Once upon a time, there lived a woodcutter. He and his wife and small girl lived deep in the woods. Every day, the man went into the woods to chop trees and the woman foraged for wild things in the woods to feed their child. At last there came a day when a meal could not be scraped together, and, so despairing was the woodcutter,that he took to the forest and started chopping the biggest trees, to hide his grief. Suddenly, a beautiful, tall woman appeared in the clearing. "She was wearing a crown of shining stars on her head and said to him,' I am the Virgin Mary, mother of the Christ Child." She offered to raise the little girl for him, since he could not keep her. The woodcutter agreed, and went home to fetch the little one. The Virgin took her to her heavenly home, where "everything went well for the girl...she ate cake and drank sweet milk. Her clothes were made of gold, and the little angels played with her." This delightful life continued until the girl reacher her fourteenth birthday. That is when the Virgin told her that she intended to go on a long journey, and would leave "the keys to the thirteen doors of heaven" with her. The girl was given permission to open the first twelve doors, "and took at the marvelous things inside". But, the Virgin told her, "I forbid you to open the thirteenth door that this little key unlocks." Unhappiness would be her lot if she disobeyed, said Mary. So the girl promised, and the Virgin Mary departed. Each day, the girl opened one door and marveled at "the apostle in dazzliing light" behind it. Soon the last door had been opened, and the girl grew curious about the last door. She asked her friends the angels to accompany her while she tried the lock, but they refused. Though she promised not to open the door all the way, but only to open the latch and peer through the crack, they said, "That would be a sin. The Virgin Mary's forbidden it, and something awful could happen to you." Yet this girl could not stay her curiosity, and one day, when all of the angels were busy, she crept to the thirteenth door. Quickly, she put in the key and turned it, and "suddenly, the door sprang open, and there she saw the Holy Trinity sitting in fire and splendor." She could not take her eyes off them, and reached out. She "touched the light just a little with a finger and the finger turned golden." Horrified at herself, she fled. But no matter how hard she rubbed and scrubbed, the gold would not come off her finger. Soon the Virgin returned, and questioned the girl about the doors. Though the girl denied that she had opened the thirteenth, the Virgin persisted in asking her to tell the truth. Once the girl lied and said no, she hadn't opened it. Twice she lied, and then, for the third and final time, she lied to the Virgin and insisted that she had not opened the door. So the Virgin Mary said,"You've disobeyed me, and you've even lied. You're no longer worthy enough to stay in heaven." With that, she sent the girl into a deep sleep. When she woke up, she found herself back on earth, "in the middle of a wilderness." She tried to call for help, but found that her throat made no sound. For one year she lived a miserable life, burrowing like an animal into hollow trees to stay warm, and eating leaves and nuts as she could scavenge them. One day, "when the trees were fresh and green again, the king of the country came to hunt in the forest and began chasing a deer." When he spied the maiden, whose clothes had turned to rags, and whose golden hair had grown so long that it covered her from head to toe, he fell instantly in love. When he asked her what a gentle maiden like her was doing sitting in a remote area like this, she could only nod her head. Understanding that she was mute, he asked her to nod again if she wanted to become his wife and live in the castle. She nodded her assent and he took her home. A year passed, and the new Queen gave birth to a baby boy. That very night, the Virgin Mary appeared before her, and told her that if she would confess to opening the door, her powers of speech would be returned. But when Mary allowed the girl to speak, she said, "No, I didn't open the forbidden door." And Mary took the babe with her to heaven. When the servants discovered the child missing in the morning, they accused the Queen of devouring it. But the King would not believed this rumor, and commanded that no one ever speak of the baby again. The next year, the Queen was delivered of another child, and again the Virgin came down to her. Once more she let the lady speak, and once more the Queen would not say that she had opened the door. So the Virgin took this babe as well. Now the rumors that the Queen was an ogre who ate her young were revived, and the king once more commanded an end to the gossip. When the following year a girl child was born to the Queen, who vanished by the morning after her birth, the King could do no more. Not knowing that the Virgin Mary had visited his wife for the third time and asked for a confession, and not knowing that his children were alive and well, but not on earth because of their mother's lying, he commanded her to be burned at the stake. When she was tightly bound and the logs piled high around her, and the flames began to lick her feet, "the hard ice of her pride finally melted". She thought to herself that "If only I could confess before I die that I opened that door!" and at that very moment, "rain poured from the sky and put out the flames. A light erupted above her and the Virgin Mary with the two little sons on either side and the newborn daughter in her arms." She forgave the Queen, who had repented of her sins, and restored her powers of speech. Then she gave her the three children and "bestowed happiness on her for the rest of her life."
From The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (p.7)
Notes: This is similar to another Grimm in which the heroine has her arms chopped off, and is also accused of eating her own young.
Montessori Connection: Fundamental Needs of People/Religion/Bible as Literature
1. Read this story and pay attention to the Virgin Mary.
2. Read stories from the Christian Bible stories:Tomie DePaola's Book of Bible Stories
3. Read stories from other religions:Ten Traditional Jewish Children's Stories Muslim Child: Understanding Islam Through Stories and Poems