The Richmodis legend – A Cologne tale

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High above the Neumarkt in Cologne, two white horse heads protrude from the side of a tower, sparking curiosity and wonder among both locals and visitors. These sculptures are not mere decorations but symbols of one of Cologne’s most intriguing legends—the tale of Richmodis. Here is a summary of some facts that I could gather about this local legend.

jpg The Richmodis Tower on Neumarkt in Cologne with the two horse heads staring out from the top of the tower. Source: Wikimedia Commons (license: CC-BY-SA-4.0)

The legend

In the year 1357, the plague ravaged Cologne, claiming the lives of around 20,000 people. Mass graves became a grim necessity as the city struggled to cope with the overwhelming death toll. It was during this dark time that Richmodis von Lyskirchen, the wife of the esteemed city councilor and mayor Richolf Mennegin von der Aducht, fell victim to the disease. In accordance with the practices of the time, she was buried with her valuable jewelry, including her wedding ring, in a nearby graveyard at St. Aposteln. The allure of her buried treasures proved too tempting for the gravedigger, who returned under the cover of night to rob her grave. To his horror, Richmodis awoke, startling the gravedigger into a panicked flight.

Miraculously revived from her death-like state, Richmodis made her way home, donning her burial shroud and carrying the gravedigger’s lantern. Upon her arrival, her knocks were met with disbelief and fear. The household staff, hesitant to open the door to what they believed was a ghost, finally relayed the news to her husband. Incredulous, Richolf declared that it would be as likely for his white horses to climb to the hayloft as for his wife to return from the dead. At that moment, to everyone’s astonishment, his horses did just that, clambering up the stairs to peer out from the tower. This miraculous event led to Richmodis being welcomed back into her home, where she later gave birth to three more children.

jpg Scene where Richmodis, just woke up from her death-like state, arrives at her home. Image interpreted and created with DALL·E.

Legacy and conclusion

Originating from a wandering tale from Flanders, the legend of Richmodis was first recorded in the 15th century and has since been retold in various forms, including by the Brothers Grimm. Its persistence in the collective memory of Cologne not only highlights the city’s rich narrative tradition but also underscores the deep connection between Cologne’s history and its present-day identity. The saying “Ahm Nümaat zwei Päädsköpp” (lit.: “At Neumarkt, two horse heads”) has even become a colloquial expression in the local dialect, used to express incredulity, much like the disbelief Richolf initially felt upon hearing of his wife’s return.

This legend is again another piece of Cologne’s rich cultural tapestry, that can be found in the city’s everyday life, from the colloquial expressions, to tales and monuments erected all over the city. I’m always curious to learn more of these local legends and to share them with you. If you know further local Cologne legends, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

jpg Scene of Richolf’s two white horses climbing the stairs of the tower. Image interpreted and created with DALL·E.

References and further reading


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