St. Nicholas and the Thief

by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, collected in Deutsch Sagen
St Nicholas
Sankt Nikolaus
Made in Italy
St Nicholas Center Collection

In the town of Greifswald, in medieval Pomerania, there was a statue of Saint Nicholas in the Chapel of St. Gertrude. One night a thief broke into the chapel to rob the poor box. The thief called to the saint, "O Holy Nicholas, is it my money or yours? Let's race to the poor box and whoever gets there first will be the winner!"

With that, the thief started to run towards the box. However, the statue also ran, beating the thief to the box.

The thief cried out, "My Holy Nicholas, you won fair and square, but the money is of no use to you. You are just a piece of wood, you don't need anything. I will take the money and make merry."

Not long after, the thief died and was buried in the churchyard. The Devil came from Hell, took the body out of the grave, and threw it down by the empty poor box. Then the Devil took the body out of town and hung it on a windmill. There it blew around and around, going against the wind. This windmill was still standing in 1633 and always turned in the opposite direction from the other windmills that were driven naturally by the wind.

Legend tells that wherever the devil’s foot touched the ground, the fresh grass was scorched and deep footprints remained. When followed, the tracks stopped abruptly and grass never grew in them again. Eventually the whole church and graveyard, which had been a major pilgrimage site, was buried and became part of the fortress walls.

Some versions say it was the chapel caretaker who took the money and ran a race with the Virgin Mary instead of St. Nicholas.

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, #134 "Der Heilige Niklas und der Dieb," Deutsche Sagen, German text is public domain.

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