Wednesday, April 27, 2022

W is for the Weise Stone (Gemstone Folklore)

Welcome to the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Gemstone Folklore. Because I love stories about shiny things. Read the introduction to the project here.


Der Weise (originally Die Waise, the orphan) was a famous gemstone set in the Holy Roman Emperors' crown. Some sources (like the Grimm Wörterbuch) claim it was probably a milky white opal. White opals are quite magical looking gems anyway. It was lost sometime in the 14th century, and its alleged place is taken up by a large sapphire in the crown (see top of the left plate in the picture above). Reading the story below, I wondered if the sapphire was the original gem, since the legend resembles other stories about Sri Lanka and its gemstones.

The legend of Duke Ernst
12th century German legend

This story begins with the young Duke Ernst losing his father when he's still a child. His mother, Adelheid, marries the Holy Roman Emperor Otto. The emperor treats the duke (now a grown lad) kindly, but then a jealous count fills his head with lies. The emperor, believing Ernst is trying to take his crown, starts a war against the young duke who holds out for six years but finally has to go into exile. He takes the cross along with a thousand of his knights, and journeys towards the Holy Land. In Constantinople they all board a ship, but a terrible storm takes them out to sea, and they only find land again after three months.
They first land on an island named Grippia, with a splendid city built from colorful marble. They don't find any people living there, so they help themselves to food and supplies. Duke Ernst and his best friend Count Wetzel return to the city in the afternoon to look around. They explore the palace, full of jewels and precious stones, take a bath in tubs that have hot-cold running water, sleep in the royal bed. In the evening they see from the window the people of the city finally returning: they are all finely dressed, but they are human from the neck down and cranes from the neck up. They have kidnapped a princess from India, and they are forcing her to marry the Grippian king (who has the head of a swan). The duke and the count want to attack the wedding but decide against it; instead, they wait to rescue the bride later. However, they are soon discovered, and the Grippians kill the hostage princess. Duke Ernst and Count Wetzel fight their way back to their ship with the help of their men, but lose five hundred knights to Grippian arrows in the process.
Sailing on from the island in a hurry, the travelers encounter the Lodestone (magnetic) Mountain next. It draws in the ship by its iron nails, and they crash and sink. The men swim ashore, but now they are stranded among the various treasures of all the other sunken ships - and no food. Most of them starve to death, until only Ernst, Wetzel, and five others are left. Every time someone dies, griffins fly in and take the corpse. Eventually Wetzel suggests the survivors should wrap themselves in hides, and let the griffins take them too. Him and Ernst go first. In the griffins' nest on the mainland they cut themselves out of the hides, and escape.
Coming down the mountain the survivors encounter a river that flows into a cave. Having no other way out, they make a raft and float inside the cave, which is lit up by precious gems. Duke Ernst reaches out and takes one - a stone of such exceptional, unique radiance that it is later named Lapis Orphanus, the Orphan Stone. It is set into the imperial crown (the writer of the legend notes this proves that the story is true).
After this the duke and his men have more adventures; they befriend a Cyclops king, and help him defeat his warlike neighbors the Flat Hoofs, the Big Ears, a flock of giant cranes that eat the tiny nation of the Prechami, and the Canaanite giants. He collects one of each and eventually (after six years) sails on to Enthiopia with his ragtag band, where he fights for the Christian king against an invasion from Egypt. Then he moves on to Egypt, then Jerusalem, where he gets news from Germany about the emperor discovering the truth and forgiving him. He travels to Rome (losing the Flat Hoof on the way), and then to Bavaria, arriving to the imperial court on Christmas Eve for a big family reunion. He makes peace with the emperor, gets his lands back, divides up his fantastic retinue, and apparently gifts the Orphan Stone to the ruler, who sets it in the imperial crown.

Sources: There is an entire book about the stone (see review here), and also an article here. You can read Duke Ernst's story in this book. By the way, this story sounds a whole lot like Sindbad's journeys.

What gems would you want to grab from a magical cave?


  1. I don't really care about gems. The story turned out great for the Prince, but wow, just about everybody else died!

  2. That's quite an odyssey! I've never heard of the Weise Store, nor seen a picture of the Holy Roman Emperor's crown. Looks like a neck brace would be needed to wear it! I'm not sure I'd be very good at choosing one stone from the cave. I'd probably have to look them all over, more than once, in order to decide. And I can imagine I'd be turning in endless circles in the cave, and likely get captured because of my indecision.

  3. Grabbing stones from a magical cave reminds me a bit of the movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" where grabbing gem stones is what led to the adventure underground. LOL.

    Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: W

  4. As you said it could be a white opal. I like opals, but prefer the darker ones. I’ve seen them in cave walls but was not allowed dig them out.