up to it, confess and be forgiven.
The fairy tale “Mary’s Child” is also known as “Our Lady’s Child”, “A Child of Saint Mary” and “The Virgin Mary’s Child”.